Empowering the Freelance Economy

Step-by-Step Guide to a Freelance Career in Natural Language Processing (NLP)

Image source: Google DeepMind; The image is an artist’s illustration of artificial intelligence (AI). This illustration depicts language models which generate text. It was created by Wes Cockx as part of the Visualising AI project.
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Natural Language Processing (NLP) is the one form of artificial intelligence used most by freelancers, according to Fiverr’s The UK Future Workforce Index.[i] From chatbots to sentiment analysis, NLP skills are in high demand. Here are the basic skills and steps you can take if you want to start a freelance career in NLP. Oh, for those of you who thought you’d never use linear algebra in real life? Well, in NLP you do.

1. Build Your NLP Foundation

Core Skills:

Programming: Python is the dominant language in NLP, so get comfortable with it. Libraries like NLTK, spaCy, and transformers are essential. Here is an extended list of libraries to choose from.

Math & Stats: Understanding linear algebra, calculus, and probability will help you grasp the algorithms behind NLP models.

Linguistics: A basic knowledge of how language works will improve your NLP intuition.

Training Resources:

Online Courses: Platforms like Coursera, Udemy, and edX offer excellent NLP courses. Look for those covering fundamentals, specific NLP tasks (like text classification or language generation), and deep learning techniques for NLP. Here is a longer list of NLP courses to consider.

Books & Tutorials:Speech and Language Processing” by Jurafsky & Martin is a classic text. Online tutorials and blogs like the Hugging Face blog offer valuable insights.

Practice Projects: Build small projects to solidify your learning. Replicate tutorials, then try original ideas like sentiment analysis on social media data or simple chatbots.

2. Gain Specialised Knowledge

NLP Subfields:

Natural Language Understanding (NLU): Focus on tasks like text classification, named entity recognition, and sentiment analysis.

Natural Language Generation (NLG): Learn to create text summaries, write reports, or even generate creative content.

Machine Translation: Deep dive into translating text between languages.

Industry Applications:

Healthcare: Explore clinical text analysis, patient feedback analysis, or even medical chatbot development.

Finance: Analyse market sentiment from news articles, create financial reports, or build tools for risk assessment.

E-commerce: Work on product recommendation engines, customer review analysis, or chatbot customer support systems.

3. Build Your Portfolio

Freelance Platforms: Start small with projects on Upwork, Fiverr, or Guru to gain experience and testimonials.

Personal Projects: Showcase your skills by building open-source projects or contributing to NLP libraries on GitHub.

Blog or Website: Share your knowledge and expertise by writing about your projects or the latest NLP trends.

Network: Attend online or offline NLP meetups and conferences to connect with potential clients and collaborators.

4. Set Your Freelance Rates

According to GlassDoor, NLP salaries average $124,000. However, you have to consider the following.

Experience: As a beginner, you may charge lower rates to build your portfolio. Increase your rates as you gain experience and a reputation for quality work.

Specialisation: Rates for NLP specialists vary widely. Consider your skills, experience, the complexity of the project, and the industry you’re working in. Your fluency in foreign languages, too.

Market Research: Research freelance rates for similar NLP projects and skills to ensure you’re charging a competitive rate.

Do You Need a Degree?

While a degree in computer science, linguistics, or a related field can be helpful, it’s not strictly necessary. Practical skills, training, experience and a strong portfolio are often more valued in the freelance world.

Certifications: Are they worth It?

NLP-specific certifications can add credibility to your profile, but they aren’t mandatory. Prioritise building your skills and demonstrating your capabilities through real projects.

[i] UK Workforce Index June 2024 (fiverr.com)

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