Intersect 2018 was many things, but above all else, it was a celebration of our extraordinary students. Shiza Shahid perhaps summed it up best, when she tweeted these words after leaving the stage to a standing ovation following her keynote speech:
“The best education I receive is from conversations with people living lives entirely different from my own. Thank you Udacity, for the opportunity to speak at Udacity Intersect with your inspirational learners! May we all embrace the intention of becoming lifelong learners.”
Every second of the conference shone a light on our students—not just what they’ve achieved so far, but also what they’re going to accomplish next. Every conversation, from the most informal to the most professional, was pregnant with a sense of potential. The energy running through the halls, across the stages, up and down the stairs, was transformative—people were literally alive to the experience of being together, and feeling one another’s strength, and conviction.
With each new panel, each new workshop, each new interview, I was reminded anew of how limitless our future can be, when our hearts and heads come together to dream, to build, and to solve, with compassion.
By day’s end, with the inspired voices of Sebastian Thrun and Marc Andreessen still echoing in my ears, I was completely drained of energy, yet I retained within me the memory of every word spoken, every story told, every image shared. As I stood outside in the cooling air, I kept returning to the beginning of the the day, and to the opening keynote given by Udacity CEO Vish Makhijani. I remembered the moment he asked everyone in the audience to write down a goal for themselves, and I could still see in my mind the faces of students whose stories he shared.
Fatima was born in Kuwait, but had to flee with her family to Iraq at the onset of Operation Desert Storm. She was studying to become a pharmacist at Baghdad University when, in 2013, the family was displaced again by war, as ISIS infiltrated their city. The destruction she’d witnessed changed her—she committed to building a career where she could truly help others. In 2016, Fatima signed up for a Re:Coded/Udacity Bootcamp, and learned Android. She then joined an incubator, and set about raising seed capital for her new venture: TechTeens—a school that teaches children and teenagers how to code. Five One Labs named her Entrepreneur of the Day on January 24th!
JP turned 30 in Chicago, Illinois, and realized he needed to make a change. He and his wife were expecting a baby, and his collage of freelance and subcontracting jobs wasn’t going to provide the stability and financial security they were going to need. He had to learn new skills, but he didn’t know where or how to get them. He thought about community college, but even the nearest option was far from home, and too costly. Then he discovered Udacity’s Front-End Web Developer Nanodegree program. Through a combination of hard work, tenacity, and his passion to make the most of the opportunities Udacity offered him, JP is today the owner of a web design agency. He teaches web development to inner-city youth, and even mentors new Udacity students.
Abdulwasa is originally from Eritrea. He came to Germany as a refugee in 2015. He didn’t speak German, and had no idea how to use a computer. But he was determined to make a new life for himself. He was able to enroll in an intensive German course, and began learning the language. He got connected with CodeDoor, and through their refugee support initiative, was able to earn a Udacity scholarship. He spent a year learning German by day, and learning to code at night and on the weekends. He graduated from the Front-End Web Developer Nanodegree program, and landed an internship at a great company.
These stories and more were shared from Intersect’s main stage, but that wasn’t the only place to discover powerful stories like these. I heard similarly moving tales emerging during panel discussions, during workshops, in mentor sessions, and in interviews. Perhaps best of all, I heard them in the informal conversations happening everywhere in the building, and on the grounds. People were networking, yes, and they were meant to. But they were also connecting, sharing, and learning about one another. They were taking strength in the experience of telling their own stories, and providing heartfelt empathy as they took in the stories of others.
This is the true story of Intersect. It is a story of community, and connection. Intersect happens once a year. But the connections forged, and the opportunities claimed, last a lifetime.