Udemy CEO Dennis Yang: ‘Coding is the key to the jobs of the future’

3 Mar 2016

From Silicon Valley to Silicon Docks: Dublin is in the driving seat for online education marketplace Udemy's global expansion, says CEO Dennis Yang

Set up with a premise to help anyone learn anything, Udemy already employs 20 people in Dublin and serves more than 10m users worldwide. However, Udemy CEO Dennis Yang warns that the global skills gap is widening and people who can code will have the real edge in the jobs market of the future.

San Francisco-headquartered Udemy is in the vanguard of change when it comes to education.

An online learning marketplace, it is used by more than 10m students who are enrolled in 40,000 courses across 190 countries.

The platform has joined the growing number of Silicon Valley tech players that have made a home in Dublin and, according to its CEO, the headcount is at “20 employees and counting”.

Founded in 2010 by Gagan Biyani, Eren Bali and Oktay Caglar, to date Udemy has raised more than $113m in five rounds from investors that include 500 Startups, Founders Circle and Insight Venture Partners.

Can traditional education keep pace with the speed of digital?

“Udemy was founded on a simple premise: that anyone, anywhere, can build the lives they imagine through relevant, accessible and rewarding courses,” says Yang.

“Traditional education systems have failed to keep pace with the skills demands of our evolving global economy.

“Simultaneously, the rise of online learning is leveling the playing field by bridging time and space.

“Udemy pioneered the first online learning marketplace where expert instructors teach students around the world online. Our model is rooted in the idea that the best teachers are not always found in a traditional classroom. Through a diverse global marketplace, we can unlock our instructor’s expertise and empower them to share their knowledge with the world.”

‘The tech skills gap widens even as coding skills are more and more crucial for the jobs of the future’

According to Yang, the company’s model is resonating with its global audience, giving students the ability to learn on their own terms while instructors can find a marketplace for their knowledge.

“In June of 2015, we raised an additional $65m in Series D funding to support international efforts, including growing a localised content library and building product offerings to meet the growing demand for online learning that enables upward mobility for people everywhere.

“I’m incredibly humbled to be part of an organisation that has enabled more than 10m students around the world to have greater access to education. I joined Udemy as president and COO in 2012 and have served as CEO since 2014. Prior to Udemy, I worked in a number of leadership and product management roles at technology companies since 1999.”

Education anywhere, on any device

Udemy’s more than 40,000 courses are taught by over 20,000 instructors in 80 different languages and can be accessed on any device.

Yang says the reach of the internet and cloud has truly democratised education.

“Udemy students include anyone who wants to take control of their skills, whether they’re looking to build and hone professional or personal skills. Udemy also gives instructors, who are leaders in business, technology and the arts, the opportunity to make a lasting social impact and monetise their experience by sharing their knowledge with the world.”

As well as consumers, a major growth market for Udemy is the business world via Udemy for Business

“Udemy for Business has grown rapidly over the past year, with customers like Lyft, Pitney Bowes and T-Mobile using the platform to keep their employees knowledgeable on the most sought-after skills,” Yang explained.

“With Udemy for Business, employees can access a library of high-quality, business-focused courses taught by expert instructors, and companies can grow their internal training program with a scalable learning platform.”

Teaching the world from Silicon Valley to Silicon Docks

With two-thirds of Udemy’s students located outside the US, the company’s Irish operations will be at the heart of the company’s global expansion.

“Establishing a physical presence in Europe’s growing technology hub of Dublin allows us to tap into Ireland’s highly-skilled talent pool and serves as the base for recruiting everyday experts from outside the US to teach on Udemy,” says Yang.

“We announced our plan for a Dublin office in August of 2014 and now have 20 employees in Dublin and counting.”

In recent weeks, Udemy acquired Vancouver-based start-up Talentbuddy – which helps developers prepare for technical interviews using a learn-by-doing approach – for an undisclosed sum.

“Acquiring Talentbuddy will help accelerate the integration of coding exercises into the Udemy experience and strengthen our experiential learning capabilities. More experiential learning tools will enable instructors to more deeply communicate course materials. We believe these enhancements will directly impact student outcomes by enabling them to ‘learn by doing’.”

But, crucially, Yang believes that the acquisition is pivotal at a time when employers are struggling to find qualified candidates for tech jobs.

“The tech skills gap widens even as coding skills are more and more crucial for the jobs of the future,” Yang concludes.

“The jobs of tomorrow will be increasingly tech-driven, and we anticipate that experiential learning through our coding courses will help match the quickly changing pace of the industry and help close the global skills gap.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years