How three-time Udacity graduate Nick Hester turned a supposedly high-risk learning path into a rewarding new career
Whether you believe, as the World Economic Forum does, that we are entering a Fourth Industrial Revolution, or are simply witnessing the increasing impact of technology on the employment landscape, the central truth remains the same—the world of work is changing, and we’re all having to adapt. As new technologies emerge and new innovations are made possible, competition increases, and growth expectations go higher. This in turn drives up demand for employees who possess relevant skills. Because these skills are often comparatively rarefied—given the newness of the technologies—companies are being challenged to consider more unorthodox ways of attracting the right kind of talent.
When Nick Hester was an undergraduate just beginning to think seriously about his future, he couldn’t conceive of a career in web development. He had spent five years jumping between majors, and while he was starting to realize that technology held the most promise, he had no idea where to start. He tried computer graphics, but while it interested him at the hobby level, he didn’t see it as a career path. Then Nick discovered programming. He was immediately intrigued, but the same concerns bedeviled him:
“I knew I wanted to get into programming, however, I had this assumption that it was a field reserved for math prodigies and geniuses. I knew I wasn’t either of those.”
In another era, when there were clearer lines between “blue collar” and “white collar” jobs, Nick’s reservations might have been legitimate. But the changes technology has brought about have rewritten many of the rules around hiring, and what constitutes employability today is something very different than it was just a few years ago. These changes are significant enough that language itself is adapting—new terms and concepts are emerging every day, as we attempt to make sense of what the future of work holds for everyone; from those just entering the workforce, to mid-career professionals, to those approaching traditional retirement ages.
IBM is a company that has been at the forefront of technological progress for decades. In a landscape populated with so many “here today, gone tomorrow” startups, both their stability and their impact over the long term is nothing short of astonishing. The New York Times recently highlighted IBM’s Century of Innovation, and as students of Udacity’s Artificial Intelligence Nanodegree program know, their influence is if anything more impactful today, as IBM Watson leads the way into an amazing new world of technologies such as Natural Language Processing.
When IBM’s CEO, Ginni Rometty, started using the term “new collar” to describe the new roles that have been emerging in the wake of recent technological advancements, it was inevitable we would all take notice. How does she define these jobs? They are positions that “may not require a traditional college degree,” she says, but instead call for “relevant skills, often obtained through vocational training.” By defining “new collar” jobs in this way, IBM has effectively laid the foundation for a new type of employee, as well as established industry demand for non-traditional forms of education.
For Nick Hester, the idea of an in-demand, “new collar” worker could not have come at a better time. As Nick got deeper into programming, he realized he was going to have to make a choice. Should he abandon his burgeoning passion, and force himself to embrace a career path with clearer prospects, or should he find a way to pursue what had become his real dream—a career as a programmer? He took a hard look at his undergraduate path, and determined it would take at least another two years to finish his business degree, or any other major. He made a very difficult decision, and left college.
“That was not an easy decision, nor one I recommend. But now, two years later, I still don’t regret it.”
To subsidize his efforts to build a new career, Nick took on a full-time sales job. During his free time, he began researching in-depth programming courses. That’s when he found Udacity.
“What stuck out with Udacity was the project-based curriculum, and the code review by experts in the field. Other courses didn’t have that feedback—it was all ‘you are on your own.’ My goal was to get a job in web dev as soon as possible, and Udacity was the fastest way.”
He began with the Intro to Programming Nanodegree program. Within two lessons, he was hooked. Nick quickly finished the intro program and immediately enrolled in the Front-End Web Development Nanodegree program. He continued to work full time, and devoted himself to completing the projects, typically spending 20 hours a week on his coursework. He was acquiring skills he never dreamed he could master, and had truly found a field that he was passionate about. Upon completion of the Front-End program, Nick wanted to build even more advanced skills that would make him even more job-ready. He enrolled in, and subsequently completed, the Senior Web Developer Nanodegree program.
At this point, Nick had (perhaps unknowingly) become a textbook example of exactly the kind of lifelong learner IBM has been evangelizing about. In a recent Consumer Affairs article entitled How to land one of those ‘new collar’ jobs, Sam Ladah, IBM’s Vice President for Talent, said he, “looks for signs that a job applicant wants to keep learning.” And in a recent Business Insider article entitled IBM’s concept of ‘new collar jobs’ could be vital in an automated future, quotes Stanley Litow, president of the IBM Foundation, as saying that in the future “the more valuable employee” will be “the one with the ability to adapt and grow and learn.”
Today, Nick is much more than a persona that matches an IBM description. Nick is now a web developer at The Weather Company (a subsidiary of IBM)! In another time and place, Nick on paper would read as a college dropout. But in this “new collar” era, thanks to forward-thinking companies like IBM, lifelong learners like Nick Hester are increasingly becoming coveted as very desirable talent. As a holder of three Nanodegree program credentials from Udacity, Nick is a shining example of someone who was able to combine the pursuit of a seemingly implausible dream, with a laser-precise plan to acquire valuable and in-demand skills. The result? A new “new collar” career!
Nick, on behalf of all of us at Udacity, we applaud your tenacity, your courage, and your success. You’re an inspiration to everyone who has a dream, and is willing to do the hard work to achieve it.