Udacity: Smart Learning, Available Worldwide
America - land of the free, home of the brave, and to many, the epicentre of top-notch education.
Without a doubt, US universities fall among the highest of privileges for the common folk. Armed with state-of-the-art premises, highly-skilled professors and centuries-old literature, Americans do education like pros - and yet, largely behind closed doors.
At some point, however, someone had to notice the growing intellectual potential still residing outside US borders. That same someone had to also find a way to bring the greatest masterminds - Americans or otherwise - into one exceptionally useful learning platform.
Along came Sebastian Thrun, a revolutionary inventor whose vision of learning blossomed into one of the most prosperous online platforms today - Udacity!
From AI classes and UX design to HTML, data science and business, Udacity encourages its users worldwide to be better, bigger and - in demand!
How did Sebastian Thurn accomplish a lifetime's work in a few mere years?
Read on more about his journey here:
The Dawn of Ambition
Sebastian Thrun was born in 1967 in Solingen, Germany.
A time when computers were still an unattainable concept, Sebastian never envisioned himself becoming a tech prodigy. Yet, when his parents bought him a programmable calculator, Sebastian's path built itself in a way, and all he had to do was follow it.
At the age of twelve, Sebastian first birthed the idea of building a video game in a manner he was yet to discover. Not impressed by basic calculations only, he quickly sparked up an interest in programming.
Playing around with ideas felt productive and necessary, and soon enough, young Sebastian had crafted a very adult business idea - to build an artificial human and make it as smart as the real deal.
Interestingly, the young German noticed that computers are incredibly self-trainable in storing information, picking up irregularities, and eventually, creating their own helpful operations. Stimulated by the promise of technology's growth, Sebastian enrolled at the University of Hildesheim. where he graduated in computer science in 1988. Seven years later, he also acquired his PhD degree from the University of Bonn.
The smartest kid on the block, Sebastian craved to pick the brains of like-minded people. The only way he could accomplish this was to pack his bags, part ways with his homeland and aim for the Neverland of business- Silicon Valley.
However, before his plan entered into force, a tragic accident shattered Sebastian's life. Namely, his best friend had been killed in a car accident, an experience that would shift something within Sebastian and urge him to not just succeed, but help others do so as well.
Turning a new page and starting fresh - Sebastian was finally ready to write one of the most important life chapters yet.
By the time Sebastian turned twenty, he had joined Stanford University where he spent a few years working as an associate.
After being promoted to a tenured professor, Sebastian was well-immersed in building a self-driving car - a move that would promote him to the director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab.
In early 2005, Sebastian was appointed as the Lead of the Stanford Racing Team at the DARPA Grand Challenge. With his team, Sebastian worked on developing a new robot named Stanley. However, the project seemed more time-consuming than Sebastian's team could anticipate, and they spent over a month refining and polishing the robotic system.
Once done and ready to race, Stanley became the first self-driving car to finish the competition winner and earn Stanford a ravishing $2 million prize.
Just two years later, the German-born professor presented yet another award-winning race robot, called Junior.
The prizes and praise soon led Sebastian to embark on yet another groundbreaking project, this time at Google. Inspired by Sebastian's self-driving car and its rotating roof-camera, Google aspired to translate that same technology, but this time, in every corner of the world!
Out of this initiative came a sublime realization - Google Street View.
In 2007, Sebastian's monitoring technology found its way to vehicles of all kinds, bikes, and basically, everywhere a rotating camera could fit. That same year, Sebastian initiated semi-secret research on behalf of Google. Two years later, in 2009, he launched and co-founded Google X - the ultimate moonshot factory online.
While at Google X, Sebastian developed yet another project, this time inspired by his young son. In essence, Sebastian wanted to design a super-lightweight computer that could do the job of a laptop but also - drum roll please- be easily placed on the eyes.
Ridiculous as his idea sounded at the time, Sebastian broke the barriers of traditional networking and brought Google Glass to the market.
After paving the way for Google X upcoming projects, Sebastian relinquished his reins to focus on his next great project. In 2011, while listening to Sal Khan's Ted Talk, yet another brilliant business idea popped into his head.
Namely, Sal Khan, a prominent investment banker, had used YouTube to upload educational videos to help his cousin learn math. Within several years, Khan's channel offered over 5,000 online lessons in various topics - all free and accessible in a few clicks.
This was also the time when Sebastian, a true admirer of Khan's work, realized that great talent was waiting its chance outside US borders - and it needed a way in!
Driven by what he had already known and put to practice, Sebastian decided to create the kind of online platform that would bring eager data scientists in one place - and teach them the ropes of Artificial Intelligence.
AI Learning, at Your Fingertips
Despite becoming one of the most respected professors at Stanford, Sebastian soon realized a major gap within its educational system.
What struck him the most was the realization that not every student had the opportunity to study at Stanford, despite being qualified for it. In an effort to encourage people to learn well and with pleasure, Sebastian decided to hold his next lesson online - and invited his students to follow along!
Who would have thought that a single introductory class in AI would attract 5,000 students on the very first day?
Once word got around, the number of interested students surpassed 10,000, and in a month, over 160,000 students enrolled to listen to Sebastian's online classes.
It was a win-win situation for all!
Desiring to further expand his way of teaching, Sebastian reached out to two of his former students - David Stevens and Mike Sokolsky - asking both to help him build his MOOC website.
Finally, in 2012, Udacity made its debut on the online market.
The Right Kind of Investments
Sebastian was the first to kick off Udacity's seed round with $300,000, followed by a $15 million investment from Andreessen Horowitz.
With just enough cash to hire their first employees and put the company into motion, Udacity designed a platform that not only teaches its students but also awards certificates of completion and grants them recommendations to tech giants such as Amazon, Facebook and Google.
In 2013, a total of 23,000 students graduated from Udacity. For Sebastian, however, what stood out the most were the 400 non-Stanford students who also attended his classes and showed interest in quality AI learning.
This realization further supported Sebastian's original idea - to expand the highest levels of education outside the US and apply them worldwide!
In 2019, Udacity gave its first 100,000 nano degree certificates, thus promising even more willing students to finish their course material within a year.
As far as consecutive courses are concerned, by taking five classes a week and counting, students would be able to complete a course even sooner- in as little as five months. With the monthly course cost rounding at $399, Udacity today makes over $100 million in annual revenue.
With over three-hundred employees in its offices and millions of active students online, Udacity doesn't shy away from newness and change, but rather, embraces both to further commit to building a bright future for young talents worldwide.