What happens when 200+ Udacity students meet with 14 world-class hiring partners for a night of networking and interviews?

 

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I can read the names, but it’s hard to believe they’re all really here—Amazon, BMW, Bosch, Continental, Didi Chuxing, IBM Watson, Google, JD.com, Lyft, Mercedes-Benz, NVIDIA, Uber ATG, Volkswagen, and Voyage.

After all the hard work bringing this event to life, it’s tempting to allow ourselves the pleasure of believing these amazing companies are here because of us. But they aren’t. Not really. They’re here because of the students.

Let me back up a bit, and tell you that the event I’m referring to is the Udacity Hiring Partners Fall Pop-Up.

When I talk with Dilys, she tells me she only started learning to code 5 years ago. Tonight, she had an interview with Google. She describes the whole experience as surreal. She says she’d been reading job listings at Google as recently as a few months ago, and they’d overwhelmed her. “I don’t have any of those qualifications,” she’d thought. After her interview tonight, she tells me, “I think this can happen. I think I can do this.”

Connecting learning to jobs is a primary mission for everyone at Udacity, and as I sit here on the steps watching the guests stream in, the effect is overwhelming. It’s easy to spot the Udacity employees among the crowd—look for the people with the biggest grins. I’m one of them.

The students, for their part, are focused. Some have backpacks on, others carry shoulder bags. They’ve all got resumes, folders with critical information about themselves, their studies, their goals. Some are here to network, and to make connections with the companies in attendance.

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Others have interviews already scheduled that will take place during the event. For many of the students, this is the first time they’re meeting one another in person. After hours, weeks, months of sharing stories, trading support, reviewing and critiquing each other’s work over Slack and in forums, they’re finally putting faces to names. It feels great to be here, to see this, to know how real and how important this is.

Udacity’s CMO Shernaz Daver is busy taking pictures, checking in with partners, talking with students. I overhear one graduate tell her: “You know, we see these company names online, listed as hiring partners, but we don’t really know if it’s true. But when we see them physically here, then we know it’s real—this is a new way to do things.”

There’s a bit of a stir behind me. “Charlie” has arrived. If you watched our founder Sebastian Thrun at TechCrunch last week, when he announced the Intro to Self-Driving Cars and Flying Car Nanodegree programs, you know who Charlie is. You can read about Charlie here if you missed the announcement. And yes, Sebastian came with him.

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Nazanin was one of those students who took Sebastian’s very first online AI course through Stanford. She took it all the way from Iran. She’s since graduated from both the Front-End Web Developer and Machine Learning Engineer Nanodegree programs. She’s currently enrolled in our Self-Driving Car Engineer Nanodegree program. She’s meeting prospective employers tonight. Next month, she’ll be a featured speaker at the Einstein AI, Deep Learning & SuperIntelligence Summit 2017. “None of this would have been possible without Udacity.”

It’s more than two hours later. Did I mention we’re outside? We are, and it’s completely dark now, and it’s beautiful. The event is being held in a gorgeous courtyard outside the Los Altos History Museum. Lovely soft yellow lights are strung above the cobblestone walkway that separates the rows of tables where our hiring partners are still talking and meeting with our students. I don’t know how to express how in awe I am of everyone’s dedication right now. We’re starting to wrap up, and interviews are still going strong.

Steve was one of the 25 Udacity-Bosch Path Planning Challenge competitors who earned an interview with Bosch. We talk about his background in mobile, and the SELF DRIVE Act. His longview understanding of how disruption can lead to widespread adoption has me enthralled. I could have listened to him for hours, but Udacity instructor Ryan Keenan (who Steve recognized from classroom videos) is temporarily free at the BMW table, so I walk Steve over to make the introductions. Next to Ryan, representing BMW in his role as an Advanced Technology Engineer, is George Sung—a Udacity graduate (who landed the job while still a student in the Self-Driving Car Engineer Nanodegree program!).

I just checked in at one hiring partner table. 27 full interviews conducted tonight, with 16 confirmed follow-ups already planned! I talk to another partner—12 interviews, 11 follow-ups planned. Our students are incredible. This is amazing.

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I remember one moment in particular from earlier in the night. I was standing at the far end of the tables, talking with Andreas, a recent Machine Learning Nanodegree program graduate from Germany.

“You know,” said Andreas, “the curriculum is amazing. But what really impresses me about Udacity is the spirit of can-do.”

Dusk was just settling in around us, and the soft flow of the lights was beginning to lay its softer focus over the event. Andreas and I fell silent, and I looked out at the 200+ students in attendance, and I suddenly realized, they’re all going to make it. They’re all going to make it.

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Was I under the spell of the enchanted evening? Perhaps. But I’m off to change the ribbon in my typewriter all the same, because I’m pretty sure 200+ “Students in Jobs” blog posts will need to be written very, very soon.