How to get started with prompt engineering

Generative AI is in its early days, but it’s already threatening to upend career paths and whole industries. While AI art and text generation are getting considerable mainstream attention, software developers tend to be more interested in large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT and GitHub Copilot. These tools can help developers write code more efficiently using natural language queries.

If you’ve spent even a few minutes playing with public versions of generative AI tools, you’re familiar with the sorts of input you can give them in order to produce results. But not all queries are created equal. Learning how to craft AI prompts to get to the best results as quickly as possible is rapidly becoming a marketable skill, known as prompt engineering.

What is prompt engineering?

Prompt engineering is “the art and science of precisely communicating your requirements to a generative AI tool,” says Mike King, CMO at AIPRM, a prompt management tool and community-driven prompt library. “Think of it as the translator between human intent and machine output. And just like any translation, it requires a deep understanding of both sides of the conversation.”

“Prompt engineering requires a great command of language, good lateral thinking skills and an understanding of the underlying technology,” adds Richard Batt, an AI consultant in the UK who offers prompt engineering as one of his services. “It can appear to be very simple when you first try it, but getting a response that is of a consistent quality for complex requests can be a lot harder than it seems!”

We spoke to practitioners in this rapidly growing field to find out about the opportunities for those who are interested in prompt engineering, and how you can learn the tricks of the trade and prove yourself to potential clients and employers. While a deep dive into prompt engineering is beyond the scope of this article, we’ll conclude with an example that demonstrates some of what’s involved in writing effective queries.

How to become a prompt engineer

Joseph Reeve leads led a team of people working on features that require prompt engineering at Amplitude, a product analytics software provider. He has also built internal tooling to make it easier to work with LLMs. That makes him a seasoned professional in this emerging space. As he notes, “the great thing about LLMs is that there’s basically no hurdle to getting started—as long as you can type!” If you want to assess someone’s prompt engineering advice, it’s easy to test-drive their queries in your LLM of choice. Likewise, if you’re offering prompt engineering services, you can be sure your employers or clients will be using an LLM to check your results.

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