Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Students gain skills, confidence, and career advancement through Udacity

January 2014 Update: Since this original post, we’ve focused our career services on helping you build the skills you need for your next career move.  Our courses -- particularly the full course experience, where you’ll receive project feedback, coaching, and a verified certificate -- are designed to help open up not just education opportunities but career opportunities. If you want some help making connections, we encourage you to check the blog for job searching advice from tech recruiters and industry experts

Over the past few weeks, Udacity students have been busy applying, interviewing, and landing job offers from companies around the world. Most recently, nine Udacity students received and accepted job offers from companies that include: Spotify, Cisco, Kaplan Testing, Square, TrialPay, and IDEO.

Udacity's Career Placement Program is helping students through our employer partnerships. However, students are also finding that classes alone are giving them a leg up when it comes to finding employment. Students have shared that finding jobs has been an organic result of multiple factors: an education that also links to new skills, an ability to solve challenges and build projects to showcase, and the confidence that comes from gaining new knowledge.

One student, Tejas Bubane, recently wrote, I got a job! Thanks to Udacity! on his personal blog. He shared, "My knowledge of Python (CS101) and web-applications (CS253) helped me a lot. I was asked to write down codes for a few algorithms in the technical rounds and I wrote each code in Python, which impressed the interviewers."

He also noticed that companies were more interested in his experience than his degree: "They have a midset like, 'degrees are good, but provable experience is better.' Thanks a lot Udacity for giving me that provable experience!" Bubane, who is currently completing his final year as a Computer Science Major in Pune, India, will start working as a developer at NSI Infinium Global, an e-commerce site, when he graduates.

Congratulations to all of the students who have found jobs!

How has Udacity helped you advance your skills or career? Let us know in the comments below!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

2 more days: Rock-paper-scissors tournament

If you are enrolled in Perter Norvig's Design of Computer Programs (CS212), you may have noticed that there is a rock-paper-scissors tournament going on in the forums! Students in CS212 are encouraged to submit two programs using the web form developed by students in Steve Huffman's Web Applications Engineering (CS253) course by this Thursday, July 26 at 17:00 UTC.

On Saturday, July 28 at 17:00 UTC there will be a live tournament hosted on Cloud 9 IDE. Stay tuned in to the forums to get the links and instructions you need to join the tournament.

Good luck and have fun!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Udacity contest winners visit Silicon Valley

From July 7-10, Udacity hosted the four winners of our Intro to Computer Science contest. Below, Conner Mendenhall, one of the winners, writes about his experience visiting Udacity's offices, recording studios, and other landmarks of the Silicon Valley, including Google and the California Academy of Sciences. 

Intro to Computer Science winners (from left to right): Jag Talon, 
Conner Mendenhall, Sascha Coenen, Liang Sun

"Don't worry," Peter Chapman, Assistant Instructor at Udacity, reassures me as I come out of the recording booth.

"Everyone thinks they were awful the first time they record. The editors will make you look good."

I hope he's right. I've just spent 35 minutes in one of the closet-sized, soundproof rooms where Udacity instructors record their video lectures, and I emerged exhausted and exasperated. My assignment was simple: record a short demonstration of DaveDaveFind, the basic search engine I built using the skills I learned in Udacity's Intro to Computer Science. After fumbling around, trying to make my pen color green, scrawling and erasing an indecipherable diagram I intended would represent a search index, and stumbling through a halting explanation of Python web frameworks, I have a new found appreciation for the concise explanations that Udacity instructors record for their own courses.

It's only after I unclip my microphone and take a deep breath that an extraordinary thing hits me: this video could be seen by hundreds of thousands of students all over the world. I really hope Peter is right about those editors.

Working to deliver university-level education designed for the web to students everywhere is a tough problem and an enormous opportunity. As a winner in Udacity's Intro to Computer Science contest, I had a chance to visit the Udacity offices and see their solution to the higher-education problem for myself: put lots of smart people in the same room and work really, really hard. As a Udacity student, programmer, and real-world graduate, I learned a lot from my visit.

