Udacity Connect Review (London)

Jessica YungData ScienceLeave a Comment

Udacity Connect are in-person meet-ups to supplement Udacity’s Nanodegrees, online certifications that consist of a series of courses and graded projects. (Udacity is an online educational organisation that offers technology-centred online courses.)

After piloting in the US over the summer, Udacity Connect launched in London last week. In this post I describe what happened at the second(my first) Machine Learning Nanodegree meet-up.

The Event

Time: Saturdays 10:00-13:00 (three hours)

Venue: Breather meeting space near Old Street. (See feature photo)

Event Programme

  1. Free time to work on our Nanodegrees This was the primary objective of the session. What we actually ended up doing was talking with other students and with the facilitators.
    1. We discussed what people did outside of the program, what they were interested in and their experience of project reviews (the primary benefit of enrolling in my opinion).
    2. We learned through discussing with the facilitators how machine learning was being used in different companies.
    3. I had a bug that I asked people for help on. Even with the help of multiple facilitators I didn’t manage to fix it, but I gained insight about what could cause similar problems and how people approached debugging.
    4. People worked on problems together and asked each other questions like ‘How do you add a row to a Pandas dataframe?’
  2. A short talk Josh, who’d graduated from the Machine Learning Nanodegree a year ago, gave a short step-by-step walkthrough of his Capstone Project where he built an engine that recognised user-drawn sketches. That is, you could draw a picture and the engine would give it labels out of 250 possible categories. Each label had with it a probability that indicated how confident the engine was that you’d drawn e.g. a plane.
  3. An optional project Yiwei, one of the session leaders, prepared

The People

There were 10-15 students and six facilitators.

Your Peers: Nanodegree Students

  • Among the Nanodegree students there were a mix of people who were in work (most people had worked for a few years or more) and full-time students. Many were developers who were hoping to transition into data science or had an interest in machine learning but no specific goals (that I know of). Some were in business or marketing and had little programming experience.
  • All students were working on the first half of the program. Most students were on Project 0, one was on Project 1 and four were on Project 2. There are five compulsory projects in total.

Facilitators

  • Among the facilitators, there were three people affiliated with Udacity (Andy, Kalindi and Yiwei), two who had completed the Machine Learning Nanodegree program and one associated with the venue (Paul). Not everyone had experience with machine learning, but there was at least one facilitator that could help with careers (Andy), Nanodegree specifics (Kalindi had done two) or machine learning topics.
  • The facilitators were all helpful and friendly. There was time to talk to each of them and there would usually be at least one facilitator you could talk to almost immediately during the workshop. So the facilitor-student ratio was excellent.

Thoughts

Saturday’s Connect workshop was the first non-introductory meet-up, so it’ll be interesting to see how the sessions take shape.

Making the most of Udacity Connect

  • Go prepared with questions about the course material or your projects. E.g. do you have a bug you’ve been trying to fix but have failed?
  • Ask how Machine Learning is used in industry.
  • Talk to and get to know people.
  • DON’T just sit there and watch lecture videos for three hours. Unless you usually cannot concentrate at all on your own, it seems like a poor use of Connect’s resources. If you intend on doing that at Connect I’d recommend you not go to Connect and save the £99 / month.

Is this right for me? 

  • It’s hard to measure how helpful Connect is. Your first month of Connect is £99 and it comes with a month of the Nanodegree subscription (which is priced at £150/month but is often discounted), so if you’ve enrolled in a Nanodegree it’s definitely worth a try.
    • (I’m hoping to finish my program in one month which will mean I get everything for £49.50 after the 50% refund. :D)
  • Pros: Connect will likely help motivate you. It will also give you access to additional in-person help.
  • Compared to no-Connect: You can still talk to other students on the Udacity forums or on the Slack channels. Project reviews and online appointments will likely give you all the help you need. So Connect is nice but it’s not necessary.

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