Google’s Dave Burke: Fresh Dialogues Uncut

Google’s Dave Burke: Fresh Dialogues Uncut

Deep learning; geek nostalgia; Google’s Pixel phone; and why seeking ‘uncomfortably exciting’ opportunities can bring success.

Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues sat down with Google’s Dave Burke, an Irishman, who has risen quickly through the ranks. He leads the Android team, with responsibility for the device and developer ecosystem; and Google’s Pixel phone. How did he succeed so fast, and what qualities does he seek when hiring for his growing team?

I interviewed Burke this month for a BBC World Service report exploring Irish identity and success in Silicon Valley.  We had a lively and wide ranging conversation full of insights for tech geeks and entrepreneurs alike, so I’m posting the uncut interview for your listening pleasure.

Listen to the uncut interview:
Off mic, I asked Burke why Elon Musk has inspired him.
“It’s his ability to intuit a bold vision for the future, and then be comfortable in the abstract and yet push tenaciously forward over multiple years. Successful mathematicians need a similar personality – they have an intuition that a solution exists but initially have no concrete certainty on how to prove it and have to persist, sometimes over decades. Einstein’s story of deriving his theory of general relativity is a good example. This personality trait attracts other smart people… For Elon, the ‘contagious confidence’ extends out to his customers, i.e. many are willing to pay a high premium for a Tesla car and don’t seem to worry about the future viability of this fledgling startup, simply because have confidence in the founder.” Dave Burke, Google

Here’s are some highlights  of our conversation:

On the secrets of Burke’s success @00:20

“Seek out challenges that are uncomfortably exciting…there’s always a risk of failure, but if you succeed, you could make a huge impact.”

Why he’s so excited about deep learning @19:23

“The big hot area is deep learning, using neural networks….applying lots of data. You can make machines do incredible things…The potential for deep learning and for AI to make our lives easier is very exciting.”

On Google’s Pixel phone @27:15

“Software pushes the hardware and hardware pushes the software. To advance the operating system, you need to have them working really closely together.  It allows Google to have its own product. If you’re a Google user, this is the ideal phone for you.”

On rumors of a new Pixel phone this year @27:54

“I can neither confirm nor deny rumors. Technology moves very fast, the cadence…Typically every year, you try to do something new and exciting…we are very busy, working on a lot of stuff… The reviews have been great…but I see the potential for so much more, in terms of innovation, product quality.”

We also discussed Burke’s “geek nostalgia” for the BBC Micro computer by Acorn (the precursor to ARM); the gravitational pull of Silicon Valley; the three questions you need to ask to discover if someone is “really Irish”; and flying robotic lemonade stands!

Look out for more “Fresh Dialogues Uncut” featuring  Elon Musk, Arianna Huffington, Charlie Rose and Patagonia’s Yvon Chouinard.

Check out dozens more Fresh Dialogues podcasts on iTunes.

BBC Report: Irish in Silicon Valley Share Secrets of Success

BBC Report: Irish in Silicon Valley Share Secrets of Success

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Irish immigrants have been in California since the gold rush days. On assignment for the BBC World Service, I went looking for the Irish in Silicon Valley and found that you can take the people out of Ireland – you can even take their pubs – but you can’t take Ireland out of the people….

Nevertheless, a new generation of Irish tech immigrants are less nostalgic for the past, and are redefining what being Irish means. They bond over mindset, not heritage; big dreams and an openness to new ideas and cultures. I started my quest at Trinity Cathedral in San Jose where a celebration of St Patrick’s Day and the San Jose-Dublin Sister City program was in full swing….

Here’s my report for the BBC’s Business Matters:

Listen to the podcast at BBC World Service or to the program excerpt below:

 

Here’s a transcript of my report (edited for length and clarity):

The report opens with traditional Irish singing by the Black Brothers Band “Green Among the Gold: They played their jigs and reels beneath the skies of their new homeland, For Irish hands have woven strands of green among the gold.”

