A discussion about continuing education, specifically certificate programs, at UW and other universities, either online or in person.

Transcript for episode 35 of the Test & Code Podcast

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Welcome to Test and Code, a podcast about software development and software testing.

Let me start that over with some new music from DJ Yannick buck into Test and Code, a podcast about software testing and development, especially in Python.

On today’s episode, we’re going to talk about increasing your skills. There are a lot of ways to improve your skill set. Of course, I’m a big fan of learning through reading books such as Upping Your Testing Skills by reading Python testing with pytest. And then there’s online learning systems and MOOCs. One of my favorite ways to learn also is by using the training at training.com from my good friend Michael Kennedy. At the other end of the spectrum is a full blown University degree. One option kind of in the middle is continuing education programs available through some universities. To discuss this option with me in more depth today, I’ve got Andrew Hoover, senior Director program Strategy from the University of Washington Continuum College.

But before we start, I’d like to thank, as always, my Patreon support orders. To find out how you can help support the show, visit Testingcode.com Patreon. Also, thanks to everyone who has purchased my book on pytest, Python testing with pytest. It’s doing great, and I’m loving all of the feedback I get on Twitter. And a double thanks to all the folks who have left reviews on Amazon or somewhere else. And now I have one more special thank you that I needed to give. The theme music that I’m using today is by DJ Yannick, a listener of the show and a French DJ living in New York and passionate about Python testing and web development.

Thank you, Yonik, for this great music. I really appreciate it. Now let’s talk with Andy about continuing education and how we can increase our skills.

Hi, welcome to Test and Code. You work at University of Washington?

Yes, I am in University of Washington is a public institution, and so we have extension program here. Our program is called Katim College because we’re actually one of the colleges here. And that’s because we are seeking to provide programs so that people can continually learn after they’ve finished their formal education. Since we are living in a knowledge economy and we run certificate programs and degree programs, mostly master’s degree programs in that front.

Okay. So this is mostly for somebody that already has a four year degree, then.

No, our certificate programs, some of them require no College, some require two years, and some require a bachelor’s degree or they have other prerequisites for them.

There’s a lot of places where people can continue their education right now, whether it’s free videos on YouTube to Udemy courses or Pluralsight or others or even now there’s lots of boot camps showing up around. Why would somebody choose a certificate program? And are there benefits over other things?

I think it’s important to sort of figure out what it is that you want to do and where you want to go. And oftentimes those are relatively minor steps or small steps, and you can learn by doing and learn through some kind of computer graded online resource or massively open online course like a MOOC.

Those are wonderful for keeping yourself fresh.

But then there are other times where you need to make a change. Sometimes people want to move from testing into software development. Sometimes people want to move from software development world into program management.

So those types of steps oftentimes are bigger. And the benefit of a certificate is that you can get connected with people in those new fields, if you will, that are maybe adjacent to what you’re doing now and learn all the language and the principles and also build a network so that you can make a transition into whatever field you want to work. And that’s why we call Catholic College, because all of us are going to be working for quite a few years and want to make sure there’s a lot of opportunities for people to have social mobility and change as they evolve over their careers.

Do you know people listing a certificate on a resume or something, does that help people get a job?

I guess, yeah, I think I think if you look on LinkedIn, for example, and you were to look up, see if people have UW software testing certificates, you’d see some people listing those there another thing that can be helpful for is say you were in software testing, you want to go into software product management. That’s a big step.

There have been people who have come from those kinds of worlds and evolve their career over time to move into those kinds of roles. And again, you could look up there and see who’s taken depending on how LinkedIn will limit your searches after a while. But you can see a number of our graduates up there. We graduate about 3000 people from certificates a year.

Actually, our numbers have been going up, not down, with all the innovations around learning, and that’s just because there is a great need to continuously learn.

But at some point people need something a little bit more than a self guided course and you can’t really go back and get another master’s degree or get an undergraduate degree. So the certificates a nice balance in between. Usually our certificates are around three courses and they are around what you’d consider a normal sized course in a quarter system. So about 3 hours of active learning with materials and with an instructor, depending on what format you take, and then about six to 9 hours of homework where you’re doing assignments and getting feedback on those assignments.

Okay, so there are three courses about in duration, but you take them one at a time.

Yes. In our case, yes. You take them one at a time. Sometimes we have some programs that allow you to take the first course and then you can take the second and third course to finish it at the same time.

I noticed some of them have, like online and local. So can people do it in the evenings or something then?

Yeah. So all of our programs are designed for working professionals, and so there’s four options for people. We have classroom, which we have classroom locations in downtown Seattle. We also have them in Bellevue, and those meet once in the evening during the weekday. Typically, then we have an accelerated version where we’re rolling out an accelerated version of data analytics, which is kind of data science, but it’s kind of a little bit of a lighter level.

And that one is you meet one night a week for 3 hours and a Saturday morning for 3 hours. So it goes quicker. You get done in the whole program done in 15 weeks versus 30 weeks. So we have those two that are face to face kinds of offerings. And then we also offer two kinds of online. One is the group pace where you have deadlines weekly and you’re working with a cohort. And so that keeps trying to help you keep on track.

