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Udacity Year in Review

2016 will stand as a year rich with student success, and one populated with an ongoing abundance of new offerings built to encourage, support, and enable that success. Let’s look back now and recall some of these amazing student success stories, and the work that went into helping make them possible.

Gordon Yoon UdacityJanuary

The very first student success story we published on our blog in 2016 featured Gordon Yoon, a graduate of our Android Developer Nanodegree program. This post set the tone wonderfully for the year, concluding as it did with these words from Gordon:

“Best of all, after receiving offers from both Amazon and Google, I officially accepted the role of Software Engineer at Google, and I’m incredibly excited to get started!”

January in fact marked the launch of one of our most important job-focused offerings to date—Nanodegree Plus. Sebastian Thrun introduced the program with these words:

“In 2010, we started Google X to pursue moon shots, moving impossible ideas into reality to change people’s lives forever. In education, the biggest moon shot is connecting learning to jobs. Get an education to get a job to change your life.”

Today, we are launching a new program at Udacity, called Nanodegree Plus. Earn a Nanodegree credential and we will guarantee you a job within six months of graduation, or give you 100% of your tuition back.”

Rena Ansbacher UdacityFebruary

Rena Ansbacher’s journey to a full-time role as a Data Analyst, which we featured on our blog in February, took her from Year Up—a workforce development program that empowers young adults to go from poverty to professional careers in a year—to a scholarship, to a Nanodegree program, to a job:

“Rena officially graduated from both Year Up and the Udacity Front-End Web Developer Nanodegree program on Jan 26, 2016, and is starting full-time as a Data Analyst at DTCC! Rena’s Udacity scholarship was made possible by a collaboration between Udacity and AT&T, who have jointly committed 500 scholarships to Year Up to prepare students for careers in the tech industry.”

Soumya UdacityCost is something we continually strive to address, and in another student success story from February of 2016, Soumya Ranjan Mohanty described how Udacity’s cost structure enabled him to achieve his dream of landing a cutting-edge Data Science job:

“I have encouraged a lot of my friends—many of whom are still in college—to enroll at Udacity. Some say that it is a little expensive, but I think the fact that I had paid money to enroll actually drove me to complete my program faster. 


In a March 4th profile of Rakuten (one of our hiring partners), Francois Bergeron, Recruiting Manager at Rakuten, shared his thoughts as to why Udacity alumni are so highly regarded:

Q: Rakuten has recently hired two Android engineers through Udacity. What made these two candidates stand out to you as you were reviewing them?

Francois: They stood out because of their technical skills, and they did very well on our test. We also value the quest and curiosity for constant education that Udacity students display. The drive that Udacity students have for learning about new technologies—and the go-getter spirit they display—is completely in line with our organization’s culture.

Employers aren’t the only organizations we work with on behalf of our students. GitHub is a curriculum partner for both our Front-End and Full Stack Web Developer Nanodegree programs, and in March of 2016, they began including us in their Student Developer Pack, an offering that gives students free access to the best developer tools all in one place.

We Ryan Waite Udacityclosed out March with a wonderful story about Ryan Waite, who credits both GitHub and Udacity as being critical to his success. About GitHub he said:

“In the end, it was GitHub that proved to be my opportunity. A recruiter found my resume floating on a job website—because I posted my resume literally everywhere—and had seen my GitHub profile, and he was impressed. I had a phone interview, and the next thing I knew, I was hired and working as Junior Web Content Developer at 22nd Century Technologies Inc!”

And about Udacity:

“The Nanodegree program got me to where I wanted to go. It not only gave me the skills I needed, but it gave me confidence in those skills.”


April was a great month for launches. On April 17, we officially launched in China! Then, on April 20th, we launched Udacity Connect, an in-person learning initiative enabling students to visit physical locations weekly to work with peers and session leaders on setting goals, managing time, and hitting milestones. Fernando—a construction worker whose first programming experience came through Udacity’s “Introduction to Programming” Nanodegree program—had this to say when asked why he found Udacity Connect so valuable:

“I could interact with students who were far ahead of me and get past roadblocks which I could not have done on my own.”

