Technology jobs are changing so fast that some believe traditional four-year degrees may be out of date by the time the college graduate starts drawing a paycheck. One firm is hoping to reverse this trend by offering "nanodegrees," short, focused courses of study tailored the needs of individual tech firms.
Silicon Valley-based Udacity was started four years ago by Sebastian Thrun, a former Google executive who kickstarted Google's self-driving car program as well as the Google Glass wearable computer. Now he's focused on a new platform that links the needs of tech firms with the abilities of students.
Udacity offers online courses in computer-related fields like Web development, software engineering, data science and a full master's degree in computer science from Georgia Tech. The firm says its courses are different than the free offerings from many universities, known as massive open online courses, or MOOCs, because they are more specific to a set of job skills.
"It's very focused and concise," said Udacity spokeswoman Jeannie Hornung. "You only spend 15 hours a week when you are available. You can trade your TV time for coding."
Hornung says Udacity now has more than 10,000 students, with most looking to improve their position and already possessing a college degree. Courses are designed with input from tech firms like Google, AT&T, Cloudera and Facebook.
"Udacity works with employers to develop courses that are project-based," Hornung said. "It's not that the nanodegree credential gets them their job. However, they can show the employer their work."
Firms like Students submit computer coding which is reviewed by a network of programmers around the world, Hornung said. The cost is $200 per month, and the courses last four to 12 months.
Marcia Linn, professor of education at University of California, Berkeley, agrees that there's a need for more technical opportunities for students in the technical fields. In the past, big companies offered to train their employees on company time, but that kind of investment is more difficult to find these days.
Community colleges also offer a broad range of technical courses, and half of all students in the United States are enrolled at these schools.
Linn says the downside of a highly focused nanodegree is that "you train people exactly to get the job that is currently available, but not skills to learn something new. When they get to the workplace they don't have the ability to get the next level job. That's where a college education is really an advantage. You are getting a diverse set of courses."