And then we have a self paced online where everything’s video recorded.

You’re able to watch it at your own and go at your own pace. We have instructional assistants who check in with you if you’re not active in the course.

We have assignments that are machine graded but also assignments that are instructor graded. And so you’re getting input from your instructor and feedback and support from a real person.

So if I’m doing one of those self paced ones and I’m stuck or I need help with something, is there people, somebody around to answer questions and stuff? Right?

Yes, of course. There’s a discussion board, and there are not instantaneously at 400 in the morning, someone’s going to be able to respond to you, but within a day, at most two days, you’ll have a response to your question.

And so we staff them with instructional assistance. And if the instructional assistant can’t help, then the instructor jumps in and helps.

So the ones that you’re time based about, how long do they vary?

Three of them, the classroom versions and the group based online, all run ten weeks per course.

And then the self paced you are allowed to go at your own pace, but you need to complete the course within four months.


So we need to have some kind of encouragement to keep people on track and get them through the program. And we do update our curriculum, at least on an annual basis.

So it’s important for us to keep people moving through the online stuff is updated, Danielle.



On the highest volume programs, it is some of the other ones where the curriculum is more stable or we have it updated, maybe less often.

But you’re paying attention to that.



So we have in our case, we’ve created these four formats because after researching a lot and trying also many other formats which we still offer, in some cases, we really feel these are the four formats that will fit different kinds of learners needs and allow the instructor to really focus in on the learner based on how that format is set up.

Okay, so those are the certificate programs, the courses within those like, let’s say there’s information that I wanted to take their own sets of three. Are the courses offered piecemeal as well?

People can apply for one for an individual course enrollment for a lot of the programs, it’s up on our website as to which of those are open or not open for individual enrollment. There are prerequisites and we do try to create an active learning environment. So we’re very keen to have students in the classes that have a common set of background, especially for the certificate programs where there’s a progression of learning. So the first course, there’s a lot of assumed knowledge once you’re in the second course that you learn in the first course.

Okay, I’m taking a look. Like, for instance, I think it’s cool you have some data stuff, data analytics and data science.

And let’s say, I don’t know, like a normal University has some drop times or something, or I guess you are normal University. Sorry.

But like, if I get like a couple, I don’t know, a week into it or something and realize that while I’m really way over my head, is there a way for people to cut out at that point?


You can withdraw with a refund within, I believe, eight business days. So it’s important to check I think it shows for people to look at lots of places. So always do check that with any institution you’re going to work with when you’re going to pay money to be able to get a refund. I think that’s very important. We feel it’s important. So we’ve put that in place that you have eight business days to engage in the course and see if it’s working for you.

I’m glad that you guys contacted us because to be honest, I would have dismissed certificate programs through universities as probably being too expensive for a lot of people. But these seem reasonably cost to me. I mean, they’re not cheap, but they’re not outrageous either.

Are your numbers similar to do other universities have this sort of thing as well?

We’re pretty unique. There are a few large public institutions across the country that have similar offerings.

And again, you don’t have to be a Seattle Light to take our offerings. It can help if you ever want to move out in this area or out in the Northwest. We’re well recognized University, and we have a lot of students who do that.

But yes, if you look at large public institutions, they usually have an extension arm. That is job is to try to keep people educated with the latest knowledge areas that are growing and changing, and then it is non credit. So what we try to do is we’re trying to basically create access for learning, and we run our programs such that they can cover our costs and our investments that we have to make into an online infrastructure. But they’re actually taught by working professionals and designed by people who are in the field with advisory board oversight. And so we get a lot of people who are willing to do those kinds of roles. It’s sort of an extra job for them. And in that way, we don’t have all the costs which get transferred into higher tuition rates that a standard University course would have. It’s credit based.


Even machine learning. Well, there’s actually quite a few cool things in here, just kind of punching through your project, like project management, for instance. That’s neat. That’s probably a lot of people would want to take that.

Yeah. That’s one of our most popular programs. We actually put through about 400 people a year in that program.

And another thing about it, that program is that we get about 90% retention rate. So the people who start it, finish it and successfully finish it, which is pretty high since it is a nine month commitment. And compared to other, say, self paced things or machine graded no human contact type programs, it’s much higher than those with most MOOCs. You’re looking at any 5% to 10% completion rates.

Okay. And then let’s see if somebody wants to take it. I encourage people to go take a look at the U Dub stuff.

What’s the best way to get into that is I’m looking at let’s see, PCE Ew.edu. Is that the right.

Yes. So PCE uw.edu is the best URL. And there you can look at our library of programs and pick the one that you’re interested in, and it will give you then the course offerings so you can see who’s teaching them, what’s taught in the courses.

And then there’s admission requirements and you can apply online.

Okay. Cool. Anything else that we haven’t covered that you wanted to discuss about this?

Yeah. Again, I just want to emphasize that I think that it’s wonderful all the different resources that people have to grow and learn.

We are just fitting into that ecosystem and trying to provide something that’s in between the books and self learning and another degree program, which is oftentimes out of reach. In my case, at age 54, I’m probably not going to go back for another degree.

