Two years ago, Julian Ozen was struggling in his Mechanical Engineering classes at Washington University in St. Louis. A friend had heard about Udacity through Hacker News and enrolled in Intro to Computer Science. Julian decided to brush up on his coding skills before the next semester, so he joined in. And over winter break, the two met daily to work on the course material together.
Julian explained, “I walked into my next semester feeling much more confident in my ability to code.” But the end result? Last fall, Julian and his study partner teamed up on a prize-winning web app, Review With Us, for the prestigious college hackathon, PennApps. They built the app using development technology they learned through Udacity. And for Julian, his experience with Udacity ultimately lead him to a change in major and a coveted internship with Amazon Web Services.
Udacity Just Clicked
Udacity wasn’t his first experience with programming. He had taken an introductory class at his university, enjoyed it, but only achieved moderate success with it. He had also investigated online courses through iTunes U and Coursera, but he hadn’t had any success in completing them. Udacity’s format, along with the video presentations, hit that sweet spot for Julian, making learning the material easier and more intuitive.
Udacity just clicked. “I love the format. The ability to watch the videos in chunks makes it easy to digest the information.” Despite continuing his college courses, Julian went on to study Web Development, AI, and Algorithms through Udacity’s learning platform, choosing his classes at Udacity to complement and supplement his university coursework and projects. “Udacity understands what it means to make web-native online courses. In the same way that YouTube has made it easier and more enjoyable to share media, Udacity has done the same way with teaching.”
“Things that seem tough become second nature very quickly…” tweet
PennApps and Amazon Web Services
You can find local and regional hackathons in most urban centers these days, but when Julian and his friend applied to PennApps, the college hackathon scene hadn’t quite exploded like it has since.
The PennApps event brings together over two thousand college students from all over the U.S. They converge on Philadelphia for a weekend marathon of creating and coding innovative web apps, sponsored by industry giants like Facebook, Comcast, and Intel. Professional panelists review the submissions, and prizes are awarded for the best, most well thought-out, and solidly built applications. Julian and his friend applied on a whim, “My partner and I saw some info about it on Hacker News and saw that we could get flown out, so we decided there was no harm in applying.” And soon found themselves in Philly, steeped in intense competition with some of the brightest young programmers there.
Chegg was a main sponsor for the event that year, so Julian and his team came up with an idea to align with the company’s mission of helping students in the classroom. “The project we made was called ReviewWith.us. Essentially it was a Reddit-style community for a classroom where students could post content related to their course, and students could up-vote or down-vote relevant material.” The app made it possible for students in the same class to share and collaborate on the most relevant notes and study with each other. Julian and his partners felt confident they could churn out the app in one short weekend of work.
They started the project using a LAMP stack. Julian contacted Amazon to use Amazon Web Services credit for the project, and came away with contact info for a company recruiter. But then the team encountered a bump in the road. “When we ran into last-minute technical difficulties, a friend and I decided to port our work over to use Python on Google App Engine because we were much more familiar with it from Udacity’s Web Dev class. The simplicity of Python, the ability to reference Udacity if we needed to, and the ease of pushing code to App Engine made the transition smooth — though stressful for 1 a.m.”
ReviewWith.Us was awarded “Best Hack That Makes Student’s Lives Better” at the end of PennApps. And with that on his resume, Julian followed up with the Amazon recruiter.
“Udacity almost directly got me a job.”
The interview and recruitment process went a lot smoother thanks to the level of Python training he received through Udacity. “I had three phone technical interviews, after which I received an offer. I was asked a series of algorithm and data structures questions, and I coded them in Python — which again, I learned from Udacity. Udacity almost directly got me a job.”
Now, Julian is a senior Computer Science major at Washington University. He’s kept active in the hackathon scene, and challenged himself with other projects, in addition to his internship at Amazon. He credits his success in networking with industry insiders and landing interviews with other companies to that level of deep commitment to his craft. And Python. “Pretty much any major project I work on is done with Python, and I owe it to Udacity for getting me started with it.”
The future is wide open for Julian now. He hopes to return to Amazon Web Services, but also sees himself getting involved in the startup community. While Udacity may have set him down this particular career path, Julian doesn’t necessarily believe his achievements make him a special case. When asked what advice he could offer to those interested in getting started in web development, he replied, “Once you get over a certain threshold, it’s extremely easy to run with it. Things that seem tough become second nature very quickly, and the internet has a vast library of content to help you build whatever you want. I feel like I’ve grown a lot since taking my first CS course. My only regret is that I never started earlier.”