The Udacity Data Science Scholarship Program is part of an extensive continuing training initiative by Google, Bertelsmann, and Udacity with the aim of training IT experts. The top 1,500 students qualified for one of three full Nanodegree programs. Five participants from the Bertelsmann world report on the experiences they gained on their learning journey.
Data-based business models play a key role in today's business world and will increasingly do so in future. This year, Bertelsmann, Google, and the online education service provider Udacity launched the worldwide Udacity Data Science Scholarship Program to develop the digital skills necessary for the labor market and to prepare interested talents for the digital future in Europe (see BU blog article). Employees from all Bertelsmann companies and other external interested parties were invited to apply for one of 15,000 scholarships. After completing the three-month Challenge Course, the first phase of the scholarship initiative, the top 1,500 graduates qualified for a second phase, which consists of one of three full Nanodegree programs from Udacity: Data Foundations, Business Analyst, and Data Analyst. Since September, 361 Bertelsmann colleagues – about a fifth of all graduates – have been enrolled in of these programs. In an interview with BENET, five Data Foundations Nanodegree candidates share their experiences and explain why the scholarship program is a worthwhile investment.
Peter Lipp from Germany is responsible for a wide range of data analysis tasks in his role as Senior Analytic Consultant at AZ Direct, a Bertelsmann Printing Group business unit. Heather Mill from the U.S. is a Publicist and Consumer Events Manager at the Penguin Publishing Group in New York. Barbara Koskowitz from France is a Senior Media Marketing Analyst at the Gruner + Jahr subsidiary Prisma Media in Paris. Rochelle Aliño is a Team Manager at Arvato CRM Solutions in Manila, in the Philippines. Hendrick Lange from Germany works as Senior Director Corporate Communications in Bertelsmann's Corporate Communications department.
BENET: What was your motivation for participating in the Udacity Data Science Scholarship Program?
Peter Lipp: I wanted to get an overview of what has changed in the world of data and analysis methods since I left university. I wanted to learn new programming languages and techniques, and get to know the latest analytical theories and algorithms. But I was also curious about how online learning works and whether it might be an option for me in the future.
Rochelle Aliño: Curiosity is what drew me to the program, too. I wanted to try something new and find out whether I could take such a course even without prior knowledge of data science. I also wanted to better myself and encourage colleagues to continue their education as well.
Hendrick Lange: In my function I am responsible for the central management of the Arvato and Bertelsmann Printing Group websites. For years, I have used Adobe and Google Analytics for evidence-based optimization and further development of website content and functions. This has led to a certain dependency on these analysis tools. By participating in the program, I wanted to deepen my knowledge of the basics of data science, so that I can work in a more diverse way regarding the software I use.
BENET: How would you rate the course content and the techniques used?
Heather Mill: I found Udacity's online course to be very well organized and instructive. The videos made learning clear and easy, and the quiz exercises and projects really match the concept well.
Hendrick Lange: The content has a very well thought-out educational structure and is very up-to-date, especially the examples. In the accompanying forums there is a certain background noise, but you will always find relevant, further information if you ever get stuck. In the review process of the projects, I received more detailed feedback than I ever expected.
Rochelle Aliño: The most valuable things for my learning experience were the forums where the participants supported each other and where I always found help when I needed it. The quiz exercises are a great way to test your understanding, and the videos are designed to explain the topics in the simplest way possible. Having a deadline is also important; it ensures the necessary commitment to the program.
Barbara Koskowitz: I really liked the follow-up reviews of the projects. The feedback was understandable, clear, and very fast. We would receive initial feedback within just a few hours of handing the work in.
BENET: How would you rate your overall learning experience with Udacity?
Heather Mill: I hadn't taken an online course before and the experience was a positive surprise. I felt that I’d learned just as much as I would have in class, but I could study from home. Most of the time I worked on the course after work for an hour or even longer, but the course didn’t feel like a burden because the deadlines were doable.
Peter Lipp: Besides the new freedom to learn completely “on my own,” I really loved the interactivity, not just in the teaching of the content, but especially in the interaction with the other participants. It was a formative experience to be part of such a dynamic and international group. How often do you have the chance to talk to people from all over the world about data? The virtual classroom was an extremely motivating and positive experience.
Rochelle Aliño: From my personal perception of digital learning, I can say that anyone can acquire the knowledge they want if they are attentive, really delve into the content, and are motivated to achieve their goals. In my role as Team Manager, I always tell my colleagues to leave their comfort zone and try out new things.
BENET: What was your biggest challenge?
Heather Mill: That definitely was going back to the world of learning, given that my university days were a long time ago. Nevertheless, I really got into the advanced training and enjoyed viewing the course as a personal challenge. The chapter on coding was quite difficult for me, as I had no prior experience. Still, in the end I mastered this part as well.
Barbara Koskowitz: The main difficulty for me was combining this learning journey with my current job and family life.
Peter Lipp: The most challenging part for me was working through the more complex course content. When you fail the quiz exercises and threaten to be completely lost, those were the hardest moments. But if you get over your pride and ask the other participants for help, you quickly realize that you’re not alone with the problem. Then it’s a matter of finding the right answers together.
BENET: What has the program given you for your personal future?
Heather Mill: I’m convinced that the ability to analyze and visualize data will be very valuable for my future career.
Peter Lipp: My personal highlights were the group projects. Quite by chance, I was assigned to two different, very interesting projects and had the opportunity to work with people who all had different backgrounds and whom I would never have met otherwise. We started our work as strangers and ended as friends – what could possibly be better? As for my career, I don't expect anything to change in the short term, but I'm sure it will have an effect on my work in future. I definitely already feel more motivated and focused now. I also learned that I can still learn and have fun doing it.
Barbara Koskowitz: This was my first experience of e-learning, but it definitely won't be the last. I like to learn new things, including things that seem far away from my current job description, such as programming languages. It challenges me intellectually.
BENET: And what are the benefits of the course with regard to your role in the company?
Barbara Koskowitz: I now have a better understanding of the work done by data experts. In the field of data visualization, I learned that the formula here is: Less is more.
Hendrick Lange: To remain competitive, we have to avoid data silos in Communications as elsewhere. I plan to bring together the findings of our web and social media analysis more closely, so that we can carry out our communication measures in an even more targeted way.
Peter Lipp: I’m already seeing some gratifying little effects in my day-to-day work, where my new knowledge makes things easier or improves certain processes. Each time I make progress in my learning, I feel more confident, better equipped for new projects, and get fresh ideas on how to move things forward. So the Nanodegree has not only improved my skills, but also the way I approach my work. Beyond this, I also see great potential in the network that has grown from and with the course. The bigger it is, the more ideas and suggestions come into your own company from outside.
BENET: What helpful hints would you give colleagues who want to enroll in the program?
Rochelle Aliño: Commitment and willingness to learn are the keys to success. It helps to make a schedule for your project work and other topics, so that you meet the deadlines. You should complete all the exercises before starting the next section. Also, it can never hurt to find out more about a topic you are currently working on.
Heather Mill: When watching the videos, it helps to take notes. You should also do all the quiz exercises, even the optional ones. If an exercise has you stumped, you can look at the solution first and then work backwards to understand the path to the solution.
Peter Lipp: You have to be clear about the fact that the program requires time and concentration. Frankly, I underestimated the amount of work involved. Udacity's advice that eight to ten hours per week should be scheduled for the course is definitely true. I drew most of the added value from the forum and my network. You should have the courage to ask the other students for advice – because the answers are usually very positive and motivating. That was an experience I wouldn't want to miss. (benet)