My fellow contest winners came from all over the world, reflecting the global makeup of the Udacity student body. Liang, from Beijing, built an apartment search application. Sascha, from Hamburg, built a video search and visualization tool. Jag, from Maryland by way of the Philippines, wrote an all-in-one command line search program. All of us took Intro to Computer Science, but came from different backgrounds; from complete novices to experienced programmers.

Part of our visit included seeing the sites in Silicon Valley and nearby San Francisco. Walking through the indoor rainforest at the California Academy of Sciences, seeing the AI labs at Stanford, and eating lunch in the enormous Googleplex cafeteria was a lot of fun.

But the most rewarding part of the trip was meeting the Udacity staff -- all of whom were eager to talk about programming and hear feedback about the website and course content.
Meeting my instructors offline was a surreal highlight of the trip. Though we'd never met in person, I felt like I already knew Sebastian, Dave, and Peter (they're as friendly in person as they seem online -- and as excited about changing higher education).
As a Udacity student, the visit left me excited for the upcoming courses that Udacity is hard at work preparing (sorry, no spoilers!), and happy that the instructors and engineers think hard about how users like me interact with the site. Unlike earlier experiments with online education, Udacity classes feel like they belong on the web.

During my visit, I learned that this is no coincidence -- it's the result of lots of decisions by engineers, instructors, and designers. It's nice to know that there are people paying fanatical attention to how well I'm learning and what they can do to improve the experience.

As a programmer, I had a chance to see how much I've already learned. For example, my contest entry runs on Google App Engine, which also powers the Udacity site. Even though I'm still pretty new to programming, I learned a lot from Udacity's engineers and assistant instructors about building and revising a big web application. My visit also showed me how far I have to go, and some of the projects, problems and opportunities that might come from learning more computer science and programming.
As a recent graduate, the trip was a great chance to see a hardworking startup company in action. Working at a startup means long hours and demanding projects, but also the opportunity to work with talented people, solve interesting problems, and create useful things every day. It's also an environment where skills really matter -- not just the degree on your wall. That's a worthy trade-off, and it encouraged me to add my resume to my Udacity profile and think about working at a startup or tech company myself. I just hope that video turns out well.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Student travels to Poland, takes Udacity with her

Last month Udacity student, Anne Bergsman of San Diego, CA, paid a special visit to the Udacity offices on her way to Poland. Many of you may remember that after the first run of Intro to Computer Science, Udacity hosted a block party in Palo Alto, CA. Unfortunately, Bergsman and others outside the area could not attend. At that party we gave away what became a coveted item to Bergsman, a Udacity T-shirt!

Bergsman was a student in the first AI class taught by Peter Norvig and Sebastian Thrun. Towards the end of the class she discovered and joined CompScisters, a Facebook group for women taking free online courses. She describes the group: "Members of this group come from all over the world. Many of us have gone on to Udacity classes. We can't stop learning!" Her connection with the group inspired her to try to meet up with as many CompScisters as possible on her journey to Poland.

Bergsman and her mother (bottom right) join the Bay Area CompScisters for dinner.

En route to Poland, Bergsman planned to fly via San Francisco, where she would see her mom and catch up with a few CompScisters. "My mother is a pioneer in her own right. She was one of the only two women (the quota then) in her Stanford Medical School class in the 1940s."

While she was in northern California, Bergsman paid a visit to Udacity where she obtained two Udacity T-shirts. "I dropped in at Udacity to beg for T-shirts. I met Kathleen and didn't have to beg! When she found out what class I had just finished, she insisted I meet Peter Chapman, the Assistant Instructor for the class, and David Evans, the class's instructor. Pretty exciting!"
Through the CompScister's Facebook group, Bergsman was in touch with another student who lived in Krakow, Poland. "So, armed with my T-shirts, I set off for Poland to meet another brilliant CompScister, and spread Udacity in Poland with the T-shirt gift."

After touring Poland, Bergsman landed home to southern California, where she had lunch with yet another CompScister. Bookended by visits with CompScisters, Bergsman's travels gave her a chance to see the world and connect with like-minded, life-long learners.

Thank you for sharing your story with us, Anne! We hope you continue to enjoy your studies.

