How a Two-Time Nanodegree Program Graduate’s Involvement in His Local Tech Community Led to a Machine Learning Job with Disney

Success and Service - Machine Learning - Udacity

Success can be measured in many ways. For some, it’s about money, fame, status. For others, it comes down to whether you can check certain boxes—house, car, spouse, kids, job, etc. For still others, success is about service. For Michael duPont, it was through serving his community that he ultimately achieved his personal goals.

Michael is a two-time Nanodegree program graduate—the Data Analyst Nanodegree program first, and more recently, our Machine Learning Nanodegree program. He is a disciplined, hard-working, and intelligent learner, but what really distinguishes him is is his dedication to community.

After graduating from college with a major in theater and a minor in computer science, Michael moved to Orlando, FL, where he began seeking out local computer science organizations:

“I was here for a few months before I found Meetup, which, in retrospect, was one of the best things I’ve ever done for my social and professional life.”

His involvement with Meetup enabled Michael to find and connect with hundreds of local developers and computer programming enthusiasts. After a few months of attending events and building friendships, he was inspired to learn more. He began researching online programs and discovered Udacity’s Data Analyst Nanodegree program. It looked like the perfect opportunity to build upon his existing Python and data wrangling skills, so he made the decision to enroll.

He was simultaneously deepening his involvement in two local groups, the Orlando Developers Slack group, and the Orlando Python Meetup group. He began co-hosting the Python group, leading meetings, engaging in public speaking events, and streaming the meetups online for members overseas.

Amidst all this activity, he was offered a contract gig with a startup, working as a Data Scientist. As if that weren’t enough, Michael also began volunteering with Code for Orlando after participating in a local hackathon. He was inspired by their mission, and began volunteering on projects that would positively impact his community:

“I participated in data studies to protect the identities of victims while Orlando was preparing to launch its open data portal, and continued to assist with gathering information for other ongoing projects.”

As his involvement grew, he was promoted within the organization and made a member of the leadership team as a Data Lead. Despite the inevitable time management challenges, his volunteering efforts actually enhanced his Udacity experience—he was able to use some of his Code for Orlando projects as examples for Udacity projects:

“I used brigade and city data for a few of my Udacity projects. I also used this project to build some interactive visualizations.”

The Data Analyst program exposed Michael to a host of new concepts, including Machine Learning, which he was fascinated by. Immediately upon completing the Data Analyst Nanodegree program, Michael enrolled in the Machine Learning Engineer Nanodegree program. He worked his way through the coursework, while continuing his work with Code for Orlando, Meetup, and the Slack groups. He also attended national events like the Code for America conference. Michael successfully graduated from the Machine Learning program in April of this year.

Over a two-year period, Michael immersed himself in Orlando’s tech community. He built friendships, created new groups, and used his knowledge to make a real difference both locally and globally. Best of all, Michael just accepted a new job with Disney Parks and Resorts on the Emerging Technologies team, as a Machine Learning Engineer!

“The Emerging Technologies division at Disney Imagineering wanted to start looking at what code and projects they could open-source, and they thought that my experience and community involvement would be a perfect fit, in addition to my domain expertise.”

A common misconception out there is that “tech” is an insular bubble populated by out-of-touch elites. Michael’s journey makes clear how wrong this misconception is. His role in the community—the groups he joined, the connections he made, the projects he supported—is absolutely central to the story of how he became a Machine Learning Engineer at Disney:

“Community involvement got me the interview; Udacity got me the job.”

From everyone here at Udacity, congratulations, Michael! Your journey of success powered by service is an inspiration to us all.