How Your New Udacity Profile Can Get You A Job

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At Udacity, we want to be the place where you come to get an education, to get a job. One of the key ways we pursue this objective is through candidate profiles. Every career-ready Nanodegree program student has a unique candidate profile, which functions as an optimized showcase for your skills, your projects, and your experience. We want to see top employers consistently discovering Udacity talent, and student profiles help make this possible.

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Go From Hireable To Hired With Career Advisor!

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There are many paths to career success, and while we all generally share a similar end goal—landing our dream job, being successful, enjoying a fulfilling life—we all start in different places. Some of us literally begin at square one. We don’t have the skills we need, we don’t have the experience required, and we don’t have any portfolio evidence of our accomplishments. But we want to learn! Others of us have some of the puzzle pieces assembled, but still need a few items to flesh out the picture. But we’re ready for our careers to advance! And finally, there are those of us who are essentially already ready to be hired, but for some reason the switch isn’t flipping.

Nanodegree Programs, and Nanodegree Plus

At Udacity, we’ve thought deeply about all three of these scenarios. And while ultimately every individual’s journey is unique, there are some patterns that emerge, and we’ve tried to speak to each of these with our offerings. Our Nanodegree programs are perfectly suited for that learner who is ready to undertake the full journey towards a new career. And Nanodegree Plus, with its job guarantee, is ideal for that career-focused student who knows what they want to do, and is ready to do it.

But what about that third scenario?

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Introducing Profiles! AKA How You Show Off All the Cool Stuff You Can Now Do

If you’re taking one of our Nanodegree programs, we’re happy to announce that you’ll now be able to take advantage of our new professional profiles, through which you can showcase your skills to potential employers and advertise your employment preferences (as well as share your portfolios with your peers and friends!).

If you’re an enrolled student, you can get started right now by going to your profile (also accessible by clicking on your name in the upper right-hand corner and selecting ‘Profile’ in the drop-down menu) and syncing your relevant accounts when prompted. Once all sections have been populated and edited to your satisfaction, be sure to toggle the switch next to the ‘Recruitment Info’ section to “Looking for Jobs” to let others know you’re in the market!

When you start a Nanodegree, new sections within your profile are automatically created. They are also automatically populated with portfolio items (for now, just your projects), as you work through the program, leaving you free to focus on learning while a project portfolio is built for you. You can of course improve your profiles by uploading extra examples of your work as you go.

You can opt-in to show potential employers not only your Nanodegree projects but also your work history and preferences, including cities and countries to which you are willing to relocate, simply by completing your profile. Employers can then see at a glance what you learned, what you can do and whether their open positions might be relevant for you.

There is also a public view, which is perfect for sharing with friends, family and fellow Nanodegree students. For example, check out Allan’s profile here: https://profiles.udacity.com/u/allanreyes

Professional profiles powered by Accredible
Yes, student Allan Reyes has really completed THREE Nanodegrees. #hardcore

The new profiles are powered by Accredible, who are best known for their interactive course digital certificates in order to make students accessible and attractive to recruiters. We’re excited to team up with them on this career effort!

If you haven’t yet enrolled in a Nanodegree, why not start today? Nanodegrees are built and recognized by leading technology companies, designed specifically to advance your career. They teach the skills necessary to excel in technology’s most sought-after positions, and enable you to practice and demonstrate those skills through realistic projects. Nanodegrees currently available include: Data AnalystFront-End Web DeveloperFull Stack Web DeveloperiOS DeveloperIntroduction to Programming.

Questions about profiles or general career services? Holler at us: career-support@udacity.com

Contract vs Freelance vs Full-Time: Can You Tell the Difference?

Until the last decade or so, there was a certain path that emerging workers and career-switchers pursued automatically. Everyone in the employment equation took for granted that you would learn a specific skill set, whether through higher education, a vocational or trade school, or an apprenticeship, and then find a job. Pursing a single, long-term employment position was for many the only way to leverage all the benefits that came with full-time employment.

