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posted by n1 on Friday June 20 2014, @12:47AM   Printer-friendly
from the school-is-for-squares dept.

Eduardo Porter writes at the NYT that AT&T and Udacity, the online education company founded by the Stanford professor and former Google engineering whiz Sebastian Thrun, have announced something meant to be very small: the "NanoDegree," intended to teach anyone with a mastery of high school math the kind of basic programming skills needed to qualify for an entry-level position at AT&T as a data analyst, iOS applications designer or the like. "We are trying to widen the pipeline," says Charlene Lake, an AT&T spokeswoman. "This is designed by business for the specific skills that are needed in business." Nanodegrees are designed to be completed in less than a year, at a cost of just $200 a month. Udacity's non-accredited nanodegrees aim to be a series of what CEO Sebastian Thrun calls "stackable" programs that complement different skills. "By putting in half a year of work, less work that you put in for a regular degree, we can get you from one point to another," said Thrun in an interview. "For instance, if you're a skilled programmer, we can turn you into a mobile programmer, and for mobile programmers, there's an endless number of open jobs right now. Or we can take you from programmer to data scientist."

"We are designing nanodegrees as the most compact and relevant curriculum to qualify you for a job," says Udacity. "The sole goal is to help students advance their career: whether it's landing their next job, their next project, or their next promotion. It should take a working student about 6-12 months to complete without having to take time off. We will teach all the necessary skills together with why those skills matter along with career guidance. In other words, you won't just learn *how* to code, but also *why.*"

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  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by Geotti on Friday June 20 2014, @12:58AM

    by Geotti (1146) on Friday June 20 2014, @12:58AM (#57710) Journal

    I've got an idea, let's call nano-degrees certificates and fire all the marketing crews that came up with this term.

    • (Score: 1) by Hyperturtle on Friday June 20 2014, @01:18AM

      by Hyperturtle (2824) on Friday June 20 2014, @01:18AM (#57720)

      I am intrigued with your concept and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

      This nano-degree is just as dumb as the "yo" application that received $1m in venture capital funding, yo.

      I have more certifications than I even claim on my resume, but this nano-degree thing... Actually it may be a good way to filter out applicants. Nano-degrees are held by folks that do what they are told, certifications are held by people that might know what they are doing. (I hope I know what I am doing)

    • (Score: 3, Funny) by aristarchus on Friday June 20 2014, @01:32AM

      by aristarchus (2645) on Friday June 20 2014, @01:32AM (#57727) Journal

      No, I think the "nano-degree" should stay! What does "nano" mean? Nano-seconds, nano-meters, increments that are too small to be perceived. So a "nano-degree" is just like a regular college degree, only so small as not to be perceptible.

    • (Score: 2, Interesting) by len_harms on Friday June 20 2014, @02:06PM

      by len_harms (1904) on Friday June 20 2014, @02:06PM (#57975) Journal

      Are the credits transferable? And more importantly are these schools accredited. My wife has one of these sorts of degrees. *NO* one cares. They consider her to have a high school degree and that is it. Thousands of dollars later she is retaking many classes just to get the credit. These sorts of schools are not new.

      If either of those 2 things are not there, run away from this sort of degree especially the second. They are useless long term (and long term being > 1 year). No matter how much BS they will tell you about how they have job placement. They point you at a electronic job board and say 'good luck'.

      The only reason to use these sorts of schools is if you want to learn something quick and cheap and do not care about accreditation. I usually use them for particular skills that I know will be useless in 2-3 years time but I need in the next couple of months.

  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by kaszz on Friday June 20 2014, @01:18AM

    by kaszz (4211) on Friday June 20 2014, @01:18AM (#57721) Journal

    Sounds nice until you try to change employer..

