AT&T and the online education company Udacity have unveiled a “NanoDegree” program designed to teach the basic programming skills necessary to qualify for entry-level technology jobs. The program costs $200 a month and can be completed by a working student in six months to a year, without their having to take time off. Starting this fall, courses will be offered in front- and back-end Web development, iOS development and data analysis. More subjects—including Android development—are on the horizon.
AT&T says it will offer up to 100 internships to NanoDegree graduates, and will also provide some full scholarships. “We are trying to widen the pipeline,” Charlene Lake, an AT&T spokeswoman, told New York Times columnist Eduardo Porter. “This is designed by business for the specific skills that are needed in business.”
Udacity is working with other companies to create NanoDegrees of their own. Business Insider says Cloudera, Salesforce.com, Autodesk, Technet, Silicon Valley Leadership Group, sf.cit and the Business Roundtable will also recognize NanoDegrees as a job credential.
The NanoDegree differs from other approaches to online education–like Massive Open Online Courses, or “MOOCs”–in that the program develops skills tied directly toward a certain type of job. In that respect, students have a clear motivation for completing the course. That’s a notable distinction from MOOCs, where research suggests fewer than 10 percent of students see the program through to the end. And while it’s certainly not as comprehensive as a full college education, the Porter notes, the NanoDegree “could offer a plausible path to young men and women who may not have the time, money or skill to make it through a four-year or even a two-year degree.”
MOOCs seem to appeal most to workers looking to develop new skills that will enhance their careers. For example, Google and Udacity offer courses for programmers who want to learn their way around Google platforms using Android or game design in HTML5.
Given its low cost and pragmatic, job-oriented approach, the NanoDegree could offer a new avenue into the tech workforce for people who can’t afford the cost or time investment required to earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. Certainly, AT&T thinks that’s one way to fill the talent pipeline. It’s something job seekers should keep their eye on.
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