JPMillerAtIntersectOn April 23rd, we published a wonderful guest post from Udacity graduate JP Miller entitled “Creating Opportunities and Communities: My Nanodegree Experience,” in which he wrote about attending our Intersect conference:

“Making new acquaintances and networking with colleagues is my peanut butter and jelly. So naturally, I was ecstatic to be invited to Udacity’s first conference, Intersect 2016. Intersect was an exciting opportunity to meet a community of people bound by their enthusiasm for technology, lifelong learning, and an affiliation with Udacity. You just don’t know how connected you are to online associates until they run to greet you in person. My daily associates don’t do that! It was thrilling to cross paths with people that would not have met one another without Udacity’s Nanodegree programs. Without a doubt, Udacians are cultivating one of the coolest online and offline cultures I’ve ever been party to.”


Sonja Krause-Harder UdacityIn May of 2016, we welcomed the creation of a very special new organization specifically focused on the lives and achievements of our alumni: The Nanodegree Alumni Leadership Board! The board is comprised of amazing learners like Sonja Krause-Harder:

“I am a graduate of both the Front-End and Full Stack Nanodegree programs. I’ve benefitted tremendously not only from the courses and projects, but also from the daily contact with current and former Nanodegree students—through chats and forums—and I want to contribute to, and improve, this community so it may help others as well.”

May also presented us with another special opportunity to highlight alumni achievement. On May 6th, we celebrated the graduation of 62 students from Georgia Tech’s Online Master of Science in Computer Science (OMS CS). The OMS CS is a unique partnership between Udacity, Georgia Tech, and AT&T, and was recently lauded by President Barack Obama:

“We are partnering with schools like Georgia Tech on innovative ways to increase the value [of higher education], like your online master’s program in computer science, which costs just a fraction of the price of an in-classroom program.”

Joshua Powers, one of the 62 graduates (now working as a Software Developer at Canonical Ltd.), described the program in these terms:

“The OMS CS program was the experience of a lifetime: working with insightful students around the world, learning from very experienced professors, and digesting innovative concepts and technologies. Through challenge after challenge, this degree has pushed me, caused me to grow, and I am now excited to continue to explore and lead as an alum.”

Aaron McLearn Sebastian Thrun AT&T UdacityJune

AT&T is a longtime Udacity collaborator, and in June of 2016 we had the opportunity to publish a remarkable guest post from Aaron McLean, who is Principal Technical Architect for AT&T Integrated Cloud, and a graduate of two Nanodegree programs. Aaron and his team—who between them earned 14 Nanodegree credentials!—are inspiring examples of how progressive workforce training can genuinely change lives, careers, and companies for the better.

“I was on cloud nine. After many years of trying to prove that I had the best web developers on my team at AT&T, I now had a training course at Udacity that my developers could take that would enable them to get certified and further showcase their newfound skills to themselves and upper management.”

For those aspiring learners just getting started with technology, the Android Basics Nanodegree by Google was announced on June 22nd, accompanied by an offer of 50 scholarships funded by Google. The response to this launch was so incredible, we very quickly followed up with 50 more scholarships! 18-year-old Steven Abreu, living in Germany, earned the #1 spot on our Android scholarship leaderboard, and had this to say about his passion for Android development:

“I really enjoy creating things. An app, in my opinion, is one of the simplest ways to make an impact on so many people—especially since there are over one billion Android devices worldwide! Unlike with creating a company, you don’t need many resources to create value with an app, except for time and commitment.”


In July of 2016, we celebrated a major milestone at Udacity—our 5th birthday! Sebastian memorialized the date in this post, and captured the spirit of the day beautifully when he wrote the following:

“First and foremost, Udacity is a story of our amazing students. Many have stayed with us through the years, assisted us in improving our offerings, and helped us spread the word. I really want to thank every single student who has been willing to trust us as a source of learning. Udacity would not exist without you, and you are the focus of our work.  And yes, every single student who discovers their dream career through Udacity makes me believe life is worth living.”