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by khallow on Friday June 20 2014, @01:48AM

    by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Friday June 20 2014, @01:48AM (#57730) Journal

    This AT&T certification program probably can't be transferred to another business. There are powerful advantages to training moderately undereducated people. Namely, that they can't casually move to another business and still command a comparable wage. It creates incentive to stay with the business. I suspect one could also insert ways to test applicants for suitability and competence.

    • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 20 2014, @02:40AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 20 2014, @02:40AM (#57754)

      If it's mainly very organization specific stuff then most of what they learn is not applicable elsewhere.

      But there are organizations that provide training that's useful elsewhere e.g.: []

  • (Score: 1) by Magic Oddball on Friday June 20 2014, @10:25AM

    by Magic Oddball (3847) on Friday June 20 2014, @10:25AM (#57885) Journal

    The only reason companies like AT&T are championing all of these programs is because it leads to a few outcomes that benefit them immensely... First, it would increase the number of people fighting for a job, thus driving down wages just as has happened in so many other industries. Those applicants won't be employable anywhere that requires a college education, so they'll be willing to put up with just about anything in order to get/keep the few jobs they are qualified for. Their lack of history/sociology/etc. knowledge also makes them far less likely to recognize traps like that, to know when/how to successfully push for changes in their workplace or even whether their wishes are reasonable.

    In a sense, it's a way for those companies to partially secure the American equivalent of H1B employees: people that can be overworked & underpaid up the wazoo because they're in no position to do jack about it.

    On the college vs. skipping it issue:

    Back in high school, I felt that teens with a proven talent should spend all their time honing related skills, and anything extra could be learned alone from a book or video. It really annoyed me that both the community college & universities in my area insisted on a well-rounded education.

    What changed my attitude was being lucky enough to end up at a community college with the kind of instructors everyone should get to have. They showed me was that the classic academic disciplines can be incredibly useful in employment & society, and I learned the hard way that it really requires high-quality instructors to show how to use the underlying knowledge as a tool, not just teach a bunch of useless terms. A couple of quick examples as I need to get to bed:

    An education like that helps a person see reality beyond their own prejudices to make wiser decisions. For example, in thinking on how to handle hardcore drug addicts, the person can set aside the urge for harsh punishment they were raised to believe in, and instead accept scientific evidence that maintenance doses are most effective. It can also warn a person dealing with a bullying asshole that appeasing the jerk (as instincts, religion or bad experience taught them to do) will only make matters worse, and from there, it can then give them ideas based on how others have handled that type of superior in the past.

    Both examples could be applied to personal situations (like with a relative or boss), or to making decisions as a voter judging proposed laws & political candidates. Core result = a person that has far better luck handling other people on a personal level, can thrive more easily in the workplace even with real conflict, and can make much better informed decisions as a voter. All three things are traits many people in our country desperately need these days, because education has been gradually warped in the last 30 years away from applied true knowledge over to simplified rote-memorization info easily tested with multiple-choice exams.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 20 2014, @11:17AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 20 2014, @11:17AM (#57900)

      You are 100% right - what corporations want are drones, people with technical skills to perform tasks but no other education. College has become a technical information dump without the liberal education that would give people the ability to think for themselves. This common core stuff in schools is the same thing because the emphasis is on purely functional training, without any sort of exposure to anything that might make people think for themselves. What corporations want is a workforce of technically skilled drones who don't have any wider background than their narrow technical specialties, and the education system is being remade to supply them, much like the 19th century public schools were designed to break people and make them good factory workers.

      The only thing that would improve the situation for corporations is if they could lock down knowledge in walled gardens, so people couldn't casually stumble over works like Plato or Dostoyevsky. Some of that stuff could subvert the whole deal!

  • (Score: 2, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 20 2014, @11:12AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 20 2014, @11:12AM (#57896)

    So this is a way to generate disposable, commodity workers with minimal skills to do a specific short-term job before they are discarded in the next round of firings. Sounds wonderful. Are the jobs six-month or three-month contracts?

    I think we're at the point where a career in technology is impossible. You're just a short-term, disposable resource.