Three bananas with different sticker designs, all written 'Hello World'.
Technology

Udacity’s Nanodegree – what are you really buying?

When you enroll on Udacity’s Nanodegree programme, you are not paying for the core content, but the support system they have built around it.

My friend is cautious. Having been employed in his current job for many years, he is extremely skilled in what he does. But unfortunately, his role is now threatened with redundancy. “How much does it cost?” he asks, after looking up the ‘Nanodegree’ – a series of structured online programmes created by technology training provider Udacity. He is keen to retrain, but is worried about how much he’ll end up spending on an open-ended monthly subscription. Having bought a book a few years ago to learn to build his own website, he is still struggling to achieve that goal.

The good news is, the course materials are free! But with the Nanodegree, you are actually buying a banana split.

The banana split

The basis of learning to code is essentially the same, because computer codes are standardised languages. Think of the code you want to learn as a banana. No matter which shop you buy a banana from, they more-or-less taste the same. On the same principle, you can go to other online training sites and learn pretty much the same things. However, the Nanodegree makes your banana tastes different to all the other ones from the bunch! They split open the fruit to its core, add ice cream, whipped cream, chocolate sauce and a variety of sprinkles. The experience of consuming a banana is now transformed into a sweeter, richer and more fulfilling experience! So what are the toppings?

The toppings

Ingredients for a banana split, labelled with Nanodegree course components.

The Nanodegree deconstructed as a banana split

The training is a compilation of existing free courses ((List of some Nanodegrees and the free courses included in each syllabus.)), with some customised lessons added in between. The core knowledge costs nothing. The programme’s true value lies in the layers of added goodness on top of the standard knowledge not available with the freebies – and that’s what you are really paying for. These include:

Clean codes to a style

Key projects and some interim assignments are checked by paid reviewers who had gone through the same learning experience ((Udacity blog: Is Udacity Project Review In Your Employment Future?)). They will tell you what you did well and give tips on how you can improve. There’s no getting away with hacks here, you’ll need to code according to industry best practice as well as a style guide – just like in a professional context.

Get your questions answered

When you get stuck in a problem, there are good chances of getting quality answers to your questions…

  • Discussions – each course has its own forum with discussion threads arranged according to lessons and topics. Each cohort also has its own virtual space, so you can advance together with students at similar stages of progress. Moderators and mentors are active in the discussions (inside Udacity or on Slack), so you are not solely dependent on peer-to-peer assistance. They’ll even read through your problematic code and give thorough answers sprinkled with extra tips and tricks.
  • Webcasts – live and recorded sessions focus on different topics or aspects of an assignment. These may give further information on the course contents, answer questions submitted by students and/or share insights to mistakes commonly found in project submissions.
  • Tutorials – one-to-one tutorial with a coach is the most personalised feedback you can get. Pick their brains based on assignments or topics!

Career next steps

  • The programme incorporates a range of lessons and tasks to build your professional profile and practice aspects of job application.
  • Udacity has its own recruitment programme called ‘Talent Source’ aimed at employers. ((Udacity blog: Announcing Talent Source: Connecting Students & Employers With Our New Candidate Sourcing Tool))
  • The structure of the courses is based on a series of projects intended to equip you with a portfolio to showcase your skills at the end of study. You are encouraged to approach each project creatively, to stand out and demonstrate your uniqueness. The portfolio is probably more meaningful to potential employers than a course completion certificate and separate snippets of code exercises without context.
  • Taking it one step further, the Nanodegree Plus programme has a money back guarantee of a job within 6 months’ of course completion (conditions apply).

A balanced diet

Just as you probably can’t survive solely on eating banana splits, you can’t rely on a Nanodegree to be your only source of knowledge. Rather, it opens a (fridge) door for you to make up a balanced diet. For example, you will need to add other nutrition by doing further reading and research around the subjects. You should also do some exercises to help digest the contents – practice the skills on other projects outside of the course.


Different people learn more effectively in different ways. Whether a Nanodegree is right for you depends largely on whether you want that support to smooth your learning curve, as well as your longer-term goals. So I advised my friend to either grab the free banana, or go all-out for the banana split!

Which option do you think he went for, and which would you choose?


Images contain illustrations from various sources: 123rf.com, VectorHQ.com (Food Fruits And Vegetables, Cocktails and Summer Sweets Set, Fruit icon set, Vector Fruit Diet)

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