May 27, 2016: Friday News Roundup

Welcome to Friday and happy Memorial Day weekend in the U.S., where the debate over how, when, and why people should learn coding is really heating up. Read on for a great profile of Udemy for Business—and don’t miss our special request at the end!

American schools are teaching our kids how to code all wrong
We’ve shared some stories in previous roundups about whether we’re missing the point in our push to train more programmers. This article accuses American schools of teaching a “light and fluffy version of computer science” that fails to impart a deep understanding of the discipline.

Change your career without having to start all over again
We know a lot of students come to Udemy because they’re looking to make a career switch. The writer here offers a few strategies for leveraging past experience and transferring it to your new role. Among her suggestions: Find opportunities where inexperience is a virtue, such as joining a troubled company where you’re seen as a fresh outsider.

The number of new businesses in the US is falling off a cliff
Market-watchers are starting to get less bullish on tech companies, but there’s another indicator that our economy isn’t as robust as it had been. According to the Economic Innovation Group, “Fewer new businesses were created in the last five years in the U.S. than any period since at least 1980.” Moreover, startup creation is happening in a very limited number of major metro areas and the new businesses aren’t the type that used to anchor the middle-class, like restaurants or construction firms.

Big companies turn to San Francisco-based Udemy for training
This profile story explores why companies are increasingly recognizing the need to update their learning and development programs and how Udemy for Business is meeting that demand. As VP of Udemy for Business Darren Shimkus explains, millennial workers value training highly but they don’t want the same old boring, dry training content most companies are known for. A senior training specialist AdRoll, a Udemy for Business customer, is quoted saying, “One of our biggest initiatives is creating learning paths for every function across the company, and Udemy is a critical part of that.”

Langbos Care Centre fundraiser
Lastly, please consider supporting Udemy partner Just Creative’s fundraiser in support of the children at the Langbos Creche & Care Centre in South Africa. Making a donation will enter you in a drawing to win a $50 Udemy course voucher, among other great prizes. Just Creative is one of the most popular design blogs out there, and founder Jacob Kass has been a great friend of Udemy.

2016 Learning Trends on Udemy

Check out the infographic we just released showing what people around the U.S. are learning on Udemy and the interesting geographic and generational trends we’re tracking. Are you typical of your age and city?

Who Are You Calling Soft? The Value Of Soft Skills In A Tech-Obsessed Economy

twenty20_0a232b5f-7cfb-411d-8f1c-7adf67fa774dFor a while, the tech skills gap has dominated the conversation around the needs of the 21st century workplace. As globalization and labor automation accelerate the growth of a knowledge-based economy, the perceived premium on “hard” skills like programming is reaching an all-time high. But inside of companies, business leaders have long been crying out for something that’s missing from the storyline: the importance of “soft” skills.

Mastering hard skills while ignoring the soft ones is a bit like going to the gym every night but being careless about nutrition. You need both elements to find success.

What’s in a name?
The term alone — soft skills — reflects the problem. These competencies simply aren’t getting their due in the larger public discussion about upskilling, and maybe it’s because “soft” implies they’re more nice-to-have than must-have.

We can talk about the value of teaching kids STEM subjects earlier or steering students toward more marketable college majors, but soft skills are the foundation for any successful career, regardless of what field you’re in. Engineers aren’t typically associated with these kinds of soft skills, but they need them just as much as anyone — and unlike hard skills, which are always evolving and could be gone with the software update of tomorrow, soft skills never expire.

Communication, leadership, cultural sensitivity, and relationship building — these are some of the most valuable skills you can have in the workplace today, but they’re often eclipsed by a focus on the IT skills shortage. HR departments now rely on resume-reading software that scans for keywords, and soft skills usually get short shrift in that process. It’s tough for recruiters to screen for those skills too.

Time to heed the call of industry
These may seem like the types of skills workers naturally pick up on the job, and until recently that’s mainly how it worked, but in today’s workplace, soft skills are often ignored and rarely nurtured.

Organizations have gotten flatter, and middle management, where it even exists, is no longer tasked with grooming the next generation. Without role models and mentors around to share what they’ve learned over the years, there’s a void in the development of younger workers. The frequency with which people change jobs nowadays only exacerbates the problem.

As CEO of an online learning company, I’m fortunate to have unique visibility into trends around corporate training. We talk regularly with CEOs who express frustration with how weak their teams are in soft skills, and we’ve seen increased demand for and consumption of these topics in our course library.