James Peterson Udacity Student SuccessJust a few weeks after Sebastian’s post went live, we had the opportunity to publish Transformation: The James Peterson Story. In this post, James described his journey from a maintenance job at McDonald’s to a Front-End Engineer position at Einstein Industries—a journey that look just two years!

“I wanted to transition into working with technology, and the Nanodegree provided me the path I needed to follow. ‘Traditional’ schooling wasn’t what I was hoping for, and on top of that, my work didn’t feel beneficial to society. Transitioning into this field was the one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!”

Success stories like these happen through the efforts of a great many individuals—the student, of course, but also a number of people whose work often goes unheralded. In July of 2016, we were able to highlight Olga Simpson, a Career Reviewer for Udacity. Her story made clear what an important role she plays in a student’s journey to success, and how much her work truly is appreciated:

“Thanks for the great feedback Olga. I used this new resume outline this week and already have an interview lined up from it!”


Lauren Smith, Udacity, Student SuccessIn August, we shared student success stories from Lauren Smith and Jennifer Person, each of whom made rewarding career changes after discovering Udacity. Lauren pursued her interest in web development, and now has a job as a Web Developer at an ecommerce company. Of her new role, she says:

“I’m faced with new challenges and problems everyday, and I feel more fulfilled in the work I’m doing.”

Jennifer Person, Udacity, Student SuccessJennifer wanted to find a role that would allow her to help others, and through Udacity she was able to secure a position as a Developer Training Specialist for an Information Technology company. She describes the transition in this way:

“I’ve always wanted to make a difference with my work, and I love that I’m now part of something that is going to improve other people’s lives. It’s been a great journey, because technology education really helped me, and it gave me the tools I needed to advance my career, and I’m now able to create software that will help other people.”


September was an important launch month for Udacity. We introduced our VR Developer Nanodegree program, and also opened applications for our Self-Driving Car Nanodegree program. Salar Yazdjerdi, one of the earliest applicants to be accepted to the Self-Driving Car program, described his motivations in powerful terms:

“I have been fascinated by the vision of automated driving for years. It will change cities altogether, but more importantly, in the near future, it will save lives, and I want to be a part of this solution in my career. By taking this Nanodegree program, I will improve my programming skills, and work on real-world applications in Machine Learning and Computer Vision. I was in a tragic car crash as a child, and learning about the technology that will keep others from being in the same situation gives me great pleasure.”

Mangal, Udacity, Student SuccessThe commitment our students display as they work towards their dreams is exceptional. On September 9th, we told you about Mangalambigai Sivaramakrishnan, who was a desktop developer for eight years before she took time off to raise a family. By the time she was ready to return to work, her skills were largely out of date, her network had dispersed, and her opportunities were slim. But despite the rejected resumes, dismissive recruiters, and dead-end interviews, she persevered. Mangalambigai ultimately graduated from not one but two Nanodegree programs, and then landed a rewarding role as a Front-End Applications Software Engineer:

“It is all I ever wanted in a job. I have smart and supportive teammates, I get to work on the latest technologies, and we are building beautiful products!”


Udacity Hiring Partner Logos

Hiring partnerships played a key role in Udacity’s 2016 story, and on October 20th, we had the great pleasure of announcing ten new hiring partners for our Self-Driving Car Nanodegree program, including Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Nvidia, and more. We were thrilled to deliver this news to our students, and to share what employers were saying:

“By helping develop the curriculum for the Self-Driving Car Engineer Nanodegree program, we are investing not only in potential talent to contribute to our cutting-edge developments, but in the future of autonomous driving.” —Axel Gern, Head of Autonomous Driving, MBRDNA

