Code School Udacity Promises Refunds if You Don’t Get a Job
Udacity, the online educational service founded by artificial intelligence guru and ex-Googler Sebastian Thrun, is offering a new set of tech degrees that guarantee a job in six months or your money back.
Starting today, the Silicon Valley-based startup is attaching this money-back guarantee to four of its online courses, courses designed to train machine learning engineers and software developers that build apps for Google Android devices, Apple iOS devices, and the web. These online courses typically span about 9 months and required about 10 hours of study per week, and they’re priced at $299 a pop. That’s about $100 above the company’s usual fee, but the idea is that students will also work closely with specialists that can help them prepare for interviews and find a job after their degree is complete.
“The ultimate objective of education is to find people a job,” says Thrun, the father of Google’s self-driving car project.
Udacity is one of several outfits that offer massive open online courses, or MOOCs—courses that large numbers of people can take from across the ‘net, via video and other online tools. Other MOOC providers include edX and Coursera, a company founded by another AI guru and ex-Googler, Andrew Ng. These services received an enormous amount of media hype around 2012 but have since struggled to figure out where exactly they fit in the world of education.
In the beginning, many saw these services as a possible replacement for the classic four-year college degree, but the reality is a little different—at least for now. Founded in 2011, Udacity started by offering courses that mimicking university classes but it has since shifted to courses, as others have, that focus on specific skills developers and other engineers need. Like Coursera, Udacity works closely with tech companies, including Google, to build its online vocational courses. Now, it’s taking its promises a step further by guaranteeing jobs.
This does not mean Udacity has a direct pipeline into tech companies. But Thrun is confident in the Udacity course materials, and because outside companies have helped define the courses, he believes they are predisposed to hire those who complete their online degrees with his company. This is true, he says, even for a topic like machine learning. Udacity’s machine learning course covers so-called deep learning—an incredibly hot but also rather complex form of artificial intelligence—and he says it is geared towards those willing and able to grasp those complexities.
What’s more, the new job-guaranteed degrees offer access to what Udacity calls a “career concierge,” someone who can help train students for job interviews and the like. “We help students get job ready, Thrun says, “to get their portfolio together, to learn the social skills they need.” The company has experimented with this kind of thing in the past, but this is the first time it is formally offering it to the public.
Though this guarantee is welcome—particularly at a time when students continue to struggle with school debt—Udacity’s move also looks like another effort to find something that really works for the company’s bottom line. At one point, Udacity let students take courses for free while still providing them with certificates meant to show that they were properly qualified for jobs. But the company discontinued this practice last year (though students could still review course materials without receiving a certificate). It now focuses on “nanodegrees” that require payment ($199, with half returned on completion). The new degrees that guarantee a job are called “nanodegree plus.”
But Thrun is adamant, as always, that this the way education will work. He compares it to, yes, self-driving cars. “Ten years ago, I walked around and told people ‘Cars will drive themselves’ and everyone smiled at me kinda funny,” he says. “And now it’s all over the news and people from Elon Musk on down are making this the cornerstone of their companies.”