Friday, July 13, 2012

High School seniors take Udacity classes to benefit The School Fund

What were you doing the summer before your senior year? Studying computer science and fundraising? That's what two upcoming seniors, Russell Kaplan and Jemma Issroff, of the Dalton School in New York City are doing. Kaplan and Issroff, leaders for Team NYC, are not only participating in Udacity's Secondary School Challenge to win a trip to Silicon Valley and ride in a self-driving car, but also to fundraise for The School Fund

The School Fund provides a unique platform that connects students in the developing world with funders. Their mission is, "to help build a world where any student, no matter where they are born, has the opportunity to attend school; and any school, no matter where it is built, has the opportunity to offer students a full range of engaging learning experiences."

Kaplan writes, "We joined because the democratization of education is something that we care a lot about, and that's why we chose to support The School Fund.

According to The School Fund's website, students require an average of $150 to attend one year of school. Team NYC's coal is to raise enough money to fund the education of 15 students for a year; this means they will need to raise about $2250. We know you can do it Team NYC!

Help Team NYC reach their goal by clicking here to donate.

Both team leaders are enrolled in Steve Huffman's Web Applications Engineering course as well as Sebastian Thrun's Intro to Statistics course and others. They look forward to completing and enrolling in even more classes as the summer heats up!

Currently, over 380 teams and mor ethan 1,900 team members, led by high school students, are taking free college-level course this summer through Udacity. Spread the word and visit to sign up, create your team, and start learning!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Gundega Dekena: From Udacity student to Assistant Instructor in 4 classes

Gundega Dekena began as one of Udacity's star students. Now, she is an Assistant Instructor for Programming a Robotic Car and Intro to Computer Science at Udacity, interacting tirelessly with students and enhancing the learning process. In conversation with Dekena, she shares the inspiring story of how she became a part of the Udacity team. 

From Student to Assistant Instructor in 4 Classes
Dekena has been with Udacity, beginning as a student in the first Artificial Intelligence (AI) class, October 2011. She recalls, “I took the initial AI class; I saw it as an awesome opportunity because of the added interactivity. It exceeded my expectations.” Last year she wrote about her experience taking all three online computer science courses on Fortnightly Mailing.

While the AI class exceeded Dekena’s expectations, she also exceeded Udacity’s expectations. In addition to being an active participant on AIQUS, the class’s forum, she also helped to modify its software, OSQA. Since then, she has been suggesting features for the Udacity forums, which also run on OSQA. Most notably she suggested enabling LaTeX, a document markup language, in the forums, on the wiki and on the course site so that mathematical formulas would display more clearly. This has been especially beneficial for Udacity’s more advanced courses that use long equations.

Similar to many Udacity students, Dekena is a self-taught programmer. Aside from a few courses in high school and a semester at her University, where she learned BASIC, she has been learning on her own as a means of finding employment.

When Dekena took Udacity’s inaugural Programming a Robotic Car course, she worked hard as a student and proved to be an amazingly helpful peer, so much so that Udacity recruited her as a volunteer to help write supplementary notes for the course. Her ability to digest and articulate complex materials from this course helped Udacity create class documentation to benefit all students.

After working with us as a volunteer, we couldn’t bear to lose her and hired her as an Assistant Instructor. In this way, more students can benefit from her instructional prowess. As an Assistant Instructor, Dekena values the opportunity to not only help teach, but also to learn from a vast student body at Udacity: “What I like most about being an Assistant Instructor is the exposure to tremendously talented and smart people from all over the world. I like being able to learn from some, and to teach others.”

On Teaching
Assistant Instructors at Udacity fulfill a lot of needs, not only for students, but also for each other and the company at large. They coordinate with professors and video editors to keep course content interesting and challenging for students. Assistant Instructors also ensure that the technical side of things runs smoothly. More apparently, they monitor the forums, and make sure that student's needs are met by answering questions, responding to bug reports, and clarifying any confusion around lectures or quizzes. Additionally, Dekena is working to develop new courses for Udacity.

Udacity Assistant Instructors are the beating heart behind that which sets Udacity apart from other online universities – they keep content alive and running. They are also a supremely endearing group of enthusiastic computer science gurus.

