AT&T's 'nanodegree' gets workers ready for SDN, NFV future

Since unveiling Domain 2.0 and its vision for a user-defined network cloud, AT&T (NYSE: T) has made the point that it needs employees with comprehensive software skills that can take the company into a world based on IP and mobile. To help fill those roles, the telco has partnered with Udacity to launch an online "nanodegree" program this fall that will develop a new crop of software experts.

The first courses will focus on entry-level software skills, specifically the design of website user interfaces and Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) iOS applications, which are considered fundamental software development skills needed in industry. Nanodegrees will take six to 12 months to complete and will cost about $200 per month.

AT&T and Udacity said they will support "diverse access" by providing full scholarships to certain recipients through qualified non-profit organizations, including Genesys Works and Year Up. In addition, AT&T will offer up to 100 paid internships for nanodegree graduates. The operator said the nanodegree will be fully recognized for entry-level software jobs at AT&T.

"To accomplish more with technology, companies need a workforce with advanced technology skills. But education models evolve slowly," John Donovan, senior executive vice president of AT&T technology and network operations, wrote in a blog post. "We're not waiting for someone else to solve this problem."

He added that this new educational model will directly benefit AT&T. "Our technology-driven business requires a workforce pool with the skills we need to advance the network of the future," Donovan said.

He noted AT&T expects other employers to recognize the nanodegree as well and said other companies are also developing their own nanodegrees for the workforce.

AT&T is one of many companies worldwide having trouble filling high-tech positions. Two years ago, McKinsey & Co. predicted the global economy will have a shortfall of 85 million skilled jobs  by 2020, mainly in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields.

Randall Stephenson, AT&T chairman and CEO, said the nanodegree will aid industry newcomers as well as reeducate existing workers. "This will widen the pipeline of STEM-trained talent. It will also help our employees build skills in these areas," he said.

"AT&T developed nanodegree with Udacity because of its great potential to help our employees build skills in critical software disciplines--and to also widen the pipeline of trained applicants," said Bill Blase, AT&T's senior executive vice president of human resources.

AT&T unveiled its Domain 2.0 supplier program in September 2013. The program is designed to take the vendor into a future dominated by software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) as the company evolves its networks to an all-IP broadband, all-wireless and all-cloud infrastructure. The operator in February 2014 rolled out its user-defined network cloud concept, a shift toward using virtualization to give customers more control and the ability to add services on-demand. Subsequently, AT&T announced in March 2014 that it will hire 100 "innovators" to develop its virtualized network of the future.

AT&T's investment in the nanodegree is part of the AT&T Aspire to develop a well-educated workforce. AT&T and Udacity last year joined with Georgia Tech and Udacity to launch the Online Master of Science in Computer Science, the first accredited Master of Science in Computer Science earned exclusively through the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) format that Udacity helped pioneer.  

Udacity has also helped Cloudera create a MOOC to teach customers and potential customers how to use its systems to analyze big data, The New York Times said.

For more:
- see this AT&T release
- see this Donovan blog post
- see this New York Times article

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Marian Croak on why and how AT&T is moving to SDN, NFV and an all-IP future with Domain 2.0
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AT&T plans 100 new hires to build its virtualized network
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