While this track may still hold appeal, the job market is changing and the landscape of work available is much more diverse than it was even ten years ago. As the economy shifts, technology advances, and working in a particular physical location becomes less and less a necessity, workers now find themselves faced with ever broadening possibilities for employment, in a variety of arrangements. And they’re taking advantage of it. According to the Freelancer’s Union, one-third of working Americans are now employer-independent, working in some capacity either on contract or as a freelancer.

Contract vs Freelance vs Full-Time

It’s not only the shifting technology and volatile economics that lie behind this surge of self-employment, it also appears to be a generational and cultural phenomenon. Among millennials, average job duration is 4.4 years. This suggests that the idea of tenured positions, of retiring from one company after a lifetime of service, no longer holds the same allure for workers today as it once did. At the same time, these kinds of jobs are becoming increasingly rare. They still exist, but in the age of the startup and the IRA, employers and employees alike are less inclined to view retirement as the end goal of any offered position.

Programmers and developers are especially suited for nimbly navigating between freelance, contract, and full-time employment — partially because this type of work can be done from remote locations (anywhere you have a laptop and an Internet connection), and partially because highly skilled coders are in hot demand. But what are the implications for each type of work you may find yourself being offered? Understanding your career options can help insulate you from the resulting financial duress if a startup flops, or if you find yourself laid off or in between jobs.

Your Employment Options

A full-time employee works for one company and is paid either hourly or by salary for work done. The employer handles tax withholding and reporting; and the employee is usually entitled to benefits (health insurance, life insurance, 401K, etc.). As of January this year, there were about 120.7 million full-time employees in the U.S. alone.

For example, a new employee is hired as a data analyst for Facebook. He is expected to work about 40 hours each week in an office, and in return is compensated with a salary and an array of benefits, likely health insurance, paid sick and vacation time, a matching 401K, and perhaps educational reimbursement. Overtime may or may not be required, and may or may not be compensated for, depending on the offer of employment.

Full-time employment is usually specified at-will, meaning that even if you are offered employment, you or your employer can terminate that employment at any time for any reason. There are laws in the U.S. that protect workers from unfair discrimination and unsuitable working conditions, but employees are not immune to layoffs, downsizing, or buyouts.

Freelancers and contractors have a very different relationship with companies, which function now not as employers, but clients. The distinction between freelance and contract work itself, however, is a little less clear, and one can sometimes blur into the other.

Generally, freelancers are hired by the project, and the client relationship is straightforward. Freelancers are expected to report and withhold their own taxes, and typically itemize their deductions. They do not receive employee benefits from the companies they work with. Freelancers usually juggle multiple clients at a time; and when not doing client work, they may be marketing themselves and networking, trying to find new work.

For example, a freelance web developer may be currently working with three clients and booked out, with these or other clients, for the next five months. She works from home and invoices her clients to get paid. She figures out the tax side of things, or hires someone to do that for her, just as though she were her own business — which, in a sense, she is.

Independent contractors can work like freelancers, with multiple clients on a per-project basis, but more generally they work with one company at a time for an extended and specified period (the “contract”) and they are paid by the hour. They may be contracting themselves out, and thus reporting their own taxes. Or they may be placed in the contract by a third-party agency, in which case they’ll receive a W-2 from that agency at the end of the year for hours worked. Completely independent contractors (so called 1099 workers) do not receive employee benefits. Agency-placed contractors (W-2 contractors) often have access to a limited menu of benefits, such as a non-matching 401K or an FSA. Like freelancers, 1099 contractors have clients. W-2 contractors have . . . well, it’s a little less defined. W-2 contractors are employees of the agency that placed them, but they continue to function in something more like a client relationship with the company they’re working with.

