Today at the inaugural Udacity Intersect conference, the online education startup announced new robotics and digital marketing variants of its popular Nanodegrees — an effort to expand its corpus of 21st century skills-based courses. In addition to the new degrees, Udacity is adding 21 new hiring partners spanning the automotive, defense, tech, hardware and telecommunications industries. And, lastly, the company is partnering with Didi Chuxing for a new $100,000 competition to build safety features for self-driving cars.
More than 20,000 students have been a part of Udacity Nanodegree programs. Spanning topics like deep learning and VR development, the programs offer students studies that are more rigorous than a certificate and less intensive than a full degree. The new Nanodegrees announced today expand the reach of Udacity into marketing and robotics.
“This is a blueprint for anyone in higher education,” said Sebastian Thrun, co-founder and chairman of Udacity.
Udacity’s addition of the Deep Learning Nanodegree might have been a tip-off that the startup would be looking to cater to robotics enthusiasts. The first of two new Nanodegrees will be for robotics. Automation is a hot topic and any future involving machine intelligence will involve software-enabled hardware to increase efficiency. Students interested in this program will need a background of calculus, linear algebra, stats, basic physics, Python and computer algorithms.
It is easy to think that Udacity is reaching into uncharted territory with its new Digital Marketing Nanodegree program, but as marketing becomes more reliant on digital channels, new approaches are needed to prepare students for the rapidly changing career. And unlike the Robotics Nanodegree, the Digital Marketing Nanodegree will not require any prerequisite knowledge.
Each program will take three months to complete. Applications for the Robotics and Digital Marketing Nanodegree will open on March 8th and remain open until April 17th. Each term will cost $1,200.
The team also provided an update on Udacity’s self-driving car efforts. Udacity’s relationship with Didi is going beyond traditional partners. The two are launching a new competition to build an Automated Safety and Awareness Processing Stack (ASAPS) for autonomous vehicles. And, of course, another partner, Velodyne, will be providing the necessary data to fuel the efforts. The competition will have two rounds and begin on March 22nd, with the winners getting $100,000 and the right to implement their code in Udacity’s actual self-driving vehicle.
Udacity has made an effort to brand itself as a solution for the education asymmetries that plague the economy. This meant working in tandem with more than 50 hiring partners to both tailor curriculum to employers needs and match students to prospective jobs.
“Students end up at these companies and open up doors to us,” added Thrun. “It’s working, it’s kind of amazing.”
The new partners added today fit the trend of connecting available Nanodegrees directly to open jobs. iRobot and Megabots are both in need of students with an understanding of mechatronics. But beyond just robotics, Udacity has added companies, large and small, with a global reach.
The startup plans to continue adding new hiring partners and including them in discussions about future curriculum. But Thrun insists that there is more that needs to be done.
“The single thing that works best is instilling confidence and helping students prep for interviews and get their CV into shape,” insisted Thrun. “You’d be shocked at how many people lack the confidence to ace their interview.”
To get there, Udacity has been building its community of graduates and putting them to use helping new students. Some graduates, like Omar Albeik, a Syrian refugee studying in Istanbul, are hired to develop websites and other side projects, sometimes for Udacity and sometimes for other companies. Other former students evaluate project submissions and offer mentorship.
Albeik, who contributed back to Udacity as part of its Blitz team, didn’t sign up for Udacity because of its pitch to help with securing a job. Instead, it was about the ability to try — to experiment with something without being forced to commit to it.
“When I started learning, I was learning for the sake of learning,” said Albeik. “I wanted to choose what area to go into and Nanodegrees helped me discover.”