33 million U.S. residents claim Irish ancestry, that’s over four times the population of Ireland. With 2.5 Million, California has the highest Irish population of any state. It’s not surprising then that the Irish are making their mark on Silicon Valley…Is it the luck of the Irish, or something else?

Meet Eoghan (Owen) McCabe, CEO of Intercom, a fast-growing startup for business messaging. He and his three Irish cofounders have found a sense of belonging among the software and silicon of the valley.

Eoghan McCabe: One of the most magic things about this place is it does allow you to think big. We’re social beings, we’re all looking for the appreciation, respect, if not love of the people around us…

Eoghan McCabe Intercom interview by Alison van DiggelenAs well as working on something you’re passionate about, McCabe has this advice:

Eoghan McCabe: Work with people you love and know and respect…don’t try to rush the relationship.

He admits to a chip on his shoulder, an urgency to prove himself. How has being Irish helped him recruit, attract capital, and grow the business?

Eoghan McCabe: The humility goes a long way in the valley…there’s a lot of hubris, people are damn good at selling themselves. So it’s a breath of fresh air when people admit they’re flawed and they can’t predict the future and they might not succeed. That natural humility, that vulnerability, that honest approach goes a long long way…They want to be successful on the basis of their merits.  What you don’t find often is people trying to play that Irish card.

Dave Burke, a Dubliner who’s now a VP at Google says his formula for success is seeking out challenges that are “uncomfortably exciting.” But does he seek out Irish techies for his 1000-strong team?

Dave Burke: We’re looking for not really the country culture, but the outlook and perspective culture: the energy, interest in making an impact, being smart. In tech… we want the best and brightest from all round the world, we want diversity…that’s antagonistic to the nationalist perspective. Nationalism looks backward, it looks unsustainable, it’s frightening… It doesn’t readily compute with people. Why wouldn’t you be open to new ideas and people?

But Burke acknowledges that some old traditions endure, especially on St Patrick’s Day.

Dave Burke: A meal of Guinness? Yes! [laughter]

Dave Burke Google BBC Interview by Alison van Diggelen

Talking of drinks…Some immigrants were so determined to bring a wee bit of old Ireland to California, that’s literally what they did.

[Audio: Irish pub…] I’ve come to the  O’Flaherty Irish Pub in San Jose to meet the owner, Marie O Flaherty.     

[Audio: Guinness pouring….Barman: Guinness… 8 dollars ….]

That looks good….

Marie O’Flaherty: This is an authentic Irish pub – it came on a boat from Ireland everything you see – the signs, pictures, the bar, the stools, everything….

Over 15 years ago, her late husband Ray O’Flaherty bought the pub in Dublin on a birthday whim. Today, it’s a landmark in Silicon Valley, and ground central for St Patrick’s Day festivities in the South Bay.

Alison van Diggelen: Is fearlessness part of the recipe for success?

Marie O’Flaherty: You have to have a lot of guts to take it on, self confidence to know whatever it is, you can do it…

Being open to new ideas, like embracing craft beers, keeps the pub popular with the “young uns” she says. The family business nurtures connections with Ireland and the world, through tourism, close links to the Silicon Valley Innovation Center & sporting ties…

Marie O’Flaherty: All the rugby teams…New Zealand did the haka up on the bar here…they drank 11 kegs of beer that night.

Having a heart of gold is also part of the Irish success story…

Marie O’Flaherty: See this poor soul here…He’s a homeless…they give him a drink and send him on his way…You have to just look out for everybody…

Marie O'Flaherty at O'Flaherty Irish Pub SJ, interview by Alison van Diggelen

Marie O’Flaherty and Mark Finn singing:

Oh Dublin can be heaven, with coffee at eleven, and a stroll down Stephen’s Green

No need to worry, no need to hurry…

If you don’t believe me:  

Come and meet me there

In Dublin on a sunny summer’s morning…[laughter]

END of Report

Listen to the BBC Podcast or the audio above for a lively discussion with the BBC’s Roger Hearing and Bloomberg’s Nisid Hajari about the tech community in Silicon Valley; and how the President’s proposed travel ban is already having an impact on business and academia in the United States.