According to the Freelancer’s Union, one-third of working Americans are now employer-independent…

Contractors of either sort are not paid for vacation time, for corporate holidays, or for other time off. Sometimes they are expected to show up in an office, sometimes they work remotely, and sometimes the contract position is intended as prelude to a potential full-time position.

For example, a company may hire an independent contractor to perform site updates, security, and backups. The contract is in force for a specified period of time, perhaps 18 months, and the company pays the contractor at regular intervals. No need for an invoice. If that contractor has come through an agency, she does not need to manage her own tax withholding. If she has not, she’ll shoulder the responsibility of that task, just as a freelancer would.

These roles are not mutually exclusive. It’s fairly common, especially in tech, for full-time employees to moonlight as freelancers and contractors in their off-hours. If you experiment with this, just be sure to resolve any potential conflicts of interest or contractual obligations you might have with your employer first. It’s also worth noting that many U.S. companies are willing to hire international workers as remote contractors for positions they wouldn’t be able to offer those workers (often because of visa issues) full-time.

What Type of Employment Should You Seek?

Choosing between freelance/contract work and a full-time position depends entirely on you: on your career goals, your life goals, your family situation, your location and the local economy, your work style, and so on. As more traditional forms of employment are slowly replaced by newer, more varied paradigms, and as it becomes easier for independent workers to access alternative healthcare and retirement savings plans, many in the job market choose some sort of hybrid between freelance/contract and full-time. Or they may switch between the two roles, sometimes in an employer relationship, sometimes in a client relationship, with respect to the companies they do business with.

For emerging workers, freelance and contract work can be a great way to start, helping you gain a variety of experience in a relatively short time. It’s entirely possible to have a satisfying, lucrative career as an independent freelancer or a 1099 contractor.

If you’re the type who thrives in a multitasking environment, who doesn’t mind managing the business side of being a freelancer, and who would thrive in a coworking space or working from a coffeeshop, that may be the ideal lifestyle. Understand, though, the most successful freelancers and contractors (even to some extent the W-2’ers) are not only putting in the hours to finish client projects, they’re also managing their own businesses — which may include having to learn about business and tax laws and regulations, managing their own marketing efforts, networking, and scaling their work for future growth.

If all that business-side development is definitely not appealing, but the flexibility, mobility, and variety of short-term work is, then you might consider listing with several placement agencies and giving W-2 contracting a try.

…workers are finding it easier than ever to go from freelance to full-time, or to transition to contract…

Of course, once armed with an attractive resume and a robust portfolio, you’ve the choice either of continuing to seek out independent projects or of angling for that perfect full-time position that just came up.

But if none of it appeals to you — if the paperwork sounds dreadful, if the flexibility and mobility doesn’t tempt — if what you’re really looking for is something stable and steady, something reliable, then full-time work is more likely to be your calling. There’s a certain comfort to knowing exactly what your monthly take-home pay will be, to being able to keep regular hours, to having a clear understanding of your working expectations — and a great full-time job with a solid company can offer exactly that.

Even though the job market is diverse these days, it’s still possible to find great positions working for great companies. Developers and analysts are uniquely positioned in a field that is growing by leaps and bounds, and companies all over are eager to find smart, savvy workers they can hold on to.

The Bottom Line

Work is changing and workers need to be adaptable to that, especially in tech. Knowing that you can move between freelance, contract, and full-time employment offers an additional layer of job security that workers in some industries don’t have. While there used to be a stigma around freelance or contract work, the shifting economy is breaking down those barriers, and workers are finding it easier than ever to go from freelance to full-time, or to transition to contract after having been employed.

You might try several avenues before deciding how you’ll plan out your career, to determine whether your work style is more suited to one ‘over the others. “After ceasing operations of a failed startup I co-founded, it was hard to imagine going back to having someone else place regular expectations on my time,” explained Jason Woodward, a web software and data model author, and Principal of State & Plain. “I much prefer the more flexible time and place arrangements of short- and medium-term contract work. There’s a ton of extra stuff to worry about, like business development, accounting, and business taxes, but for me the trade-off is still very much worth it.”

