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October 13th, 2015

One Month In...Program Overview

I started the Nanodegree on September 15th and I’m almost one month in at this point. I’m still playing catch up with the blog posts because I decided to start the blog after I had started the course. Forgive me for any shallow or lack of details on the first few projects because I am remembering them from a few weeks back. I figure this shouldn’t be too big of a deal because the first 2 projects have been fairly simple so far. According to my course guide, they get progressively harder and more time consuming.

Progress

One important note about the Nanodegree is that all of the courses are provided free on Udacity for anyone that signs up. The thing you are paying $200/month for is the structure, project grading, team coach, and support. They offer one on one coaching sessions, a timeline of each course and project to keep you on schedule, 24 hour grading on project submissions, a team that meets once a week for discussion that is guided by a coach, and of course a Udacity Nanodegree Certificate (that will hopefully carry some weight with future employers!).

The Timeline

Progress

If you follow the timeline provided by Udacity, you will take the full 10 months to graduate. Everyone’s schedules and commitments vary of course, but I’m finding that I am able to get through the projects much quicker than the suggested timeline. For exmample, the program started on September 15th and the first project deadline is October 26th. That’s 13 days away and I’ve already finished up project 2 today. With that being said, there are a few people in my group that have not submitted project 1 just yet and might be struggling to find the time for the program. Since beginning the program, my job has gotten much more demanding and stressful. I’m a store manager at a natural grocery store and typically work 50+ hours a week. Most of my time for the course is after work in the evenings and on my days off. I find that doing an hour here and there for projects after work and large chunks of time dedicated to the course videos on my days off is working well for me. My goal is to be finished with the program by the end of January. The deadline for the last project on the timeline is April 25. The $200/month price tag combined with the 1/2 tuition refund at the end of the course (if you graduate within 12 months) is incentive to keep me on the fast pace.

The Projects

Github

As mentioned above, the projects get progressively more involved. I’m looking forward to this because I’ve definitely noticed that the first few projects are beginner level (as they should be) and they can be as simple or detailed as you would like to make them. If you’d like, they can both be completed in a few hours. However, they are meant to be future portfolio pieces so you are encouraged to customize them a good bit. The first project is a very basic portfolio that you will add your future projects to as you complete them.

Comp

The comp provided is easy enough and would have been appealing to me except for the large hero image on it. I find it unnecessary for a portfolio and it just didn’t suit my tastes.

My Portfolio

Regardless, I stuck with the overall layout the comp provided just to get through the project. To remove the hero would require a complete redesign and if I’m going to do that, I’m going to do it right. I have a pretty good idea of what I want my actual portfolio site to look like. So for now, I decided to just plug in some nice interesting frog photos, a pretty generic laptop hero image, and call it a day. I made some other adjustments such as the color scheme and added a logo that I threw together with a few days worth of tweaks to get it just right. I’m not 100% sure I’m going to keep the logo in my final design yet, but for the purposes of learning and completing this project, I’m pretty happy with it.

You can look at the other projects and the details about them on the Udacity Website but looking forward to project 3 and on you will be building a clone of the classic arcade game Frogger with javacsript and the HTML5 Canvas API. Project 4 is all about website optimization and Project 5 is a neighborhood map utilizing AJAX and the Google Maps API. Project 6 is a Feed Reader you will be building and it focuses on JavaScript testing. I’m looking forward to the last few projects as they delve into things that I’ve just touched the surface of in my experience with Web Development.

Grading

The project grading seems to be fairly straightforward and so far I like it. They go with a simple ‘does not meet expectations’, ‘meets expectations’, or ‘exceeds expectations’ grading scale. The rubric is provided in advance of each project so you know exactly what the criteria will be and what you will be graded on.

Criteria

So far, I really like the grading system. Apparently, they outsource the grading jobs to remote developers in order to keep up with the student demand and have a quick turnaround from the time you submit a project. One of my submissions was graded within an hour of submitting it, I was impressed! I’ve read some complaints on the Udacity Discussion Forum about inconsistent grading from different graders on resubmitting projects that didn’t pass the first time. I’ve yet to have an issue with this…I had to resubmit project 2 a few times due to a misunderstanding on my part. However, in my experience each resubmission was consistent and provided the same feedback so I think Udacity may have figured this out.

Each submission is graded and detailed notes including how you did in each category of the rubric, a code review, and specific examples of things you did well or could do better are provided. One of the graders even included links to some useful articles to improve a specific area of my code. I thought that was rather nice.

Meets Expectations

The actual grading will be done by each category of the rubric and you must ‘meet expectations’ in each of the required categories for each project in order to receive an overall ‘meets expectations’ for the project and move on.

Exceeds Expectations

Exceeding expectations can be done in different categories by doing things that usually involve customizing the page beyond what is provided for you. If you really like the project or find it useful to learn from, you can delve deeper into it and go the extra mile to make it your own. The grading rubric will provide you with a few hints as to how you can go about customizing the particular project to earn a ‘exceeds expecations’ grade. I did this for each aspect of Project 1, but I really wasn’t feeling Project 2 so I only received an ‘exceeds expecations’ grade for 1 category of Project 2. More on this when I recap Project 2 in the next post…

More To Come…

Anyways, that’s a brief overview of my experience with the program one month in and on project three of six. Future posts will consist of more details on the specific projects, how they work, what they ask you to do, and how I completed them. It was definitely a slow start for me, being fairly comfortable with all of the beginner level content. However, the Udacity is picking up the pace very quickly so I’m excited to see what’s next!

Author

Philip Bowles