Neglecting soft skills could mean a future where computers can handle more and more of the hard skills, but humans haven’t developed commensurate skills for driving business outcomes – things like how to collaborate, lead, empathize, and build relationships. Meanwhile, if you’re someone who excels in those areas, you might end up being a more in-demand prospect than the hottest software engineer of today.

How we can fill the void
So, what’s the alternative? I think a few things need to happen. First, individuals need to take personal responsibility for developing their soft skills, whether that’s part of their formal schooling or through courses and programs they pursue independently.

Second, companies need to incorporate screening for soft skills into the hiring process and give employees more opportunities to learn soft skills once they’re on the job; then they need to facilitate mentorships and coaching to support newer employees as they learn to master those skills.

Last, our broader culture needs to make room for soft skills when we talk about what 21st century workers need to know in order to succeed.

Hard or soft, all skills matter
In a survey conducted by PwC, CEOs cited “curiosity” and “open-mindedness” as traits that are becoming increasingly critical. Today’s star employees need the full package: hard or technical skills backed up with soft skills and emotional intelligence. It isn’t enough to say you’re good with people, a resume catchphrase that’s become empty jargon.

So, how do we broaden the conversation to make sure soft skills aren’t pushed aside while we agonize over upskilling everyone to become technologists? Science, technology, engineering, and math have all been around for ages, but when they were grouped together as the new must-have STEM skills, it gave them substance that people could understand and rally behind. Industry leaders should be equally vocal about soft skills.

This post originally appeared on Huffington Post.

May 20, 2016: Friday News Roundup

Hope everyone had a great week. It’s time to sit back and soak up some news about older people in the workforce, growing numbers of talented folks staying independent, and a feel-good story to wrap things up.

Why high-skilled freelancers are leaving corporate life behind
Here’s further evidence that having a rich combination of skills in different areas is more valuable than being an accomplished specialist at one thing. Those generalists are increasingly choosing to go freelance rather than in-house, posing interesting challenges around hiring.

Disproving beliefs about the economy and aging
This article dispels some common myths around older workers, such as the idea that they drag down the economy by not contributing to it or that, when they do keep working, they block younger people from job opportunities. With these misconceptions debunked, it makes good economic sense to retain older employees.

College is worth it if you have these six experiences
The debate rages on: is that diploma worth the soaring cost? A recent Gallup poll suggests the answer is a qualified yes, but being a high-performing student isn’t enough. College grads tend to thrive if they’ve formed relationships with mentors and had professors who got them excited about learning. It also helps to be involved in extracurriculars and have a job or internship that leverages the knowledge and skills they’re studying.

The languages the world is trying to learn
This is just kind of cool. You may not be surprised to see that English tops the list in many countries around the world, but what are people in predominantly English-speaking countries learning? In the U.S. and parts of Scandinavia, it’s Spanish. Elsewhere, French and German still attract the most language learners.

This 54-year-old custodian just graduated from the college he cleaned at night
Finally, meet Michael Vaudreuil, who went to work as a janitor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts after his plastering business tanked in the 2008 recession. “It was about a 50 percent pay cut, the work wasn’t stimulating, but the benefits were good. He decided he would take advantage of every free benefit the school offered so it would feel like he was making more money.” This week, Michael graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering.

May 13, 2016: Friday News Roundup

It’s Friday the 13th, so try to avoid bad luck and black cats today. We’ve got some thought-provoking reads this week about what aspiring programmers should or shouldn’t learn, the truth about millennials, and some ideas from the Udemy for Business team.

Please don’t learn to code
This piece got a lot of people talking and debating. The author, an iOS engineer, suggests that those who’ve been advocating for more people attending coding bootcamps and the like are missing the bigger picture of what it means to be a great programmer. Rather than simply learning languages and generating code, aspiring engineers need first to understand the problem in front of them and why it needs solving, according to this writer.

The three skills every software developer should learn
Software paragon Joel Spolsky doesn’t necessarily disagree with the previous article. He, too, advises people not to focus exclusively on the hot tech skills of the moment. Instead, Spolsky points to three fundamentals every programmer should learn: economics, writing, and C programming.

How badly companies misunderstand millennials
No, millennials aren’t just looking for the employer with the coolest rock wall and most tempting snack selection. According to a new Gallup poll, we’re seeing a shift from “paycheck to purpose” as the most important factor when millennials go job-hunting. Moreover, 59 percent of millennials rate opportunities to learn and grow as “extremely important” when applying for a new job.

