A Passion For Education: Aaron McLean, AT&T and Udacity

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A Passion For Education: Aaron McLean, AT&T and Udacity

By Aaron McLean, Principal Technical Architect, AT&T
Sebastian Thrun, left, with Aaron McLeanm right.
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Tuesday, June 21, 2016 - 2:15pm

CAMPAIGN: AT&T: Possibilities


My name is Aaron McLean. I’ve worked at AT&T for 17 years as a web developer and architect. In fall 2014, our group was in need of high-quality, low-cost training and certification. While we had online training, we needed more specific certifications within our software-centric network environment. Then one day, an email was sent to us from John Donovan (our Chief Technology Officer at the time), asking us to check out Udacity.com.

The Front-End Web Developer Nanodegree Program

That night I went home, signed up and started taking the Udacity Web Developer Nanodegree program. I loved it! It was challenging. It was the first real-world online training class that held me accountable for applying the new knowledge that I had learned in the Udacity training videos. I had finally found high-quality training that also came with a real teacher that I could use if I needed help. To make things even better, Udacity had user forums that were very active. My questions were usually answered within a few hours.

I was on cloud nine. After many years of trying to prove that I had the best web developers on my team at AT&T, I now had a training course at Udacity that my developers could take that would enable them to get certified and further showcase their newfound skills to themselves and upper management.

I spent every night and weekend for the next 8 weeks completing my Front-End Web Developer Nanodegree program. I became the Udacity cheerleader for my organization at AT&T. I quickly began to see areas in our development process that needed fixing, and I had the Udacity Nanodegree program to thank for my newfound skills.

My teammates wanted to be part of the AT&T culture that John Donovan was encouraging, and they quickly completed their own Front-End Web Developer Nanodegree programs. I was even asked by AT&T directors to give presentations on my experience with Udacity, to demonstrate to them that the Udacity training wasn’t just a fad. Udacity had become the new, cool training at AT&T.

The Full Stack Web Developer Nanodegree Program

In spring 2015, Udacity released the Full Stack Web Developer Nanodegree program, and I knew it would help define the future Full Stack developer role at AT&T. It was tough. I struggled with it, but I loved it. I was learning real-world technology! While I was completing the section on Google API’s, one of my organization’s leaders asked me if I knew how to design a Google Map and how to translate our application outage notices into Spanish. This was perfect timing. I was able to help AT&T quickly implement those two features using knowledge I had gained through Udacity. It felt good to give back to AT&T what I learned from Udacity.

After completing my Full Stack Web Developer Nanodegree program in summer 2015, I finally had a chance to meet Sebastian Thrun in St. Louis. I enjoyed picking his brain about the future of education. It felt good to share the same passion that Sebastian has for education. He gave me some great advice that I’ve since shared with every developer I know.

Eighteen months after John Donovan asked our organization to use Udacity, my development team had earned 14 Udacity Nanodegree programs. I am so proud of them!

The New Job!

Fast forward to the present, I recently found out AT&T needed more OpenStack architects. I applied and was hired, which I give significant credit to the knowledge gained from my Udacity experience. John Donovan sent me a congratulatory letter on my Udacity accomplishments, and he featured my training and job transition in an AT&T Town Hall, as an example of our Chairman Randall Stephenson’s vision to reskill AT&T, using Udacity. This vision was written about earlier this year in The New York Times!

I have been in my new job at AT&T for 1 week as a Principal Technical Architect for AT&T Integrated Cloud. Thanks to Sebastian and the employees at Udacity, my teammates and I have been able to extend our learning and careers.

P.S. I love the Udacity T-shirts! I’m starting another Nanodegree – just so I can get another shirt. My last one tore in the washer :(.

Keywords: Education | AT&T | Aaron McLean | NanoDegree | Online | Philanthropy | Sebastian Thrun | Technology | Udacity | cloud | developer

CAMPAIGN: AT&T: Possibilities