When Andrew Huschka enrolled in Udacity’s Front-End Web Developer Nanodegree program, he wasn’t aiming to get a promotion or change careers. But he did have something to prove. To himself, and to a special group of students at his alma mater. We spoke with Andrew to learn more about how his Nanodegree program experience enabled him to contribute to an amazing project.
Great to talk with you Andrew. Let’s go back to when you first enrolled. You weren’t looking for a new job, were you?
No, I wasn’t. I’m an engineer at an oil company in Houston, Texas, and I really like my job, and what I work on. So I’m possibly a little different from many Udacity students in how I came to Udacity.
So, why DID you enroll?
Well, I was working on a new alumni project at my alma mater, Kansas State. This supports engineering students with mentoring and training to focus on building skills that enhance employability when they graduate. I thought that if I was going to stand in front of students and preach the importance of lifelong learning, I should be prepared to practice what I preach. So my Udacity experience was the way to do that—to demonstrate I was keeping my skills fresh by learning something new.
Your alumni project sounds amazing! Tell us a little more about what it is trying to achieve.
The idea behind it is that we are treating the student as a start-up, and it’s their skills that will be valued when they “IPO” at graduation. We’re focusing on building those skills, based on a survey of the key skills that engineering recruiters are looking for during the hiring process. We’re basically using the start-up accelerator concept that’s existed for a while, and repurposing it for higher education.
The whole concept came from a realization that, at the end of the day, companies don’t value that you graduated with a 3.8 or a 3.7 GPA. They value your skillset and the experience you can offer them.
Focusing on job-ready skills and practical experience? That sounds a lot like our own approach to lifelong learning!
Yes! And actually, my experience with Udacity has fed back into the program itself. I’ve been talking about my Nanodegree program a lot with students. And I started to think about higher education differently. I think my experience definitely helped us think more about focusing our curriculum on skills. There’s a need to innovate in higher education, to think more about how we properly prepare new graduates for work. And that idea is gaining traction. Our project started with just one class, and we are now working towards scaling it to the College of Engineering.
Let’s go back to your Nanodegree program enrollment. Why did you choose Front-End Web Development specifically?
Coding was always something I wanted to know more about. I did some very light coding at college during my Bachelor’s and Master’s programs. But I never got to the point where I felt proficient in it. So it was an obvious subject choice when I was thinking about new skills I could build. I spent a number of weeks researching different online options, before I decided on Udacity. I liked the learning experience—the videos, the quizzes—and how it would fit around my work schedule.
How did you balance a new learning program with the rest of your personal and work commitments?
It involved a lot of work on Saturdays and Sundays, because I really didn’t have much time to spare during the week—it’s been a crazy busy few years. So I did most studying on the weekends. It was manageable because I planned my time and I enjoyed what I was studying. Even so, I think my wife was excited when I finished the program so that we had more weekends together!
While I was studying, one thing I found especially useful when I got stuck on a problem was being able to turn to the student community.
When I couldn’t figure something out, I’d push myself to find an answer. Then, if that didn’t help, I’d reach out to the community to see if someone had asked a similar question before and worked out how to overcome the problem. It was a great resource.
I’m not sure if there’s a direct application for it right now. But shortly after I finished the program, I did start a new and exciting opportunity at my company, and having the skills from my Nanodegree program definitely played a role in that change—the fact I could demonstrate that I was keeping my skillset fresh and was still learning helped me make that move. It’s exactly the same advantages of lifelong learning I’ve been advocating for with the students!
Thanks for speaking with us, Andrew! We’re so impressed that you’ve helped foster a culture of lifelong learning by living the values yourself. You didn’t just talk about it, but went out and put your own advice into practice by building new skills and adding to your experience. And it’s great to hear how your Nanodegree program experience has helped inform how you support students to develop their practical skills and real-world experience.