Check out the Fresh Dialogues Silicon Valley “World Series”

Mexicans in Silicon Valley

Africans in Silicon Valley

China in Silicon Valley

 

 

BBC Report: Silicon Valley Tech Takes On Trump

BBC Report: Silicon Valley Tech Takes On Trump

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

In the beginning…there was no word from Silicon Valley tech leaders on Donald Trump’s presidency, despite his kingly proclamations: Let there be Two Pipelines, Let there be a Wall…Let there not be TPP!

But on the seventh day, tech leaders arose against Trump’s dominion over them when his immigration order unleashed chaos for their people. And so, on the 16th day, they filed a legal brief saying the order inflicted “significant harm  on American business, innovation and growth.”

Today in San Francisco a US Court of Appeals will decide oral arguments in the case: State of Washington et al. vs Donald J. Trump et al..

I joined the BBC World Service’s Business Matters last night to report on Silicon Valley’s furious reaction to Trump. Venture capitalist, Jean-Louis Gasse spoke for many in the valley:

The danger with an administration or a president like Donald Trump is that he gives permission to lie…to be offensive, to be homophobic, to be xenophobic. Cultures are nothing but a system of permissions and those come from the top. When you see the President of the US lying – you have to stand up and say: it’s a lie!”  Jean-Louis Gasse, Silicon Valley venture capitalist

Listen to the BBC World Service podcast, (my report starts at 5:15).

.

Here’s a transcript of our conversation (edited for length and clarity) and a longer version of my report:

Fergus Nicoll: Donald Trump says he is pro-business. But a lot of businesses, it seems, are not pro-Trump. They’re certainly not in favor of his attempt to restrict immigration. Almost 100 mainly tech companies have filed an amicus brief arguing that the ban – already the subject of a separate legal process – inflicts significant harm on American business. Who’s signed up? Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter and belatedly Tesla. I’ll hand over to Alison in a moment – but first, let’s hear from Emily Dreyfuss at the tech news website Wired in Boston.

Emily Dreyfuss: By some estimates, half of unicorn startups in America were founded by an immigrant. These big companies, Apple, Google, Facebook: they depend on H1-B visa holders. 85,000 H1-B visas go to the tech community every year in America. This is affecting their bottom line. Yes, there is some risk but I think these technology companies are calculating that together they are stronger which is why they’ve signed on to this amicus brief. I think what we’re seeing here is a clash of ideology and business acumen. In this instance, Trump saying he’s pro-business is actually just talk.

Fergus Nicoll: Is that a fair summary then, Alison…the way it’s seen on the west coast?

Alison van Diggelen: Trump is saying that he’s pro-business (and I believe he intends to be), but it looks like his immigration ban has not been thought through… as to the impact it’s going to have on business.  It’s been severely criticized .

I’ve been closely watching Silicon Valley’s reaction to the Trump presidency since inauguration day. When Trump issued that immigration order some Silicon Valley leaders were compelled to break their silence and take action. It’s an issue that’s split the US in two. A CNN poll shows about 53% oppose the ban. But today Trump has said that negative polls about the travel ban are “fake news.” He accused the NY Times of making up stories and sources. So my report explores why Trump is getting under Silicon Valley’s skin via this travel ban and the role of lies and fake news.

The day after he was inaugurated, Silicon Valley took to the streets to protest. Tens of thousands of marchers carried placards saying “Stop the hate”; “Words Matter”, and “Never Again.” I asked Patrick Adams, a local science teacher…What’s your message for Trump?

Patrick Adams SV Trump Protest Jan 21 2017. Photo by Alison van Diggelen

Patrick Adams: Get out of the way…this is a tsunami, this is people who care deeply about what this country really stands for – which is inclusion and love and hope – it’s unstoppable. This idea: that the trickle down economics of neoliberalism and the strange backward thinking of racism is going to lead us to a better world? It’s not, it’s a dead end.

