Udacity's Intersect 2017 Conference Live Blog


Udacity's Intersect 2017 Conference Live Blog

We live blog the Intersect Conference 2017, where Silicon Valley leaders and innovators meet for a day of connection, collaboration and insight.

Welcome to Udacity's Intersect 2017 Live Blog. We will be following the event all day bringing you the latest insights, news and summaries of all the main session speeches.

We have replaced the live blog with detailed summaries and take-aways from each session below. However, you can still view the archived live blog, with all the attached social media posts and updates here.

The live stream has now ended. We will be tidying up our notes, and writing summaries over the next 24 hours. Please check back later.

Morning Session — 9 a.m. — 12 p.m.

9 a.m. — Welcome to the Intersect Conference

  • Shernaz Daver, Udacity — The host of the event welcomes everyone to the conference.


The stage is set. 500 registered attendees file into the conference room, all eager for a day of insights, announcements, and keynote speeches.

Key Takeaways:

key takeaway intersect

9:10 a.m. — Udacity Keynote

Vishal Makhijani, Udacity

Vishal MakhijaniHe is the CEO of Udacity, based in Silicon Valley. Before joining Udacity in 2013, he held management positions at various high-growth companies, such as Zynga and Yandex.

Before that, he was senior vide president of Yahoo's Search and Marketplace businesses, and general manager at Inktomi before it was acquired by Yahoo. Vishal is also on the board of Prosperworks (Great CRM for Google Mail), and Pepperdata.


Makhijani makes several important announcements, all of which you can read in detail here. Here is a link to the relevant part of the stream (47 min 18 seconds).

They include:

  • The launch of a new Robotics Nanodegree Program — An advanced Nanodegree for those looking for a career in robotics. Deep Learning Foundations Students to receive Guaranteed Admission to their new Robotics Nanodegree Program!
  • The launch of a new Digital Marketing Nanodegree Program — Experts from Facebook, Google, Hootsuite, Hubspot, Mailchimp, Moz, will help teach a new generation of Digital Marketers covering SEO, SEM, Social Media, Paid advertising and email marketing. 
  • The Udacity-Didi Self-Driving Car Challenge — A global competition to compete for $100,000 prize, and to have their code run on the world's first open-source autonomous vehicle.
  • New Hiring Partners — Udacity has partnered with a number of large firms (X (Alphabet’s Moonshot Factory), MegaBots, Fiat Chrysler, iRobot, Lockheed Martin,1mg, CI&T, Delphi, IBM Brazil, Innovation Works, Kuka, Paytm, Rakuten, Renovo, Ross Intelligence, SAP, Telefonica Vivo Brazil, Velodyne, Zalando, ZEISS, Zomato)) who are all eager to employ talent nurtured from their Nano-Degree programs.

Key Takeaway:

vishal makhijani robotics

  • "In the past year we have now reached 25 Students."
  • "Over 5,000 students now in our #selfdrivingcar Nanodegree!"
  • "Udacity just had their 1,000th grad from the Intro to Programming Nanodegree #UdacityIntersect Glad to be a mentor for that program"
  • "$70 billion will be spent on #digitalmarketing in the US"

9:40 a.m. — Panel: In the Year 2027

  • John Mannes — Mannes writes about machine learning and Artificial Intelligence for TechCrunch, and has an interest in the venture capital funding landscape.
  • Dr. Ashwin Ram — Ram is an artificial intelligence researcher and entrepreneur. He is currently the Senior Manager of AI Science for Amazon's Alexa.
  • Dr. Steven Abrams — Abrams is an IBM Distinguished Engineer and the Vide President of Developer Advocacy in IBM Wathson. IBM Watson is a cognitive system enabling a new partnership between people and computers.
  • Dr. Rana el Kaliouby — Kaliouby is CEO and Co-founder of Affectiva, the leader in consumer emotion sensing and analytics on a global scale. She invented the company's automated facial coding technology, Affdex.


The panel discusses what technology will be like in the year 2027. The discussion looks not just at the technology side, but how programming and learning skills will need to adapt to the change in technology. Here is a link to the relevant part of the stream (56 min 49 seconds).