The thing employers look for when hiring recent graduates
Okay, so if millennials want career development and purpose from their employers, what do employers want from new grads? In a word: internships. And other “experiences outside academics.” There are interesting findings from the Chronicle of Higher Education about how different industries value different aspects of a resume, whether it’s grades, major, or work experience.

Consumerization of learning
Here, Udemy for Business Director of Product Marketing Yvonne Chen explains why companies need to deliver training that’s less corporate and more consumer-oriented. That means making engaging content available across devices and on demand whenever employees want or need to pick up new skills.

Hey, grads: Your major is not your destiny

shutterstock_57140281At 22, I hit one of my first major life milestones: receiving my degree in chemical engineering. Those four years of hard work and late nights had led to this moment of celebration—yet something felt amiss. After pursuing and reaching goals for so long as a student, I no longer knew what the road forward looked like.

I’d just finished an internship where my job was to design safety valves for chemical reactors. I didn’t find much joy in it. Instead, I was actually spending a lot of my time worrying I was going to get someone hurt or worse. Previously, I’d thrown everything I had into chemical engineering, but now, at this late date, I realized I didn’t want to make it my career.

What I wish I could have told my anxiety-ridden, 22-year-old self is this: Your major is not your destiny.

In fact, your first job isn’t your destiny either. I moved away from engineering and took a job with a big accounting firm, despite not knowing much about finance. After that I spent time at a venture capital firm and then an internet marketing startup.

At the time, I was struggling to find my fit, but looking back, those early choices were good ones. I shouldn’t have worried so much! In fact, what I picked up in my wanderings is the same advice I’d share with today’s new grads.

Be patient: You’re eager, energetic, and full of ideas, but before you rush to present your thoughts to the board of directors, slow down and listen. College isn’t the end of learning; it’s just the beginning of a new phase. Use your newcomer status to observe and soak up on-the-job lessons about your work environment, interpersonal dynamics, decision making, communication styles, etc. Appreciate the transition from classroom to real world, and don’t feel bad about not having everything figured out. You’ve got time!

Go broad: Even if you think you’ve nailed down your perfect career path, keep an open mind and expose yourself to as many different things as possible early in your working life. As I found from my experience in consulting, you don’t know what you don’t know. And you can’t continue growing and evolving as a professional if you don’t stay curious and receptive to new skills, new responsibilities, and new points of view. Now’s the time for exploration and experimentation; you can specialize later.

Get mentors:  Now that I’m a CEO, I don’t get as many new hires approaching me directly for guidance. I suspect they assume I’m too busy or “important” for such interactions or they’re afraid of looking green and clueless. All of that couldn’t be further from the truth. I know from speaking with colleagues that we all feel an obligation to help when junior employees want to tap into our experience. We were all in their shoes at one point. So, don’t be afraid to approach your senior coworkers and ask to chat over coffee. You may very well find a mentor for life.

Always be learning: If I had only one piece of advice, this would be it. Take a risk and try something unfamiliar while you’re still new to the game. In fact, my other suggestions all add up to embracing a learning mindset. If you’re taking the time to listen, venturing beyond your comfort zone, and seeking guidance from more experienced colleagues, you’ll always be growing. And that will make you a valuable team member and contributor over the course of your entire career, no matter where you end up.

Back when I graduated, “job-hopping” was frowned upon and perceived as signaling a lack of commitment and seriousness. The average worker today has 12 different jobs (and counting) by the time they turn 40. Exploring new career paths and constantly evolving as a professional are now normal, expected parts of the journey. Tools like online learning give people the opportunity to reinvent themselves and create the lives they desire in a way that just wasn’t possible in the past.

If you’re 22 and just entering the world of work, go into it with an open mind and boundless curiosity. Not only will a lifelong learning attitude serve you well, it’ll make the journey a lot more interesting and rewarding.

May 6, 2016: Friday News Roundup

Here in the U.S. (and a whole bunch of other countries, in fact), Sunday is Mother’s Day, so I hope you’ve made plans to treat the moms, grandmoms, and any other mother figures in your life. For most of us, our mothers were the first teachers we ever had, and they never really stop guiding us with their wisdom and experience. Mothers of the world, we salute you!

93% of India’s B-school graduates are useless
That’s a very alarming headline. So what’s the problem? According to the authors of a new report, “Lack of quality control and infrastructure, low-paying jobs through campus placement and poor faculty are the major reasons for India’s unfolding B-school disaster.” Outdated curricula also contribute to the problem.