Alison van Diggelen: In the first week of Trump’s presidency, it appeared like “business as usual” here in SV. On day seven, Trump’s immigration order lit the fire under SV.

By day 10, protests had broken out at several tech campuses; and business leaders came out of their bunkers to voice concerns about the order’s morality, not just its economic impact. It was personal: almost 60% of Silicon Valley engineers are foreign born.

I spoke with Meg Whitman, CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, a company born here in 1939:

Meg Whitman: Our view is that this was a mistake. We are a nation of immigrants and a broad-brush sweep of seven countries, of Muslims in those seven countries, is not what America is. So I hope that the president rethinks…

If you think of the innovation that’s been done in the valley over the last 75 years, much of it is from people who came here from someplace else … that’s an economic engine of the country and an economic engine of the world…

Alison van Diggelen: Alphabet’s chairman, Eric Schmidt even described the Trump administration actions as “evil” but many responses were muted.

I contacted companies, from oil to solar; from startups to Fortune 500, but many declined to talk, even LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman who was an outspoken critic of candidate Trump. Why the silence?

Is it the prospect of Trump unleashing his Twitter followers? Kevin Surace, CEO at Appvance, a software company, sums it up:

Kevin Surace: No one wants the current leader of the free world to unleash something against them. And frankly as a CEO of a corporation, it’s your duty to your shareholders to not have the US government hate you…the last thing you want is the president saying: I’ve had it with your company, I’m going to slap tariffs on you…

Alison van Diggelen: Surace emphasizes that the stock market is up over 8% since the election and the Dow hit the symbolic 20,000 point milestone last month. Trump even hosted a “cordial” tech summit with many of the valley’s leaders. Three juicy carrots are now dangling their way: the prospect of infrastructure investment, a corporate tax cut and a huge tax break for the repatriation of $2.5 Trillion in corporate profits lying offshore.

Kevin Surace: If that all comes back to the US, it’ll be the biggest boom to the US economy, possibly ever. For the next 10 years, the economy will be on fire.

Alison van Diggelen: Nevertheless, venture capitalist, Jean-Louis Gasse addresses the disquiet in Silicon Valley. He points to H1-B visa concerns as well as a flood of uncertainties:

Jean-Louis Gasse: The stock market is up, up, up right now which we know could turn around on a dime…

It’s not good for biz to have too many uncertainties on immigration, on trade wars, on interest rates, on spending, on building a wall with Mexico…

Alison van Diggelen: Gasse was Steve Jobs’ right hand man when Apple first expanded into Europe. I asked him to sum up the Valley’s reaction to Trump:

Jean-Louis Gasse: They’re waking up to the fact that just like you need clean air and clean water… you need clean information for society to be healthy. It’s an issue of conscience for the people in tech to get up and say we’re going to fight fake news – especially the ones that stem from the top. The danger with an administration or a president like Donald Trump is that he gives permission to lie. … to be offensive…to be homophobic, to be xenophobic… Cultures are nothing but a system of permissions and those come from the top. When you see the President of the US lying – you have to stand up and say: it’s a lie!

Continues….

Check back soon for part II when we discuss:

Elon Musk’s role in Trump’s economic advisory council and why his decision to stay is so controversial, especially after Uber’s CEO stood down.

And Silicon Valley Leadership Group’s CEO Carl Guardino’s advice to Trump.

BBC Report: How to Get More Women in Tech?

BBC Report: How to Get More Women in Tech?

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Why aren’t more women in tech? That was the main topic for discussion yesterday on BBC’s Business Matters. I shared my report from Google’s I/O conference, where almost one in four attendees were women. The Women Techmakers team managed to increase female attendance from 8% in 2013 to 23% this year. How did they do it and what can other companies learn from their strategy?

Listen to the podcast at the BBC World Service (Women discussion starts at 26:40) or use the clip below:

Here’s a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.

