Google taps Udacity to offer a ‘nanodegree’ in android development

May 28, 2015, 6:27 PM UTC
Photo: Gabriela Hasbun

Udacity, the brainchild of former Google roboticist and engineer and Stanford professor Sebastian Thrun, originally put college courses online as a more accessible way for students to learn via the web as opposed to going (and paying a premium for) college. However, working with colleges to democratize courses ended up failing, and the company changed its business to now offer classes and certifications to workers who want to beef up or learn new technical skills.

Called the Android Nanodegree, Udacity is powering the first engineering certification that has been created and certified by Google, which owns and distributes the Android mobile operating system. The partnership was announced Thursday at the search giant’s San Francisco developer conference Google I/O.

Udacity has partnered with technology companies such as Facebook and Google to create individual courses such as “Intro to Data Analysis,” and “A/B Testing.” Last year, Udacity introduced its “Nanodegree,” a paid online, intensive certification course which trained people for technical jobs such as being a developer. At launch, Udacity partnered with AT&T to offer a nine month, $200 per month course to learn to be a front end web developer. The nanodegree also represented a clearer way for Udacity to make money.

It’s worth noting that many other technology companies offer certification courses, including Cisco, HP and Apple.

Thrun says Udacity’s nanodegrees differ because they “are more rigorous and really focused on getting top-notch jobs.”

Udacity also offers services like counseling for jobs, reviewing resumes and cover letters to prepare professionals for jobs.

When it came to partnering with his former employer, it was a no-brainer says Thrun. Android has more than one billion users worldwide, and there has never been more of a demand for developers to build apps for this global audience.

The Android Nanodegree, which will also be $200 per month and takes 6-9 months to complete, was entirely built by Google Android engineers (students will get their partial tuition back if they complete the course work early). As Peter Lubbers, senior program manager at Google, says “The program is built to be up to standards for Google’s own internal training for Android engineers.”

It covers everything from how to develop apps for Android devices, to working with Google’s app store to designing apps. As part of the coursework, students will be required to design a media player, as well as use some of Google’s services, such as Google Maps, to build apps.

Upon completion, students will receive a joint certificate from Udacity and Google. Fifty of the best performing students of the new Android Nanodegree will be invited to Google for a three-day career summit in Mountain View to help them further their interview skills and find jobs. While the nanodegree courses have been in English, Google has partnered with the Government of Egypt to localize this Android Nanodegree in Arabic.

Lubbers adds that Udacity and Google are already working with Google on three more Nanodegrees in advanced web development, cloud computing and entrepreneurship, which will launch in a few months.

“Education is the single most important thing on the planet, yet education is medieval,” said Thrun in an interview. “The idea of one-time learning is insufficient and the cost of access has grown twice the inflation rate. We’re democratizing and using modern technology to make it fun.”

Thrun calls the nanodegree a more “Silicon Valley” way of education, in that it’s more “bleeding edge,” and teaches people skills that will end up helping them get jobs.

“In MOOCs people didn’t learn very much,” says Thrun, referring to the former Udacity model of offering college courses online. “Feedback and mentoring is a big part of it, we learned. MOOCs had a 2 percent finishing rate, and a nanodegree course with feedback and mentoring has 90 percent.”

A key part of the success of the nanodegree is the Udacity reviewer system which pays engineers to be part-time graders of student’s work. As soon as a student submits work, a reviewer can pick it up and grade the work. Nearly all work is graded within 24 hours. Some of the more active reviewers earn around $10,000 per month.

The Nanodegree business has grown 48 percent month over month, adds Thrun.

In terms of the financial breakdown, Google will not be taking any cuts from what Udacity earns from charging students to earn the certificate.

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