Given your current job role, previous experience, and future career goals, it sounds like you are well-positioned to achieve your aspirations of becoming a team lead in the next couple of years and transitioning to AI/ML roles in the long term. Here is some tailored career advice based on your provided information:
Leverage Your Current Position: As a Software Engineer with leadership skills, you likely have opportunities to demonstrate these skills in your current role. Consider requesting additional responsibilities or projects that allow you to take on a leadership role, or offer to mentor new hires or junior team members.
Develop AI/ML Skills: Start by learning and practicing AI and Machine Learning in your spare time. Numerous online resources, like Coursera, Udacity, and edX, offer AI and Machine Learning courses. Consider getting certified from reputed institutions or platforms to add credibility to your profile.
Internal Opportunities: If your current company works on AI/ML projects, express your interest in getting involved. Even if you can't contribute to these projects directly in your current role, you might be able to learn from them or contribute in a smaller way.
Advanced Degree: In response to your specific question - pursuing an advanced degree can be beneficial, but it's not the only path to breaking into AI/ML. It can be a significant time and financial commitment. An alternative could be to pursue professional certificates in AI/ML from recognized online platforms or institutions.
Networking: Network with professionals in the AI/ML field. Attend relevant workshops, webinars, or meetups. This could potentially open up opportunities and give you insights into the latest industry trends.
Job Transition: Once you have built a portfolio demonstrating your AI/ML skills, consider looking for roles that allow you to use these skills, such as a Machine Learning Engineer or AI Specialist position. Startups focused on AI would be a great place to start. Given your interest in Google and OpenAI, you may also consider aiming for roles in these organizations once you have more experience in AI/ML.
Mentorship: Seek out mentorship opportunities - both as a mentor and a mentee. This can aid in improving leadership skills and gaining valuable advice from professionals in the AI/ML field.
Remember that career paths are rarely linear, and it's okay to take some time to explore and figure out what you truly want. It's exciting that you have clear short-term and long-term goals, and with your current skill set and passion for AI/ML, you're on the right track. Best of luck in your career journey!