Changing the game of learning … Nanodegrees for self-driving car engineers and VR developers

September 28, 2016

Digital learning platform Udacity has launched some eye-catching new programs in recent weeks – be it the VR Developer nanodegree in partnership with Google, or the Self-Driving Car Engineer with Mercedes-Benz.

Business education is changing rapidly, as technology disrupts not just products and services, but also the skills and jobs required to deliver them. From the 100 year life (most of us will live to at least 100, with 4-5 different careers during that time, and retirement a thing of the past) to the reinvention of business schools (the average age of executive education has shifted from 25 to 50 as executives need to rethink, refocus and retrain). But it is the online platforms (also known as MOOCs – massive open online courses) like Coursera, EdX and Udacity which can be most disruptive. Making free or low-cost programs in a whole portfolio of new work and lifeskills, accessible to anyone on the planet with an internet connection.

Founded in 2011 by Sebastian Thrun, a computer scientist and former head of Google’s “moonshot” Google X program, Udacity is big business, and has raised more than $160 million in VC funding, to date. The company celebrated 5 years in business earlier this year and claims that 11,000 people are currently enrolled in its nanodegree programs, while in excess of four million people have checked into one of Udacity’s free courses.

A Nanodegree program is an innovative curriculum path that is outcome-based and career-oriented. Every program has a clear end-goal, and the ideal path to get you there. Courses are built with industry leaders like Google, AT&T, and Facebook, and are taught by leading subject matter experts. Students benefit from personalized mentoring and project-review throughout, and have regular access to instructors and course managers through moderated forums.

Graduates earn an industry-recognized credential and benefit from extensive career support. The ultimate goal of a Nanodegree program is to teach the skills you need, for the career you want, so you can build the life you deserve.

What’s becoming increasingly clear is that Udacity is setting out to offer courses in areas where it anticipates great demand in the coming years. The latest programs are in a long line of courses offered through the partnership between Udacity and Google. The duo have previously launched programs covering Android fundamentals, cloud fundamentals, UX fundamentals, and web performance.

Last year, they also linked up to offer  a tech entrepreneur nanodegree, followed by a deep learning course. And, back in June, they introduced a new Android Basics nano degree aimed at those with little or no programming experience. The course went on to become Udacity’s biggest-ever nanodegree launch, with 1,500 students enrolling in the $199/month course in the first week alone.

With the VR Developer Nanodegree, students will delve into 3D environments and learn how to make the VR experience immersive on both mobile phones and desktops. They’ll work on game engines, design and user interaction, performance and ergonomics, and more.

The program costs $199 per month, with 50 percent refunded upon successful completion. It was developed in conjunction with Google, HTC, and Upload, who will each contribute to the curriculum and have mentors on hand to give coaching and feedback to students. By default, all students will work with a Google Cardboard headset, which admittedly isn’t strictly “VR,” but which is an accessible and affordable option for viewing immersive content. Alternatively, those with access to a real VR headset, such as an Oculus Rift or an HTC Vive, will be able to pursue an extra track called “High Immersion VR.”

The Self-Driving Car Nanodegree program in partnership with Mercedes Benz, Nvidia, Otto (Google’s self-driving trucks) and DiDi (Chinese car-sharing service) consists of three terms of 12 weeks each. It takes nine months to complete. Each term costs $800, paid in advance. Scholarships are available for students who qualify. At the end of the 9 month program, Udacity predicts that you will get a self-driving car engineering job with a salary of around $138,000. You can even pay a little more, and make the job certain, and money back if you don’t.

Students who enroll in this program will master technologies that are going to shape the future. Through interactive projects in computer vision, robotic controls, localization, path planning, and more, you’ll prepare yourself for a key role in this incredible field.

As Sebastian Thrun says “If your goal is to build the future, then your future begins here.”


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