Applying for the Udacity Self-Driving Car Nanodegree

The application window for the self-driving car nanodegree program was a short two weeks, with selections to be made within the following week. By the time I viewed the application webpage, on the first day they were being accepted, there were already over 2,500 applicants. And only 250 were going to be accepted!

The application itself was simple - name, e-mail, a few dropdowns to select from a list of specifically pertinent courses you may have already taken, and a couple of large text boxes to further delineate your educational background and why you’re applying. The application also automatically pulled in any related Udacity courses you’ve already taken.

The prerequisites were: git/GitHub, Python, probability and statistics, calculus, and some machine learning. I had a feeling my master’s degree would be helpful, but I had no experience with Python or machine learning. I figured the best way to compensate for that would be to take Udacity’s Intro to Machine Learning course which encompasses both since the programming exercises are written in Python. It was listed as a ten-week course, assuming six hours of work per week. But I managed to knock it out in eight days and include it on my application. I’ll go into the details of what I learned in a future post.

The other parts of my application went like this:

What is your relevant educational history (online and offline)?

BS Computer Engineering, University of Oklahoma - coursework included Engineering Statistics, Electric Vehicle Design, Control Systems, Calculus I-IV, Differential Equations, 12 hours of lower-level Computer Science coursework.

MS Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Oklahoma - coursework included Measurement & Automation, Robotic Design, Antenna Theory, Digital Signal Processing, Random Signals, Partial Differential Equations.

Member of two autonomous robot design teams and two electric vehicle racing teams.

Relevant on-the-job courses - ANSI C Programming, C++ Fundamentals, Secure Programming in C and C++. Numerous online courses focused on C# .NET and JavaScript.

What do you hope to get out of the program?

I hope to make a career for myself in the self-driving car industry. On my first visit to New York City I became enthralled with public transit and how necessary a comprehensive transit system can be as a public service. While I’m compelled by the relief to congestion and other benefits self-driving cars promise for highly dense cities, it’s the potential benefits to extremely low density cities like my home of Oklahoma City that I find most compelling. The transit system here is lacking, to say the least. Car ownership is absolutely necessary. The poor and handicapped are forced to depend on an inefficient and unreliable system, and the sprawl simply makes a comprehensive transit system cost prohibitive. That’s where, in my imagination, self-driving cars come in. They’re Oklahoma City’s only hope, so to speak. I’ve worked for money. I’ve worked for the simple satisfaction of making someone else’s life easier. Now I want my work to serve the greater good.

In the end, Udacity received almost 12,000 applications for the program. They also extended the number of selectees to 500. Still pretty slim chances. So was I accepted? I guess you’ll have to find out in the next post.