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Intersect 2016: The Wrap

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Can it be true? Is Intersect 2016 really over? It doesn’t seem possible! This incredible event has occupied our hearts and minds for so long, it’s hard to believe it’s already come and gone. But alas, it’s true. Our inaugural Intersect 2016 Summit is officially over. Oh, but what a time it was!

If you’re not familiar with Intersect, this was a very special event we hosted on behalf of a select group of Nanodegree students, presenting them with an opportunity to come to Silicon Valley, meet with and learn from a group of incredible thought leaders and influencers, attend workshops with Udacity instructors and subject matter experts, and network with one another, as well as representatives from a shortlist of top Silicon Valley companies.

Students were asked to apply, and through a rigorous and personalized selection process, we ultimately landed on—and extended invitations to—75 Nanodegree program students, who joined us last weekend for the big event.

Was it successful? If we’re to go by students responses that came to us via post-event survey, then yes! With a disclaimer. It should have been longer! Which ultimately is pretty lovely affirmation! But more on that later.

The event actually began informally, with a little meet-and-greet on Thursday night.

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This was a wonderful opportunity to put faces to names for students and instructors alike, and proved to be a delightful ice breaker. But rest assured, all in attendance behaved themselves, and everyone was up and ready on Friday morning for the big day!

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Kathleen Mullaney, VP of Careers at Udacity, led things off with introductions, and was followed by Udacity CEO and co-founder Sebastian Thrun.

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Going by the survey results mentioned above, Sebastian’s keynote was a really significant part of the event for attendees, but while audience sentiment was clearly positive about Sebastian, their collective enthusiasm was overwhelmingly bested by Sebastian’s own excitement. Between you and I, he still hasn’t stopped talking about Intersect! And I can personally attest to the fact that when Sebastian referred to those assembled as his heroes, he meant it very deeply.

All at Udacity remain exceptionally grateful for the contributions of our guest speakers, each of whom brought something really unique to the table, but all of whom—with no intentional pre-planning—all united around a common theme as well. Laura Gomez, CEO of Atipica, was the first guest to speak, and I think it’s safe to say she delivered a talk for which the word “inspirational” was likely invented! She closed her presentation with a wonderful quote:

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It should be noted that the talks were all live streamed, and were watched by literally thousands of virtual viewers!

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Following Laura’s keynote came a series of lightning talks—led by Udacity instructors—and the real conference work began!

  • How to Continue Learning Post-Graduation (Brynn Claypoole)
  • Taking the Road Less Traveled: Growing a Non-Traditional Career in Tech (Walter Latimer)
  • Doing Tech for Good: Less Traditional Options (Lyla Fujiwara & Georgia Martines Davis)
  • Your Progression as a Developer (Mike Wales)
  • The Power of Networking (Tairi Delgado)

After lunch, it was time for the fireside chat. Hosted by our own Ana Diaz-Hernandez, our guest was Makinde Adeagbo, Founder of /dev/color, and an esteemed veteran of the Silicon Valley trenches!

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing Makinde speak, you’ll know he’s an utterly beguiling combination of charm and intellect, and his ability to authentically inspire through hard-earned experience makes for a tremendously motivating listening experience. Attendees wanting to hear career truth from someone who’s experienced both the highs and lows were not disappointed!

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Like Laura before him, Makinde’s talk was personal and universal both, and both speakers reiterated time and time again the importance of following your passions. Makinde’s advice was particularly resonant on this point given its grounding in real experience; to paraphrase, do good work! If you have a choice between two jobs and/or projects, don’t choose for money or prestige or advancement, choose the one for which you know you’ll do good work, for this will be your calling card going forward!

After the fireside chat, attendees and instructors got back to work in a series of breakout sessions:

  • How to use Github Collaboratively (Brynn Claypoole)
  • Conquering the Coding Interview (Katy Reichelt)
  • Your 1-Minute Pitch (Ana Diaz-Hernandez)

And that was followed by the final keynote of the event, delivered by Bret Taylor, CEO at Quip.

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Like the speakers before him, Bret reiterated time and time again the importance of following your passion. If you were tracking his talk on Twitter, you’ll know his quotes together formed a veritable manifesto of insight and guidance, though you could probably also simply sum up his perspective in one single statement:

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And with that, the “official” event came to a close! Fortunately for those of us who work at Udacity however, there was actually more to come! On Saturday, attendees were invited to our Mountain View offices for an informal gathering and brunch. This was a great opportunity to both further get to know one another, and also—for students—an inside look at how Udacity actually does what it does, when it comes to creating classes, developing curricula, and building programs. Judging by the looks on everyone’s faces, it was a wonderful time:

Our own Cameron Pittman said it both simply and perfectly on Twitter, after all was said and done:

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Indeed. It’s been great!

For the student attendees, great futures and great careers await. It is our deepest hope that takeaways from this event will positively inform each of their paths towards their incredible futures.

And for us at Udacity, what remains is to comb the data for insights on what we can do better to further our support of student careers, and to begin plans for next year, when we look forward to building on all the joys and successes of Intersect 2016 … for Intersect 2017!

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