BBC Host, Roger Hearing: Have you thought how many women there are in the new high tech industries? Not enough is the general verdict. Have a quick listen to this:

Google CEO, Sundar Pichai: Welcome to Google I/O and welcome to Shoreline. It feels really nice and different up here. We’ve been doing it for many many years in Moscone and in fact we’ve been doing I/O for 10 years, but I feel we’re at a pivotal moment in terms of where we’re going as a company…. There are over 7,000 of you joining in person today.

BBC Host, Roger Hearing: That was the boss of Google, Sundar Pichai, opening a recent conference held near the tech giant’s headquarters in Mountain View, Silicon Valley. Alison, you were at that conference. Tell us more about it….

Alison van Diggelen: Google I/O is the annual Google developers’ conference. I/O stands for Input/Output and Innovation in the Open. It attracts thousands of developers from around the world who use Google’s open platforms, such as Android and Chrome, to build apps for your smartphone, smartwatch, or computer.

Google has been battling to increase the number of women in its tech teams, and I was pleased to see a decent number of women making presentations on the keynote stage. The company managed to triple the number of women attending the conference by partnering with other tech organizations like the Anita Borg Institute, Women Who Code and Hackbright academy.

At the conference, I spoke to Natalie Villalobos. She’s Google’s Head of Global Programs for “Women Techmakers.” I began by asking her WHY Google is seeking more women in tech…

Natalie Villalobos: We need everyone to contribute to make the most innovative technology. The more diverse voices we have, contributing, participating, and building the technology, the better technology we’re going to have…We always need more diverse voices at the table: for women, people of color, veterans, people with disabilities because the people building the tech should be as diverse as the people that the technology serves.

Alison van Diggelen: You went from 8% female attendance in 2013 to 23% this year, almost a quarter today. How did you do that?

Natalie Villalobos: ‘What could only Google do?‘ is a big rallying cry of my work and it was partnering with community organizations, locally, nationally and internationally to bring women to the conference, by providing travel grants, access to tickets and so we wanted to create these lasting partnerships…And one of the things we worked really hard at is how can we really engage women across the spectrum? We welcome all types of women: whether you identify as non-gender binary, women of color, Latinas…Also geographic diversity: We have women from South Africa, Taiwan, Tunisia, China…a lot are coming here to the U.S. for the first time for Google I/O.

Winnie Chen, Nancy Hang, Android auto team at Google IO 2016, Photo by Alison van DiggelenAlison van Diggelen: What makes you special, is it just deep pockets? (Google has earmarked $150M this year for its diversity programs)

Natalie Villalobos: We’re really looking at how we can engage and meet developers, designers and entrepreneurs wherever they are. Diversity and inclusion in the tech industry is not just in the United States. There are people all over the world who want to be here in this industry who can’t move to Silicon Valley. How can we meet them where they are and share our new platforms, our technologies?

People who can’t come to Mountain View can join a local extendedI/O event – I believe we have over 400. Our biggest this year is in Sri Lanka with over 2000 attendees. It’s about reshaping the industry and supporting people where they are.

Roger Hearing: Alison, we’ve heard this a lot before…there aren’t enough women involved in the high tech industry. But it doesn’t seem to get any better.

Alison van Diggelen: It seems to be moving in the right direction but it’s very slow going. I actually had the chance to speak with Sundar Pichai and he said that this is a long long road. He’s talking about 10 years, 15 years before they can get close to equality. It’s a pipeline issue, it’s a role model issue. There are inherent biases in companies that make it more difficult for women to get into tech companies and thrive in tech companies. He did point out an encouraging fact that at Stanford University in Silicon Valley, the most popular major is no longer Biology but Computer Science.  So anecdotal evidence like that says that perhaps we’re reaching a critical mass, perhaps a turning point, where women can feel at home in that geeky, computer science world.

Roger Hearing: Let me posit that maybe that’s because it’s Stanford…it’s California. Simon, let me come to you (in Singapore) In the high tech world where you are….where some of the most cutting edge stuff is going on. Are there many women involved?

Simon Long, The Economist: I’m struck when I visit multinationals (in Singapore) like Google and local startups how dominated they are by the young…and men. Alison put her finger on one of the main problems: who’s studying what at university? Who has the right skills? There are these ingrained prejudices…people recruit people like themselves.