As a lover of learning and a proven mentor, Dekena is optimistic about any student’s potential to better understand computer science. “Anyone can learn anything. It is just a matter of how much effort one is willing to put in. There are character traits and affinities, and also physical capabilities that can make the learning process easier or harder, but it is possible.”

To students just starting to master computer science, she encourages them to, “Be persistent. Be curious. Enjoy yourself! There is great satisfaction in finally solving a problem that you have been stuck on for a long time.”

Changing Education
Dekena is a natural Udacian. When asked what impact she thought Udacity was having on our global student body, she answered, “I think we are giving students around the world a first glimpse of the future – ‘University Reloaded.’ We work across the borders that governments, politicians and religious fanatics have put up. Students from countries that would never otherwise have a chance to learn from passionate and knowledgeable teachers like Sebastian Thrun, Westley Weimer, Steve Huffman and others, no have the chance to do so. People should not suffer because they were born in the wrong place and at the wrong time.”

For Udacity, the time for changing education has arrived. Our Assistant Instructors are here to support every student’s endeavor to change their life through education. As Dekena notes, “We cant’ fix the world instantly, but we can do something that helps change it for the better.”

Thursday, July 5, 2012

How will MOOCs affect higher education?

Udacity believes that providing free education can empower people to change their lives for the better. By creating classes that not only provide content but also support a community of learning, students have the opportunity to learn anytime, anywhere. The discussion surrounding Massive Open Online Classes (MOOCs) continues to build momentum. For some, the impact of MOOCs on traditional higher education is at the heart of the conversation.

When Udacity posted the article, Open Online Courses Are No Substitutes for Classroom Learning to our Facebook page we received upwards of 50 comments! Our fans had some really insightful things to add to this debate.

The article's author, Joshua Kim, Director of Learning and Technology for the Master of Health Care Delivery Science program at Dartmouth College, is skeptical. Kim identifies the biggest drawback of open online education as, "...the massively open online courses do not permit dialogue between faculty and students on an individual basis (too many students)."

On the other hand, Kim acknowledges that the benefits of the MOOC structure is that it gives, "...greater transparency, more investment, and more availability, [which] are always welcome development in higher education."

Our students on Facebook were quick to offer their own opinions:

"Open Online Courses can have more advantages than traditional online learning. One thing that it does that is very positive is put more responsibility on the students to take care of their education and search out things that can help them instead of being passively told what to do by their instructors. Also, I think it can really encourage collaboration and workplace skills that aren't taught that well in the traditional education system."

"In some ways online isn't as good; in other ways, it is superior. Old school is rightly worried. If free can provide 50% of the value for <1% of the cost, does it disrupt? Um, yes. The good news is that the expensive business models (schools) are finally facing disruptive innovation."

"Having access to message boards detailing problems with 40,000+ people answering is an extremely valuable resource. Additionally, the ability to re-watch lectures, pace yourself, and skim to parts you need is like having a lecture pre-recorded for you."

Others pointed out the setbacks that the current online learning models are facing:

"Well open online courses are great, but there is no proof that I have taken these courses (and that I didn't' cheat). Having exams at external centers would alleviate that problem. Teaching computer science online is easy, teaching physics would be harder (we consider performing actual experiments essential to being a physicist), teaching philosophy would also be quite impossible in that way."

And others provided some great perspective on the nature of changing higher education:

"Among designers there is the so called "T model" where you know something about a broad range of topics -- that is the top bar of the T -- and you have a very deep knowledge of one topic, which is the vertical part of the T. Udacity can provide that top bar. Hence, it is highly valuable for personal development in a way almost no official uni is anymore."

The next quote is interesting because the idea of transforming education for the benefit of the student is something that definitely gets overlooked in discussions about free education. Business models that do not requires students to pay promote education as a right rather than a privilege, a concept Udacity stands for.  It is also something that Michael Littman, Udacity's Algorithms instructor, mentions in What Michael Littman learned while teaching at Udacity.

"Education is begging for innovation and many traditional educators are unfortunately not embracing this emerging opportunity to SERVE their students better and are instead engaging in turf wars."

What do you think? Join the conversation on LinkedIn or Facebook.