Let me start by saying how Jurassic the current education system is: pupils stratified by the same age are taught broadly, the same subject, by the same teachers — this is better known as the Factory Model. All education is crammed in the early years with the hope that it will spawn a fruitful future. Well not any longer. By the time the student has become an adult, technology has changed so drastically, employer requirements for skills have evolved so drastically, that what was learned in the early years has become obsolete.

Udacity (amongst other adult self-guided learning platforms such as Corsera, Udemy and so forth) have realized this disconnect that the factory model is creating. Udacity in particular, is very keen in discovering what the skills gaps are that employers are trying to fill and where there is a scarcity of related talent.

As an Academic Tech Mentor in IBM, I had the opportunity to work with Udacity over the summer and we focused on the technology skills gap and their Artificial Intelligence Nanodegree. The specific teachings had to do with a branch of natural language processing (NLP). This blog is a wonderful opportunity for me to describe the effort, care and expertise of all involved in creating this online course. And how you can take advantage of this skills gap, professionally!

Prior to my arrival at the Palo Alto offices of Udacity in California, I spent considerable time with my counterpart Arpan Chakraborty (PhD), creating a script for the teleprompter. Arpan had provided me with a general outline of topic of discussions and I took care in typing my responses. This was an iterative process as we passed the document to and fro until we felt it was ready for prime time.

I arrived at their offices on Sunday. They were gracious enough to accommodate me on a weekend and bring in the film crew. The filming studio was not just another room, it was a studio! The sound insulation, the lighting, the props and a professional grade camera manned by the one and only Jason O’Mahony was a sight to be seen.

Arpan and I stood side by side and we read the scripts. He would ask me the questions and I would reply… with everything rolling on the teleprompter. Jason on the other hand, was the director and producer of the movie. He would yell cut often and restart a certain segment. The exercise took close to 4 hours… all to cover a series of videos that encapsulated no more than 20 minutes in total running time.

What happened next, was indeed magical and it resulted in the 16 minute video that you see below.

Jason suggested that we take on a less formal approach. I was ushered to a different room with more of a living room type of a set-up. I was seated, lots of powder, lights and then, action! Arpan proceeded to interview me candidly. These words were not scripted and it was meant to tease out a more personal story.

A quarter of the way through the interview, Jason decided to take over the interviewing part. He had heard and learned from the conversation that Arpan and I had in the prior four hours and he was armed with a keen interviewing approach that actually reached into my deep thoughts and was able to extract the essence of how I felt and what I believed in, not just with regard to NLP, but about artificial intelligence (AI), the role of AI in education, the impact of NLP on today’s and tomorrow’s generation of kids. I found myself reaching deep into my personal beliefs and having to reach into all of my know-how, not just the technology at hand… And that my dear friends, showed me that not all interviews are the same. That building an online course cannot be done on the cheap. No short-cuts are employed at all Udacity and I got to experience it first-hand.

Sebastian Thrun, Founder and President of Udacity has the following claim:
“We believe our more advanced Nanodegrees certainly are. In fact, we issued a Job Guarantee. If you can’t find a job upon graduation, and we can’t for you either, we pay you back your full tuition. Through our Talent Source program, we work closely with companies to get our Nanodegree students a job. You can take our Android Nanodegree and pay about $2,000 and be trained for an entry-level Android job or more. Kushal in India landed a job at Flipkart after taking our Android Nanodegree. These jobs start at $80K in the United States and command even more in Silicon Valley. In fact, if you look at our Nanodegrees today, we have a salary tool embedded that shows you how much you might be worth. Give it a shot!”

The reason behind this guarantee is that Udacity courses are not written by academic professors, but by subject matter experts at Google, Facebook, IBM and other tech giants. These employers are keenly aware of where the talent shortage is and precisely what skills are at demand. Udacity also understands the power of networking through GitHub communities and local meetups. The students don’t just learn the technology, they are immersed in their hands-on projects, all the while interacting with the developer communities that cater to their desired profession.

Typically, the cost and access to Udacity’s Nanodegree content is $200/month, and the program takes about 10 months to complete, for a total cost of around $2,000. A personal message to adult and continual learners, browse the catalog, find your niche and enroll now. I guarantee you that we’ve done as much of the work as possible to get you to work in the burgeoning AI industry!

Udacity Artificial Intelligence Nanodegree

Learn more about AI and Natural Language Understanding

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