Whichever career path you take, you’re not alone. While there are 120.7 million full-time employees in the U.S., there are upwards of 53 million freelance and contract workers, and the numbers are increasing.

In the end, what matters most is your own satisfaction. If the work is challenging, if the projects are advancing your career, and if the money is meeting your financial needs, there’s no real advantage to taking one route over another — other than going with what works for you.

Intro to Computer Science: Udacity’s Most Popular Course Rebooted

Dave and me (and champagne)
Dave and me (and champagne) celebrating the course launch in 2012

Hi, I’m Kathleen, Director of Content Development at Udacity. Today, I’m proud to announce the reboot of Udacity’s most popular course: Intro to Computer Science. In this introductory Python course, more than 400,000 students have enrolled to learn fundamental concepts in computer science and program their own search engine.

Since we launched this course in February 2012, it’s been a life-changing (and career changing) experience for students all over the world, and we’re thrilled to add two key components that will give many more students the best learning experience possible.

First, we’ve added an additional project for diversity in skill mastery. Second, we’ve opened up access to our personal Coaches and Verified Certificates.

Learn by doing: Projects

Tens of thousands of students have completed this course, building search engines and other neat projects like, KickSaver, where you can find and save Kickstarter projects before they end, and Youdacity, a search engine for specific topics in educational videos.

Kicksaver
Kicksaver, a project by student Connor Mendenhall
Youdacity
Youdacity, a project by student Sascha Coenen

Now, we’re excited to release a brand new project where you will apply your new CS skills to program your own social network. We’ll give you a set of relationships (i.e. strings of phrases like “Dave likes Maria, Muhammad and Kristy”) and you will programmatically organize them into a social network. With the social network you create, you can explore relationships and gain insight into how you fit into your own social networks.

Learn with us: Coaching

We’re proud to open capacity in Coaching for Intro to Computer Science. You can think of Coaches as your personal programming trainers who help you across the CS-skills finish line, in the best shape possible.

Udacity Coaching starts with an on-boarding interview where you’ll tell your Coach what your goals are for the course and beyond. Together, you’ll come up with a learning game plan that includes pacing, milestone goals, and anything else that might help you learn. Inside the course, you’ll have access to on-demand chat tutoring, and you’ll be able to schedule video sessions for extra in-depth tutoring.

Udacity Coaches
Udacity Coaches (and a Squishable)

When you reach the end of the course, you’ll submit your final project (in this course, the Social Network project) to your Coach, and we’ll give you detailed code feedback. For many students, this personalized feedback helps them take the leap from writing proficient code to writing truly elegant code.

Join Our Community

Making a career change is no easy feat; this is why we are so proud of our many students for whom Intro to Computer Science was the first step down this impressive road.

You might recognize Megan from our homepage. Megan was a medical researcher who took Intro to CS and pivoted in her career to become a software developer. She says, “Transitioning out of research and into tech was a big step! In college I majored in kinesiology, and I worked as a researcher at UCSF. After taking Intro to CS with Udacity, I was able to pivot and I started at a position as a junior developer.”

Coming from a non-technical background myself, learning to code unlocked doors for me in my non-tech career. As a data analyst on Google Maps, it became clear I needed to learn to code in order to increase my team’s impact. With Python, I was able to build lightweight automated tests to help us work more efficiently, and I was able to build prototypes of tools I hoped to get developed by our engineering team. I’ve been promoting coding to everyone I know ever since (lucky I found this position at Udacity!).
I hope you are as inspired as I am by the many Udacity students who’ve taken this course as a first step towards changing their careers, and that you’ll join us.

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Teaching thousands of students to program on Udacity with App Engine, part 1: Steve Huffman

Cross-posted with the Google App Engine Blog:

This post is part one of a two-part series on how Udacity is using App Engine to teach thousands of students how to program online. Today’s guest blogger is Steve Huffman, founder of Reddit and Hipmunk. Steve recently taught a web development course at Udacity, which offers free online courses in programming and other subjects. Steve shares his experience using Google App Engine to teach the course.

