Preparing for AI jobs: Why Nanodegrees are the future of education

By | 5 minute read | August 23, 2018

Large enterprises, startups and high-performance businesses across industries are increasingly turning to Artificial Intelligence and advanced analytics to make faster, more effective, data-driven decisions. The volume of unstructured and structured data stored by enterprises is growing at an accelerating rate.

The demand for skilled data scientists and candidates with AI skills is at an all-time high. Yet developing those skills typically requires significant investments of time, energy and money. Businesses are struggling to successfully deploy and manage AI projects due to lack of resources. And employees interested in preparing for these highly-coveted jobs incur significant debt, and delay other strategic business initiatives until they completed a traditional degree after business hours.

While traditional post-secondary programs in this field still have value, many working professionals are turning to online programs for a quicker, less expensive way to get started.

In 2017, IBM predicted that by 2020, demand for these skills would grow by 28% (364,000 jobs) to over 2.7 million job listings. We’ve revised that prediction, as we see growth in this space closer to 45%. A Harvard Business Review article proclaimed there is a growing war being waged for people with skills for the “sexiest job” of the 21st century, the data scientist.

More businesses than ever before are looking to fill a suite of new roles in an AI-driven world:

  • Data Scientists
  • Chatbot developers
  • Computer vision engineers
  • Machine learning engineer
  • AI researchers
  • AI architects

There are other pressing questions, too. How can existing IT professionals build specific skills for AI platforms, while they stay at their existing jobs? How can AI neophytes build the necessary skills and understanding to enter this lucrative profession, without putting their career on hold while they retrain? Nanodegrees seem to be the perfect solution.

Here are five reasons why an increasing number of people are opting for these specialized online programs to help them transition to AI careers:

1. Nanodegrees offer hands-on experience with real-world value

Traditional classroom training is theory-based, delivered seminar-style by a career professor, from presentation slides and textbooks. By contrast, a nanodegree program uses real data science projects and machine learning models, such as:

  • Running data pipelines
  • Developing recommendation engines
  • Designing experiment test cases
  • Leveraging industry-leading tools like Watson Studio

Working through the full-lifecycle of AI projects, from planning and design to execution and results, analysis helps fledgling data scientists and researchers to hone their skills, and gain a better understanding of the strategic role AI and analytics can play in solving business challenges.

Working with real tools on realistic projects helps provide aspiring data scientists and AI developers to obtain deeper understanding into how AI platforms like Watson process data and extract insights from it. Many well-known have contributed expertise and datasets to these nanodegree programs, making the curriculum much more engaging than it would be with “dummy” data.

2. Learn from top minds in AI and data science

Nanodegrees launched by Udacity cover many technology areas such as AI or data science and are taught by active industry thought leaders. The opportunity to be coached by an accomplished data scientist like IBM’s Adam Massachi, Airbnb’s Belinda Bennett or Slack’s Stephen Morton is rare, powerful and highly sought-after. These “experts in residence in data science” answer live questions, and provide not only technical advice but also career coaching and mentorship.

Nanodegrees offered in a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) services model empower students with the opportunity to learn from industry thought leaders, at a fraction of the cost of full degree programs. Those with a foundation of technical understanding can augment their skills at their own pace.

3. Open up new opportunities and level-up existing roles

Career paths in the digital era aren’t nearly as linear as they were even a few decades ago. A university degree would often all but guarantee a student a sustainable career for many years. Today, graduates still find it difficult to get their first job, or end up freelancing or working part-time until they get established in their field.

Those who earn nanodegrees for in-demand areas of new technology like AI, data science, advanced data analytics or related fields can augment their post-secondary education. For developers, IT architects, and data management professionals already with years of experience, these courses can build skills, which help them qualify for higher salaries with their existing employer or within their chosen industries including:

  • Financial services
  • Media and Entertainment
  • IT management
  • Automotive
  • Agriculture
  • Government
  • Retail
  • Healthcare

4. The age of digital transformation

Many businesses have changed or streamlined many of their business processes by adopting forms of AI, such as virtual customer service chatbots in contact centers, and improving their marketing campaigns, and manage risk through AI.

As customers evolve to be more comfortable with bots and get help from virtual shopping assistants, the demand for skills to design, build and test these systems is increasing exponentially. Many companies that are digitally enhancing their processes are investing in nanodegrees for employees whose careers are impacted by AI. Others like Bertelsmann are providing scholarships to students to build AI skills that will support their digital transformation journey.

5. Convenient, self-paced education at the pace of innovation

Many courses that are designed to help people who are in transitionary periods in their career may start out as practical and current, yet by the time a student graduates a few years later, the curriculum is behind the times. Nanodegrees typically last between six months and a year, and since they are delivered electronically with live experts, the curricula can be updated as new industry innovations occur.

For students that work full-time and have other responsibilities, nanodegree programs are focused, and designed to enhance the skills which solve real-world challenges companies are experiencing today. Consultants can progress through course segments on their own time and apply their learnings immediately. Mentors share their expertise in subject matter like natural language understanding, in digestible workshops. Students in post-secondary programs like mathematics, statistics and computer science can augment their existing education with nanodegrees in data science and AI.

Are you looking for ways to improve your understanding of data science, or get guidance in preparing for jobs in the AI economy?

Check out the “Become a Data Scientist” nanodegree program, and discover how you can succeed in an AI-driven world. Learn at your own pace, for a budget-friendly subscription cost, and gain access to “office hours” career mentoring from the best in the business. You can build effective machine learning models, run data pipelines, build recommendation systems, and deploy solutions to the cloud with industry-aligned projects.

Explore Udacity’s “Become a data scientist” nanodegree program