Udacity’s AI Programming with Python Nanodegree program was updated this week, with additional Python lessons, a new project where students will learn how to use a pre-trained image classifier, and a new visual calculus lesson. As these changes go live, we’d love to introduce you to the program’s instructor and Curriculum Lead, Ortal Arel.
Hi Ortal! Can you start by telling us a little about your background? What did you do before becoming Udacity’s Curriculum Lead for the AI Programming with Python Nanodegree program?
I’ve always had a passion for math, and teaching science and engineering. I studied electrical and computer engineering as an undergraduate, where I became interested in pursuing graduate studies in intelligent algorithms for embedded systems—such as mobile devices. I received my PhD, then I began teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in signals and systems, logic design, and applied cryptography at the University of Tennessee.
Was there a particular moment that really sparked your passion for AI, when you knew it was what you wanted to do with your career?
My initial fascination with the world of AI started with my research in embedded systems. I worked on the design and analysis of intelligent algorithms for high speed digital architectures. Learning more about intelligent algorithms led to a passion for Machine Learning (ML) and Deep Learning. I’ve been increasingly amazed with all the ML applications being applied to help better society, like those used in healthcare systems, in agriculture, in automated driving, and more. Prior to the emergence of machine learning as a discipline for addressing challenging data science problems, signal processing was the prevailing approach. Given the many mathematical similarities between the analytical tools behind signal processing and machine learning, I was able to fairly quickly learn about the recent advances in ML and AI.
Next, let’s hear about your role with Udacity. You’ve just finished updating your program’s content. Can you tell us a little about the work that goes into that?
I’m fortunate to be working with great colleagues in my group, which is a diverse and talented team in the School of AI. It’s beautiful to see how people from different disciplines and different backgrounds can all enjoy collaborating and giving their own flavor to AI applications. There’s a lot of teamwork, a lot of learning from one another, and a lot of fun! I create content in areas pertaining to AI, which includes: designing lessons (starting from the syllabus all the way to final production); adding lessons to the platform; and following up with students.
My role as Curriculum Lead for AI Programming with Python (AIPND) involves everything from deciding on the content we cover and determining the projects to focus on, to making instructional videos in a green room with a producer. This process is a team effort involving all the people in the School of AI. We meet often, learn from each other, and discuss ideas. I’m also heavily involved in improving the program based on feedback from students, and I help with inclusion and diversity within the School of AI.
Most of all, I try to show the world that AI is an approachable subject, and do all I can to make sure our students enjoy the process of learning.
Can you tell us more about how you help support inclusion and diversity efforts within the School of AI?
We believe that inclusion and diversity are crucial within the world of AI. The possibilities of applications are endless, and we believe a diverse group of people can lead to a far broader range of different ideas for these applications. In the School of AI we are very proud of our diverse group of teachers. We believe that we set an example, and help our prospective future students feel more secure and comfortable as they contemplate their future steps on their journey. We are also collaborating with big tech companies and nonprofits, striving to secure scholarships for prospective students to increase their opportunities to take a leading role in the world of AI.
What part of your role most excites you and motivates you each day?
I enjoy watching our students succeed, reading student’s feedback, and learning from them. In particular, I’m curious to know what they liked and what they felt could be improved about different parts of the program. And I love the math—watching it come to life with tangible applications such as in image classification. In AI, you can see how math and theory come to life.
Can you describe a particular project you’re really excited to see students start building in the program?
With the latest AIPND class, I’m excited to see how in a short period of time, students are able to build their own Image Classifier. This is something that was considered to be more of a science fiction application just a few years ago!
What do you think the future of AI will look like, and what roles could graduates of your program be doing one day?
I believe AI will continue to shape society at large in our lifetime and it’s so exciting to be part of that. Naturally interacting with machines, through speech and gestures, will become a seamless reality and make our everyday lives easier. This will enable humanity to focus on more fulfilling and rewarding activities.
The field of AI involves analytical thinking, creativity, psychology, and computer science and engineering, which is really unique and exciting. Current and future jobs in AI will offer candidates a range of diverse positions—from ones involving core machine learning software design and implementation, to those focusing on intelligent human-machine interaction.
What advice would you give to students just starting out in AI?
The door to the world of AI is right at your fingertips, so don’t be afraid to open that door as you start your first steps. You will learn coding and math, and see how beautifully these two disciplines come together as a whole. If you study machine learning and related topics you can find a path to be part of this exciting wave of innovation and transformation.
If you’re just starting out in the world of tech, our Intro to Programming Nanodegree program is a great place to learn foundational programming languages and techniques. And my own program is really important for learning how to use essential AI tools. Wherever you start your AI journey, it’s essential to stay open to learning new things—it’s a field that changes very quickly. To do that, get involved with your program’s community. Ask questions in the forums, share your latest projects, and collaborate with fellow students.
Outside of work, what do you love to do?
My husband and I have three kids and a dog, so that is certainly a big part of my life outside of work! I enjoy singing and dancing, as well as traveling and spending time with friends. I read quite a lot, and enjoy new and interesting types of food.
Thanks for talking with us Ortal, and for sharing your insights into the world of AI!
If you’re interested in starting or advancing your own career in AI, take a look at the School of AI today. Whether you’re taking your first steps into the industry, or you’re aiming to add advanced AI skills to your toolset, you’ll find a program that will enable you to reach your goals!