This past spring I had the pleasure of teaching a course for Udacity, an online education company putting high quality college level courses online for free. I was recruited to Udacity by a former college professor and friend of mine, Dave Evans, Udacity’s VP of Education.

When I was a Computer Science student at the University of Virginia, I was fortunate to take a cryptology course taught by Professor Evans. He presented us two ways to get an A in this course. We could either do it the old fashioned way–do well on tests and homeworks as well as completing a course-long project of our choosing; or, we could break into his computer and set our grade to an A. Naturally, we pretended to do the former, while spending our evenings huddled outside Professor Evans’ house working on the latter. My team received A’s.

It was one of the first times where I felt I was not just completing course objectives as a student, but thinking about real-world problems as a computer scientist. When Professor Evans emailed me early this year inquiring whether I’d be interested in teaching a course on Web Developement, I said, “Yes!” long before my brain had a chance to remind me that I already had a full-time job.

The course I taught was CS 253: Web Development, which aimed to teach students the fundamentals of building web applications. I’ve always wanted to teach– it’s one of my favorite aspects of my job at Hipmunk. Web Development in particular is appealing because not only is it, in my opinion, the world’s most valuable profession, but even starting from scratch it doesn’t take much time to acquire the skills to build a site that can change the world. I wanted my course to leave students with such skills.

Choosing a platform for CS253

The course would be divided into seven one-hour lectures. After completing the seven lessons, students would have the skills to build a fully-functional blog platform from the ground-up, user accounts and all. I knew from experience that there is a dark side to web development: system administration. You can write all the fancy software you want that works on your own machine, but actually getting it online can be quite the pain. Where do you host it? Which database will you use? Do you know how to install such a database? Do you know how to configure a web server?

Learning the basics of web development in seven lessons was going to be challenging enough, I didn’t want students to have to deal with learning how to be system administrators at the same time. Fortunately, we decided in our first meeting that Google App Engine was the right tool for this course. Despite having never used it myself, the idea of it seemed to fit perfectly. Students would be able to write fully-functional web applications without having to deal with the tedium of installing web servers and databases, at least that was the plan. To be honest, I was a little skeptical at first, but I also didn’t have much of a choice–I wasn’t about to waste any time explaining how to get PosgreSQL running in Windows.

Reflections on App Engine

App Engine turned out to be one of the best decisions we made. Here are a couple of reasons why:

Write locally, deploy globally.

  • With App Engine, you can develop and run your application on your own machine, database and all, and with a simple command, deploy your application to Google’s servers and have it run identically on the Internet. When this worked for the first time for me, I was blown away. I’ve spent a significant, perhaps embarrassing, amount of time deploying code over the years. To see it happen in just a few seconds was astonishing.
  • Students being able to get their code running on the Internet with almost no hassle was one of the most important aspects of my course. First, it gave the students an immediate sense of power. After the first lesson, they would have their own code running live on the Internet! Second, it enabled a really nice mechanic of the course–each lesson would end with an assignment to add a feature to their live website. We could then grade these assignments in real-time. All the students had to do was submit a URL.

Excellent documentation.

  • App Engine’s documentation is superb. I tried to focus the majority of the course on high-level concepts common to all web development platforms; however, it was unavoidable that many parts of the course are specific to App Engine itself. For better or for worse, many of the App Engine concepts I taught I had learned only moments before. I got to know and appreciate that documentation very well. Even some of the more subtle concepts, like how the Datastore deals with replication lag, was all there and clearly explained.

The perfect level of abstraction.