How the “what’s your current salary?” question hurts the gender pay gap
Last time you interviewed for a job, you likely were asked to provide your compensation history. It’s always posed a conundrum for job seekers looking to position themselves for the best starting salary. Now comes evidence that the “current salary” question reinforces the wage gap between men and women.

How to get unstuck in your career
You’ve been working for a few years, things are going fine, but you’re not sure where to go from here. You’re not alone! This article explores the difference between developing depth vs. breadth of skills, and which path to choose, depending on your goals.

How to know which skills to develop at each stage of your career
Speaking of career direction, this article posits that most people start out being valued for their hard skills but, as they gain experience, it’s the soft skills that’ll keep them on an upward trajectory. This article offers some good advice on developing soft skills while still keeping your technical chops up to date.

Coding: 16-year-old Fremont student writes AP test-prep book, creates online course
Last but definitely not least, meet overachiever Moksh Jawa, whose love of computer science led him to become a Udemy instructor. His free course on “Decoding AP Computer Science A” has nearly 4,000 students and is getting great reviews. That’s why he landed on the front page of the San Jose Mercury News. Keep up the great work, Moksh!

Hidden gems for May

Hidden GemsCheck out this new batch of quirky courses published in the Udemy marketplace this month. DQ and Caroline from the quality team are back with their picks for these under-the-radar topics you shouldn’t miss.

How to Create an Abstract Painting with your Dog
What we liked: Instructor Tatiana Ambrose takes a unique approach to dog training. Here, she shows students how to bond with their dogs by creating a piece of art together — no kidding. Students pick up great tips on using positive reinforcement to train their pooches, along with a painting that’s sure to become a valuable family heirloom.

Learning The Darbuka – An Introduction For Beginners
What we liked: Middle Eastern percussionist Malik Terblizi joins forces with instructor Somesh De Swardt to introduce students to the sounds and cultural history of the darbuka dounbek, a goblet drum that produces a wide range of pitch sounds. This interactive learning experience will help novices master basic rhythms while intermediates can improve their technique.

BareBones Bartending: Become a Working Bartender!
What we liked: Nicholas Peach and Geoff Nichols walk students through classic cocktail recipes with clarity and confidence. Whether you’re looking to become a professional mixologist or just want to impress your friends, the course aims to skip the filler content of traditional bartender schools and get you right to learning the good stuff.

Build a Gaming PC for Less than $1000
What we liked: Self-professed “complete computer geek” Cody Ray Miller does an amazing job explaining the technical aspects of building your own computer so you’re ready to start gaming in no time. Rather than offering up a one-size-fits-all solution, Miller provides guidance on designing custom systems for different budgets. Students also come away with skills for diagnosing, troubleshooting, and repairing PC hardware.

Bring Sustainable Happiness to Life!
What we liked: This course is like spending quality time with your good friend and instructor Catherine O’Brien, who shot many of her videos while sitting outside surrounded by nature, flowers, and sunshine. Instead of focusing on attaining individual happiness, O’Brien speaks to the countless interconnections we have with family, neighbors, coworkers, and friends and how we can make choices that lead to greater happiness and well-being for ourselves and others.  

Making Employee Engagement a Habit



200+ people attended the Udemy for Business HR Innovators event on April 28, 2016 at Udemy HQ

By Darren Shimkus, VP and General Manager, Udemy for Business

We hosted the 15th Udemy for Business HR Innovators event last Thursday evening with an all-star panel of leaders from Slack, Guardant Health, Greenhouse, and Salesforce. We engaged in a rich and lively conversation about the challenges of and tactics for bringing employee engagement to life.

Put succinctly by Maia Josebachvili, VP of People and Strategy at Greenhouse, employee engagement is “…employees being able to work on what they want to be working on, where they want to be working on it, and with whom they want to be working on it.” Distilling all the great thought leadership from the evening, we came up with these three key takeaways.

The engagement habit isn’t developed overnight
Engagement must be nurtured so an organization can better connect to its people and keep them productive and happy. Natasha Kehimkar, VP of People at Guardant Health, said, “Engagement is about enriching people’s roles. It’s coaching, communication, and the ability for people to grow in an org. If they grow out of the organization and come back in later, that is even better. With engagement, we have to be careful not to boil the ocean. Engagement is not something that just happens overnight.”