Ellie Powers, Google interview by Alison van Diggelen for BBC Report May 2016Alison van Diggelen: The pipeline issue is not the whole excuse.  I did speak with Ellie Powers, a product manager at Google and she was on the keynote stage. It’s a lazy excuse, she says, “if you’re looking for gold, it’s rarer, you have to look a bit harder” and you have to figure out how find and connect with people outside your network. She put a challenge out there to Google and beyond for any company looking for women, in order to make a better team.

Roger Hearing: Perhaps the women are not there, they don’t want to do it? Is it a cultural bias?

Alison van Diggelen: I think there is a bias…there’s the stereotype of the geeky coder, but I think that’s changing. After being at that conference for an entire day, and seeing that one in four of the attendees were women. It was different from other tech conferences I’ve been at where if feels more like 10%.

Unconscious bias training will help. I think role models like Ellie Powers, up there on stage, wearing a dress, talking tech, being geeky…that will help get more young women to say, maybe coding is for me, maybe computer science is for me?

Roger Hearing: Simon, does it matter what the gender balance is?

Simon Long: I think it probably does…if everyone had equal access to do what they’re good at, the world would be a better place. As Alison says, if the problem is not just a pipeline one… If there are biases inhibiting women from doing as well as they might, then we’re all losing out.

Roger Hearing: If women were involved in designing the Apple Mac, would it be different, better?

Alison van Diggelen: Natalie’s point is relevant here: if your end product is for the world – 50% of which is women – you have to include women in the process. By attracting a more diverse employees base, you’ll get a better workforce. I talked with Steven Levy, a well-known tech author and he said, the days when a credible company can have an all-male conference or panel are just “way over” – it’s about sending a message to all people that they’re welcome. It’s about getting a better workforce and building better products. That’s the bottom line.

Read more about women in tech in Fresh Dialogues Inspiring Women Series

And find out more about The Anita Borg Institute

Sebastian Thrun: Audacious Plans for Online Education

Sebastian Thrun: Audacious Plans for Online Education

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

This week, artificial intelligence (AI) reached a significant milestone. For the first time, Google’s DeepMind unit beat the legendary champion of Go, a highly complex board game. Machines are now being built with self-learning mechanisms that simulate the neural network of the human brain. What does this mean for the future of AI and its ability to replace humans in the workplace? The future just got closer.

Sebastian Thrun is well known for being a pioneer in artificial intelligence and autonomous cars, but is now laser focused on making sure online education bridges the skills gap, via his company, Udacity. Here’s what he said recently about AI:

Udacity is my response to the development of AI. The mission I have to educate everybody is really an attempt to delay what AI will eventually do to us, because I honestly believe people should have a chance.” Sebastian Thrun*

I sat down with Thrun at the company’s headquarters in Silicon Valley to explore his grand vision and audacious promises. Last year, Udacity raised $105 million in venture funding, based on a valuation of $1 billion. Is this another overpriced Silicon Valley unicorn or is the value justified?

First, a little back story: In 2012, Thrun was astounded at the massive number of people signing up for his Stanford AI course online course: 160,000 in all, mostly from outside the United States. He quickly realized that online education has the potential to make learning affordable and reach millions globally.

“Nothing has more potential to unlock a billion more brains to solve the world’s biggest problems,” wrote Tom Friedman in 2013.  But of course, his and Thrun’s rosy predictions couldn’t happen overnight. The online learning business had some serious teething problems with high drop out rates, and dismal failure rates. But today, the future of online education is looking brighter.

There are now countless online education companies globally. The big three are: Coursera (a Stanford startup) which now boasts 15 million studentsEdX (affiliated with MIT and Harvard) with over 5 million users; and Udacity, 4 million.

Since Udacity’s high profile failure at San Jose State, the company has refocused its online courses and recently partnered with Google, AT&T and Amazon to design “nanodegrees” tailored to the needs of tech companies. Thrun is so bullish about the market value of these 4-12 month nanodegrees, which offer project based learning, that he’s offering a money-back job guarantee.

