In theory, massive open online courses (MOOCs) have the potential to transform a person's career by allowing them to acquire in-demand technical skills. But when job candidates with no formal computer science education tell you that they learned HTML5 through a Udacity course, can you really trust that their skills are up to par?
This has been the conundrum for startups trying to disrupt education in a big way. But Udacity CEO Sebastian Thrun has found one way to not only test his own service but also emphasize its legitimacy--he makes a point of hiring Udacity graduates.
"We hired a whole bunch of people ourselves from our network, completely oblivious to their degree but based on their ability to solve problems and socially interact with other people in our discussion forums," Thrun said in a recent TED blog Q&A. "One of our main hiring funnels has become our own network of our own students."
That's not to say that a candidate with a Udacity certificate automatically comes with a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee, of course. When hiring tech talent today, companies should look at a candidate's entire body of recent work. "We very frequently hear that the attention that's being paid to degrees is being diminished. That is, more and more people are being hired on their work samples, on the projects they've done, the type of portfolios they've developed," Thrun said.
Udacity, whose courses largely focus on math and computer science, was founded in 2011 and has raised $20 million to date, according to CrunchBase. The company, along with its MOOC-offering counterparts, has faced criticism over the years, mostly stemming from skepticism over the true effectiveness of huge online courses. Thrun said he embraces the criticism, and he asserted, that in the end, it makes Udacity better as a company.
In Udacity's early days, Thrun received an anonymous review regarding an online statistics course he was teaching. "It was devastating to read that almost every aspect of my course was mistaken," Thrun said.
"But there was an enormous amount of great information in there. So we found out who it was, we contacted the individual and had a very positive conversation afterwards. And he really helped me to improve the course," he said.