But people still at my age and other ages need to continuously learn and also that you don’t feel stuck. Our goal is to help you not feel stuck if you’re in a career where you feel like your days are drudgery.

I encourage people to read Strength Finders, which is a book that you can get at Amazon or anywhere and try to get a real assessment about what it is that you really want to be spending your time doing and then look and see whether it’s us or somebody else. How can I make a transition over towards a career like that?

That might be a better fit for me so I can continue tributes and have a good life. So we’re trying to provide that beacon of hope for everybody. And there’s a lot of providers out there. And so I just want to encourage your listeners to especially since we’re around the new year, to explore a little bit and see what might be out there so that they can find something that will be a good fit for them and satisfying for them.

Yeah. I’ve already got a master’s degree, so I’m not out there looking for another degree. So that’s an easy decision, I guess, for a working professional that isn’t looking for a degree but has tried maybe some online stuff, and it’s either old or it’s just not working for them. Something like this might work.

Yeah. And I don’t know. A lot of people have various focus degrees in areas that they might even not be practicing in now. So they may need a little bit more than just a course to keep to freshen up. That’s the first thing. And then the second thing is there’s a lot of new technology. You mentioned machine learning. That’s something we’re working really hard to continue to improve our program. It’s hard to find there’s a lot of busy people in that field. We’re trying to continuously revise that make it all into Python.

So we’re working on that right now.

But those kinds of things, I think, take there’s a lot of elements to them, and we design our programs that way. So there’s math, there’s statistics, probability, Python understanding data, lots of different pieces there, and you can pick those up piecemeal. But when we create a program for machine learning, we’re trying to integrate all those pieces together so that people come out and they actually can apply machine learning models and fit them to data sets. Well and use the right ones and things like that.

That’s an example, I think, of where some of the certificates can also be valuable in terms of oftentimes what you have to do these days with technology requires many different technologies and many different disciplines combined together. And we try to curate that into a curriculum that gives students a chance to do some real applied learning.

That’s not just a multiple choice test, but it’s actually creating a working program or doing a Kaggle data set and getting a certain percent accuracy in your prediction.

I guess there’s a trade off to think about whether you want to work towards a master’s degree or work towards a bachelor’s versus taking one of these if you’re already working. And I guess I don’t have any. Do you have any guidance for people thinking about that?

Well, I think it’s really case by case. But I certainly want to advocate to people if you can find the right program for you and you have the means and it’s certainly, I think, a good idea to get your bachelor’s degree completed.

Going beyond that, I think a Masters. There are more and more ways to achieve a master’s.

There are programs out there. I’m a public University, and I’m about supporting the community. So I’ll mention MIT has got if you’re interested in computer science, you only have $7,000 and you’re really disciplined, highly disciplined. They have an online master’s program from that’s one of the top schools in the field to get a master’s in that that will take you three years. And it’s highly scaled at 7000 students a year or something, 5600 students each year enter that program. So it’s a very large scale. So exploring the Masters is a little bit more tricky.

And sometimes it may just be that you have had enough of the background, you have enough foundation. And what you’re trying to do is now combine things together to just be able to get a more solid foundation in a new field or to add a field to your skill set. So, for example, you mentioned project management. If you’re a tester and you find yourself constantly leading virtual teams and stuff, then project management is a great skill set to have. And knowing the nomenclature and being able to use the techniques of that, it’s very valuable. I wouldn’t recommend getting a Masters. I have them out there for project management. But I think for most people in technology, if you just got a certificate, that would really could really boost your ability to work on virtual teams and get things done more effectively.

I agree with you. If you’re looking to change companies or type of thing you’re working on, continuing on and getting a master’s degree might be a great idea if you’re trying to move up in your own company or within even other companies, but within the same field area. I think a certificate program and your own experience is probably a good idea or some other way to prove that you’re continuing learning.

Yeah. A number of companies will pay for non credit training, and you can put it into your job review with your manager to try to get funding for the company, pay for it.

So the data science and data analytics are moving towards Python.

Data science is now all Python. Data analytics we’re using are at this point. And that program has a lot of students who have never really programmed much before.

So we chose R because it’s a cystical language and their strength is more in the statistics typically than in programming.

Okay, then machine learning. We are moving it from kind of half our half Python to all Python.

Okay. And do you happen to know if it’s Python three?

Yes, yes.

All Python three?

Yes. We are moving to Python three. I don’t know the exact version number of it, but we’re using Anaconda and the most recent version, I think of Python.

I think they’re up to 36 now.


Good. Awesome. Well, thanks so much for coming on and talking with me about this. I think this is good information for a lot of people thinking about what to do next in their careers.

Great. Thanks, Brian. It’s a pleasure.

Thanks again, Andy, for talking with me and thanks to Patreon supporters for helping support the show. And again, thanks yonik for the new music. If you enjoyed the show, share the love and tell your friends and colleagues to listen to it. Also give a review on whatever app you’re listening to this on or on itunes. Reach me on Twitter where I’m at Test And Code, at test podcast and at Brian ocket until next time, go test something.