For certain Nanodegree programs we’re offering all your tuition back unless we or you find yourself a job within the first 6 months of graduation. For the student, the education is basically free. … These are jobs that pay $80,000 or more, maybe $120,000 in Silicon Valley. With the first month’s salary they can recoup all tuition or we just pay them tuition back…  Sebastian Thrun, CEO Udacity

 

@ Udacity HQ, by Alison van DiggelenHere are more highlights from my conversation with Sebastian Thrun:

On Redefining Education

I think education has to shrink: We have to stop thinking of education as a four or six year investment you can only afford once in your life. We have think of education as a lifelong thing, to shrink the size of our degrees and make education a daily habit, the same way we brush our teeth every day. We have to redefine what education really means.

On Access to Education

Elite colleges like Stanford are extremely inaccessible. They’re failing in their mission to provide access. The Udacity recipe is exactly the opposite – we want to reach everyone and have no admission hurdle. We want to be able to educate people. We do this today in Ghana, in Sub Saharan Africa, in Bangladesh, in China, around the world. If we do this, we can have a substantial impact on the world’s GDP because so much talent is under utilized because of lack of education. If we give people in Syria the same chances as kids in America have, it’s going to be spectacular.

On Persuading Skeptics 

The question is still open how much a nanodegree will become gold standard…this takes time. But some companies earmark jobs specifically for us, give us preferential treatment. Google even invites the top nanodegree finishers on campus in Mountain View to meet their recruiters, which they don’t do with other universities….

And others are still skeptical. People are hired on conventional credentials and many of our students are career shifters. They don’t have the 20 years of history that a seasoned person has.

Kelly Marchiso Udacity student @Google, by Alison van Diggelen

Meet Kelly Marchisio 

Last year, Marchisio got a promoted from customer service to “web solutions” engineering at Google after completing Udacity’s nanodegree. She said of her 6-month intensive program: “It’s industry relevant, fun…maybe I’m just a nerd but I really enjoy spending my weekends working through programming materials.”

Marchisio adds, “I’d guess there are more women in a Udacity program than there would be in an academic course…an online environment feels more safe…less social pressure. You can try things on your own, make mistakes and not feel embarrassed about it.”

On Udacity’s China Expansion

China has 20 million college students. It’s huge. It has a thriving new middle class and can’t keep up with brick and mortar university buildup to meet the demands of these people.

I want to go there and tell them look: You can become a Silicon Valley trained Android iOS engineer, a data scientist, a cyber security engineer, even a self driving car engineer for almost no money in about half a year.

Note: Udacity currently has an office in China and plans to roll out its learning platform, by replicating Google tools and building its own server farm in the second quarter of 2016.

On his Moonshot, 50 Year Vision

Conventional degrees will be gone. We’ll abandon the idea of education first, and then work.

I see people starting work straight out of high school and bringing experiences, deficiencies, desires back into education. We’ll have a life where education and work is on all the time. The old fashioned – you get born, ed, work, retire and die is obsolete.  We have to do all these things at the same time, with the exception of death of course!

We have to learn to play, to get educated. We have think of life as a process, not as an accomplishment, but have a growth mindset for our lives. That will be the case because 50 years from now, things will be moving so insanely fast that to stay current, a college education will expire faster than its course.

***

In conclusion, it looks like Udacity has found a sustainable business model by focusing on the IT job market. The company currently has about 11,000 students enrolled in its nanodegree programs, each paying approximately $200/month, producing an estimated annual revenue of over $26 million. If Thrun can continue to drive rapid growth, compete effectively against the growing competition and replicate the company’s current success as it expands in China, then perhaps that $1 billion valuation doesn’t look quite so make-believe.

*Interesting to note that although Thrun offers online education as a way to “delay” the massive job losses that AI will eventually produce, Udacity’s top listed nanodegree is…you guessed it: machine learning. Otherwise known as AI.