“The Self-Driving Car Engineer Nanodegree program will enable prospective hires to quickly contribute to an industry in need of innovation. The race towards an autonomous vehicle future is an important and extraordinary technological challenge—one which McLaren is well suited to meet.” —Christian Klender, Head of Systems Engineering, North America at McLaren Applied Technologies

“The autonomous vehicle industry is one of the fastest growing job sectors and very soon engineers with autonomous vehicle experience will become invaluable.” —Wolfgang Juchmann, VP at AutonomouStuff

“Udacity has one of the most innovative programs to prepare an entirely new kind of engineer to build a future few of us can yet imagine.” —Josh Hartung, CEO, Polysync

Hiring partnerships were just one way we went to work for our students in October of 2016. That same month, we rolled out a brand-new mentorship program, debuting it with our Android Basics students.

We also opened enrollments for our VR Developer and Predictive Analytics for Business Nanodegree programs, and officially launched our new Artificial Intelligence Nanodegree program!


In November of 2016, the launches just kept on coming! On November 15th, our international efforts took a great leap forward as we announced the first Udacity Connect Campus in Saudi Arabia; an announcement punctuated by the offering of 150 initial scholarships, to be followed by 2500 more in 2017!

Two days later we launched Udacity Blitz, a new service directly connecting companies with top Udacity engineers who develop and fully manage custom software projects.

“Udacity Blitz is a service we need in today’s rapidly changing corporate landscape. They truly put their engineers first, and it was a pleasure to work with them on our mobile project.” —Arianna Huffington, Founder and CEO, Thrive Global

Ryan Collins UdacityUdacity graduate Ryan Collins was one of our very first “Blitzers,” and he wrote a wonderful post about his experience, which concluded with the following words:

“All in all, the experience of working with Udacity’s Blitz platform has been an incredibly rewarding one for me and I would highly recommend it to any Udacity Alumni. I would also say that if your company wants to work with some of the most talented software engineers on the planet, you should look no further than Udacity Blitz.”


And here we are in December! A month that in many ways offers a bit of everything that’s transpired in 2016. For example:

One of the most incredible stories of the entire year was written by Omar Albeik, a graduate of our iOS Developer Nanodegree program (and a Blitzer!). We published his piece on our Medium publication on December 13th, and it’s been read and shared thousands of times since. Against a backdrop of social and political unrest, Omar faced an uncertain future:

“Throughout my life, I struggled with finding my passion; I studied mechatronics, worked in sales, even opened my own restaurant. For different reasons, I quit all of them. At one point, I had to leave Aleppo, my hometown in Syria, because of the war. Even though it was an awful thing, it had a serious impact in waking me up.”

Omar ultimately discovered Udacity, and then used his education to build a new life for himself. His story is a riveting demonstration of commitment and determination.

“Udacity opened my eyes to the importance of being a lifelong learner.”


2016 has been a profoundly moving year for everyone at Udacity. You, our students, have challenged yourselves every day to achieve greater heights, and we’ve done our very best to follow your example. You’ve found new ways to master new skills, and you’ve turned those skills into new opportunities for yourselves. No sooner do we launch a new initiative than you show us what can be done with it in ways that exceed anything we could have predicted.

So what’s ahead for Udacity in 2017?

You are. You, and the inspiring example you present to us every day. Everything we try, everything we dare to imagine, every risk we take, we do so because you are there, ready and able to achieve more. Every launch, every announcement, every new offering—each is delivered with the goal of rising to the possibility you represent. Everything we’ve done before is a testament to what you’ve pushed us to do, and everything we’ll do next is a testament to what you’re capable of. Your potential is our challenge—what can we aspire to that is worthy of what you aspire to?

This is what is ahead for Udacity in 2017. You, everything you’re going to achieve, and everything we’re going to do to support you. Here’s to an amazing 2017!

Christopher Watkins
Christopher Watkins
Christopher Watkins is Senior Writer and Chief Words Officer at Udacity. He types on a MacBook or iPad by day, and either an Underwood, Remington, or Royal by night. He carries a Moleskine everywhere.