Why I am studying the Udacity Front-End Web Developer Nanodegree.

Man studying on laptop

How smart are you? Do you feel like you are an imposter in your company or industry? Are you still faking it ’til you make it?

Our perceptions of our own intelligence and skills can be our greatest vulnerability, and a lot of that is deeply tied to our education level. Which is why education seems to be one of the most important stepping stones in life and also the reason why it is getting so expensive. The debts in which students acquire through traditional university education is forcing the more savvy amongst us to seek out alternative training paths. It may not be the same as the traditional path and may require more moxy and resilience but may just be worth it in the end.

The most prominent alternative to university is online learning. There are many forms of online learning, especially in IT, and can range from reference sheets, blogs and tutorials found on common websites, social platforms such as the endless array of tutorials on YouTube (Harvard does a great computer science series at CS50), to Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) such as edx which provide free or cheap tutorials that guide you through a subject like lectures at school. These are all great to use and will become a staple for life long learners, but they do lack one important thing for job recruiters. Accountability.

How does an employer know that the skills that you have acquired through online learning are up to industry standard? You could make projects and show your findings in any number of ways (and I encourage that you do that) but it still lacks the industry verification that traditional learning provides and HR teams crave. The next step up from MOOCs are boot camps which are intensive training programs that are supposed to take the student from novice to job ready within a few weeks. They are often created by skilled course developers with deep ties to the industry and the student must attend classes every day (usually physically there, not online) and they have on-site and real-time assistance from tutors. Similar to TAFE but more focussed and a lot more expensive (TAFE is the Australian government-backed equivalent of community college).

Recently, I have been looking at the job market and found that to get a good job you really need to have that extra ‘thing’ that makes you stand out amongst the pack.  Something that says not only do you love, and are committed to, what you do but also guided properly to jump into the workforce and ready to start contributing right away. I gave a thorough look at coding bootcamps (namely General Assembly), the project work of the courses are very good, reviews are great, they had a loan plan that I could safely afford for the short term. I had my finger on the button ready to sign my life away for 12 weeks of gruelling finger-breaking coding hell (and probably loving every second of it). But then I pulled my finger off the button. AU$15K is a lot of money, even if they do help with finding a job.

Is there another way?

An alternative I found is something called a Nanodegree offered by Udacity. The Nanodegree is like an online boot camp. It may not have the physical location that you can attend (and perhaps the motivation that a physical classroom provides) but it does develop their courses with companies such as Google and AT&T to ensure the right things are taught and in the correct order. It has a job assistance program and job network as well as having a structured learning approach that is similar to the bootcamps (set lessons, tests and project assignments). The reviews are great and the projects do reflect a level of understanding of the subjects that could gain a junior position. The projects are the same for everyone, so if I get stuck I can ask for help from other students or book time with one-on-one sessions with tutors. I can even add my own flair and expand upon the projects if I wish. It’s still expensive (AU$1,300) but much more manageable than the full commitment of the bootcamp.

So over the next four months I will be doing the Udacity Nano-degree for Front-End Web development and will share my perspective, struggles and what I actually learn as I go through it. Whether I successfully complete it (I hope) or not, you should be able to gain some insight and determine for yourself if this may be the right path for you.

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