An instructor for Udacity teaching an online Python class.

AT&T and the online education provider Udacity have partnered to create the “nanodegree,” a new type of college degree similar to the Micro Colleges that Futurist Thomas Frey predicted. The vocationally focused nanodegree is designed to be a lifelong learning portfolio that would be widely recognized by the tech industry and far cheaper to obtain.



Since last year, Udacity, other online education providers, and Internet billionaires have promised to overhaul the clunky path to a diploma.

“We need to take what now exists as a dumb, static document and turn it into a richer, updateable, more connected record of a person’s skills, expertise, and experience,”wrote Linkedin co-founder Reid Hoffman.

Last year, on stage with California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun announced a new consortium of businesses, the Open Education Alliance, that would agree to recognize an industry-focused skills credential. The nanodegree is the first product of that promise, together with many of the original partners, from AT&T to Autodesk.

“It’s a failure of the community college system, the California state system, and the University of California system that that announcement was made,” said Newsom, who believes California education should do more to address the widening skills gap.

Details about nanodegrees are still forthcoming, but Udacity stated, “It should take a working student about six to12 months to complete without having to take time off.” Continuing, the blog explains, “Our early nanodegrees will prepare you for a job as a front-end web developer, back-end web developer, iOS mobile developer, Android mobile developer, or data analyst. The first nanodegree will start this fall.”

Other online education providers, such as Coursera, are designing their own certifications, which take about the same amount of time, depending on the course of study.

So, how’s the quality of the degree compared to a traditional diploma? To test this out, I’ve been taking the data science track at both Coursera and Udacity and comparing it to the master’s in mathematical behavioral sciences I got from UC Irvine.

On many levels, data science at Udacity and Coursera are superior. It’s completely up-to-date with the latest software, it’s problem-based, much (much) cheaper, and more flexible.

Don’t get me wrong: my master’s was fantastic for helping me think theoretically about data science and how to carefully determine cause and effect.

But it left me lacking the raw coding skills necessary to download a dataset and get through an actual project. For many data science jobs, the ability to run basic regressions and determine patterns in big datasets is more than sufficient.

Photo credit: New York Times

Via Venture Beat