Engagement drives retention
Keeping good people and letting go of those who aren’t a good fit sparked a conversation about the disgruntled Yelp employee who took to Medium to share her thoughts on Yelp’s compensation. Dawn Sharifan, Head of People Ops at Slack, said, “…the gap between expectation and reality is where disappointment lives. We must do a better job of aligning employee expectations with reality. That is our job as leaders.” Nobody joins an organization to do bad work or to perform poorly in their role. The leaders who hired them must treat them with dignity, even if they decide to leave or are not a long-term fit for the company.

From left: L. David Kingsley of Salesforce, Dawn Sharifan of Slack, Natasha Kehimkar of Guardant Health and Maia Josebachvili of Greenhouse

From left: L. David Kingsley of Salesforce, Dawn Sharifan of Slack, Natasha Kehimkar of Guardant Health and Maia Josebachvili of Greenhouse

Culture + technology = engagement
We are all responsible for developing engagement within our organizations. So, how can we begin? L. David Kingsley, VP of Employee Success Strategy & Operations at Salesforce, shared the Salesforce Aloha culture and how their equation of “Culture + Technology = Engagement” helps employees do the best work of their careers, as “engagement is culture in action.”

An organization’s culture can help educate its employees. It isn’t the isolated responsibility of a particular individual or group of individuals at the top. We must make engagement a habit and solidify a strong learning culture. Without this foundation in place, an organization’s culture breaks, and breaks quickly.

About HR Innovators
Founded in 2014 by Udemy for Business, HR Innovators has brought 3000 leaders across cities, industries and roles together to learn, network, and discuss the critical shifts occurring between organizations and their employees. Visit Udemy for Business to learn more or email us at

First lesson for maintaining a healthy culture: Hands off

culture lisa

By Lisa Haugh, VP of People and General Counsel

This is my second year here at Udemy with us being nominated as a “best place to work” by the San Francisco Business Times. Since my job title is VP of People and I head up our Employee Success team, you’d think I’d be exchanging high-fives all around. Of course, my team is super-excited for this honor, but that’s because we get to be a part of an amazing company, not because we had all that much to do with it. And I believe that’s as it should be.

If you think creating a great company culture and getting employees engaged and excited about working here is the sole responsibility of the traditional HR department or senior management, you’re dead wrong. We might help grease the skids, but it’s the employees themselves who make this company what it is. The things that really make people happy about where they work and engaged in their jobs aren’t company mandates; they happen organically, without the heavy hand of management.

I’ve worked at other places where a “bottoms-up culture” would’ve referred to a tendency toward heavy drinking at happy hour. At Udemy however, it means that everyone has equal opportunity to shape our culture and introduce activities that bring more meaning and enjoyment to our work lives. When we hire, we look beyond experience and education to see if candidates align with our values and share this attitude of contributing to the collective good as well as being excited to be part of something bigger than just a job.

My mind goes back to biology class, when we learned about bacteria by growing cultures in petri dishes. As the experiments showed, bacteria will grow and thrive when placed in the right environment. Unlike houseplants, bacteria don’t need help from humans to provide water and sunlight for healthy growth. And bacteria are pretty darned successful, prolific microorganisms. At the risk of equating our people to bacteria, we’ve taken the same approach, creating an environment where Udemy employees’ grow their own culture without management interference — much better than treating them like delicate hothouse flowers with high-maintenance needs.

We love how the cool stuff that defines Udemy culture started outside the Employee Success team. Here are just a few of our secrets:

  • Culture Club: This team of Udemy employees meets regularly to generate ideas and plan activities to enrich the experience of working here. We’ve volunteered as concession sellers at AT&T Park to raise money for a youth development program, hosted hackathons, and tutored school kids. We’ve also had groups organize weekend trips to Lake Tahoe and Big Sur.
  • Living our values: As a learning company, we all feel strongly about having opportunities to develop ourselves personally and professionally. In addition to having unlimited access to Udemy courses, we hold “hashes” open to all on relevant topics like learning science, we take courses together during “study hall,” and individual teams schedule time to DEAL — “drop everything and learn.”
  • Mission-driven: We can truly say we have a world-changing vision at Udemy. When your mission is to help people around the world build the lives they imagine through access to quality learning resources, it definitely lends weight to the daily routine. We know from employee surveys that people are attracted to Udemy because they believe in what we’re doing and want to contribute. They also appreciate our social innovation program, which extends grants and discounts to nonprofits and NGOs.

Speaking of surveys, we just did an engagement survey, and the numbers tell the story, with 96% of employees saying they’d recommend Udemy as a great place to work. And it’s the employees who’ve made this happen.

It all goes to show that the best cultures don’t come from what a company does for its employees but what employees have the freedom to create for themselves.