  • A trap many beginner web developers fall into is starting with a very abstract web framework like Rails. While Rails enables a beginner to write simple apps quickly, and allows pros to appear to be wizards, it masks a lot of really important web concepts. App Engine sits at just the right level of abstraction for beginners and pros alike. I think it’s critically important to understand the difference between a GET and a POST, what HTTP headers look like, and how cookies work, for example. These aren’t difficult concepts, and having a deep understanding of them early will carry prospective developers far.

Auto-scaling.

  • While most of the students’ work in my course was probably used only by themselves and our grading scripts, we did spend a fair amount of time discussing how to design web applications that can support millions of users. Once you understand how to design an application that can run across many machines, App Engine will take care of the challenge of actually launching those machines when required and deploying your code seamlessly. Should the website I built during the course lessons, asciichan.com, ever hit the big time, I can rest assured App Engine will scale it with no effort from me.

Conclusion

Teaching CS 253 was a tremendous experience. To date, over 57,000 students have enrolled in the course! Check out some of the cool sites they built on App Engine after just seven lessons:

  • KickSaver (by Connor Mendenhall) – the web app that saves KickStarter projects before they end
  • Voter Sentiment (by Scott Bartell) – A real time analysis of Twitter sentiment towards the 2012 U.S. Presidential candidates: Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

You can see more apps built by Udacity CS 253 students at the Udacity Showcase, udacity.me

Teaching CS 253 was a tremendous experience. To date, over 57,000 students have enrolled in the course. It’s a project I’m incredibly proud of, and I’m deeply thankful to the folks at Udacity for giving me the opportunity. Furthermore, I’m grateful to Google and the App Engine team for building such a strong product. CS 253 could not have worked without it.

Editor’s note: Stay tuned tomorrow for the second post in this series by Chris Chew, one of the developers at Udacity. He’s going to explain how the Udacity team uses App Engine to power the courses themselves.  Also, Steve and Chris will be participating in a Google Developers Live Hangout this Thursday, November 1st, check it out here and submit your questions for them to answer live on air.

Contributed by Steve Huffman

Steve Blank’s Lean LaunchPad Course is Live

Steve Blank’s Lean LaunchPad course, which has taught thousands of entrepreneurs how to start a business, is now live and we’ve already seen plenty of exciting feedback from students. Students are already meeting online in the class discussion forum, where they are sharing ideas, feedback and skill sets as well as making plans to meet up outside of class to start their own companies.

At Udacity, we know the growing pains that come with creating a startup. Much of the advice that Steve gives in his class is advice we could have benefited from in our early days. To help other companies avoid the mistakes that we–and countless other startups–have made, we’ve spent the past three months working with Steve to convert his already-successful course to the Udacity format. The class is built around his Customer Development process–the foundation of the Lean Startup Movement–which has been guiding startups for more than a decade.

Steve teaches his Lean LaunchPad course at Stanford, Berkelely, Columbia, Caltech and Princeton, corporations around the world and now, Udacity.  In 2011, the US National Science Foundation (NSF) adopted his Lean LaunchPad curriculum and has used it to train this country’s best scientists and engineers on how to start companies.  Over 100 teams of NSF-funded scientists have gone through the NSF “I-Corps” program, which will train 200 more teams in the next year.

In Steve’s words, “the class teaches entrepreneurs that startups are searching for a business model. And unlike an existing company that’s executing, searching for a business model requires a ton of hard work testing hypotheses in front of customers.”

“I am thrilled to have partnered with Udacity and their world-class learning platform to bring the Lean LaunchPad to teams of entrepreneurs all over the world,” Blank says. And we’re thrilled to have him too!

The full, eight-session Lean LaunchPad curriculum allows you to learn and test your hypotheses on your own or with a team of co-founders.   Each lecture comes with significant “homework” that drives you to develop and refine your Business Model Canvas, and then pushes you “out of the building” to talk to customers, gain their feedback about your product or service, and integrate that feedback into your company’s business model in real time.  Have an idea you’d like to launch?  You can start here today!

You can sign up for more free Udacity classes at www.udacity.com.