Today’s post features Cynthia O’Donnell, Front-End graduate and stay-at-home mom who’s planning ahead and building a portfolio of web development education and experience for an entirely new career.

Cynthia Photo

Cynthia O’Donnell is a stay-at-home mom living in Naples, Italy with her husband and two children. The O’Donnells are a military family—her husband is active duty U.S. Navy and Cynthia herself is a Navy veteran. After the Navy, she attended law school at the University of Florida then practiced as a bankruptcy attorney in Hawaii.

“After my son was born, I stayed at home, but I wanted to use the time off from work to keep learning.” Two years later, Cynthia stumbled across an article about MOOCs and online courses, which encouraged her to continue her education more formally.

“I remember going to Coursera’s website and thinking, ‘Great, these are all things I’m interested in!’ And then I went to Udacity’s site and couldn’t help my reaction, which was, ‘Eww, computer science!’ and I promptly closed my tab and went right back to Coursera.

But six months later, Cynthia came back to Udacity, mostly out of curiosity.

“When I was in college and in law school, I was hesitant to take a course that I wasn’t sure I would excel in.  MOOCs remove that fear because there is no downside.  It is just about learning.  That’s the key difference between online courses versus traditional education; there is no risk in learning entirely new subject matter. As a result, I started learning about technology through Udacity.”

With a son about to turn five and a daughter just over two years-old, the Front-End Nanodegree has been ideal for Cynthia and her busy family schedule. She’s able to operate and learn on her time….and that’s a huge benefit.

“Sometimes I work when they’re at preschool and other times I study when they’ve gone to bed. Having the flexibility in arranging when I can work is the only way I can do this.”

People can accomplish things that they never thought they could.  If you are curious, you can learn anything, especially with Udacity.” tweet

With the Nanodegree, Cynthia valued the interaction with other students. “The forums are really where Udacity stands apart from other MOOC and technology education providers. There is a real sense of community between students and instructors as well. Whenever I felt stuck, I knew I could find guidance in the forums. The willingness of other students to help with the crazy problems that arise is really invaluable.”

What’s so interesting about Cynthia is that she creates things that connect to her own life. “With one of my Nanodegree projects, I created a volcano map because I live near Mount Vesuvius, but I quickly realized that wasn’t going to be all that interesting. Then, I thought about how much my son loves dinosaurs. So I started doing dinosaur research: types, popularity, world representation, and locations.

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It was a fun way for me to tie together a development project with something my own kids are interested in. My son will often say, “Can we do the dinosaurs, Mommy?” And that’s just fun! But I think it is important for my children to know that their mom can use a computer to make interesting things. Hopefully, it will spark their own interests in programming.”

There is nothing else like it. It’s so valuable to have a well-planned track, to know what the next step is. And at the end, you have valuable skills you can use.” tweet

“The Nanodegree was challenging, but definitely doable.  The Udacity courses are great, but with the Nanodegree you have to struggle on your own,” she continues. “You learn the foundations with the courses and apply them in different ways to really understand how to complete the projects. Other online ed tech sites may walk you through a project step-by-step, and that’s not challenging at all. It’s almost more difficult to remain engaged because it’s so tedious.”

“We will move back to the States next year, so I’m not planning on looking for a job until then. Until then, I’m going to keep learning and begin the Full-Stack Nanodegree shortly. Down the road, it’s all a work in progress.”

While Cynthia may still jump back into law, that’s not necessarily where her interests lie. “I’m interested in working with a company that values a breadth of experience, that needs someone who can wear many different hats. I am deeply interested in technology and programming, but I have other skill sets as a result of my two prior careers.”

“I really appreciate the opportunity to have a very focused and streamlined program like the Nanodegree. There is nothing else like it. It’s so valuable to have a well-planned track, to know what the next step is. And at the end, you have valuable skills you can use.”

“People can accomplish things that they never thought they could.  If you are curious, you can learn anything, especially with Udacity.”

Her advice to new students? “Don’t be afraid to follow your interests.”

Want to share your Udacity story? We want to hear from you! Drop us a line at social@udacity.com.