For instance, Humans and Robots may find themselves working together, and humans may need to adapt in ways that currently have not been considered. Humans may need to know empathy, and learning skills such as Psychology may be more in demand.

Key Takeaways:

in the year 2027

  • "Machines working with humans will need to know empathy and emotion to interact with humans more efficiently."
  • "Human and robot teams working together will require humans to adapt in ways not currently considered"
  • "AI & tech will help free people up so that humans can spend more time doing human focused things (i.e. Relationships)"
  • "In 2027, microbes will be used to treat some illness instead of medicine"
  • "The world's biggest challenges can't be solved from one city. International teams are the future"
  • "Steve Abrams of IBM describes #AI as augmented intelligence rather than "artificial", e.g. doctor assist"
  • "Making tech available to smaller orgs via APIs & SDKs so they can reduce cost in house"
  • "The future of #AI education isn't going to be about machines, it's going to be about people."
  • "The real goal is to enable educators to build, and that's going to lead to jobs."

Final predictions from the panel:

  • In 2027 social and emotional technologies are going to become ubiquitous.
  • In 2027 we will look back at our predictions and laugh
  • In 2027 every interesting decision we make will be informed and assisted by Ai
  • In 2027 Ai will decease to exist as it will be ubiquitous and will be in everything.

10 a.m. — Panel: Jobs of Today & Tomorrow

  • Fred Vogelstein — Author of "Dogfight: How Apple and Google went to War and Started a Revolution" among others. He spent two decades at Wired, Fortune and US News & World Report.
  • Peter Lubbers — Senior Program Manager at Google, and in charge of all aspects of Developer Training. He started the San Francisco HTML5 Developer Group, the world largest HTML5 developer meetup with 14k+ members.
  • Gayle Laakmann McDowell — McDowell is the founder and CEO of CareerCup, and author of Cracking the Interview books.
  • Greg Estes — Estes is NVIDIA's vice president of developer marketing. Estes has been published in a variety of trade journals and has been a presenter at numerous conferences and television shows, including Oprah Winfrey.


A great discussion about the future of technology related jobs, and how there are not enough people from the top colleges to fill all the jobs. Great praise was also made for those who are self-taught, and that life-long learning is the future with courses by Udacity leading the way.

You can view the panel at time 1:19:11 here.

Key Takeaways:

self-taught awesome


  • People are concerned with #AI taking jobs, but you can make training for tech of future available online for skill building
  • "I'm a big advocate for leveling the playing field" Gayle
  • Greg Estes believes that online #AI training will bring jobs to heartland, need for a lifelong training
  • If you are not lucky enough to go to Standford and have a world class professor, how can you get the same level of education, and learn how to program and AI. Our focus is to build a platform to enable them to get that experience. 
  • Our focus is to build this platform so students can get hands-on #AI experience to get jobs
  • "Top companies cannot just hire from the top schools."
  • "The top companies need every smart developer they can get."
  • "Tier B companies r looking to hire only grads fr top schools. TOP companies r hiring the best ppl they can get"
  • Jobs of now and future are combo of STEM and liberal arts, soft skills just as important as tech to work with people
  • Strongest, healthiest dogs r mutts. We need ee's with both STEM and liberal arts skills.
  • Do you need a paper from a school to prove you have skills? working on projects and building a portfolio seems better #UdacityIntersect
  • Best time to learn - Whenever you are interested and see a practical application
  • "People who are mid-career have EVERY opportunity to pick up new skills."

10:35 a.m. — Sebastian Q&A + Student Stories

  • Udacity CEO, Sebastian Thrun


Sebastian leads a Q&A session, and shares student success stories. You can view the relevant part of the stream at 1:53:29 here.

Sebastian discusses education, future plans, and how he has been impressed by what his students are achieving with self-driving cars.

Education is not something you can do in a vacuum. Sebastian explains how they started two companies; a job company and education company. Last year Udacity put even more emphasis on jobs. 


sebastian thrun

  • "I have been blown away but what you are accomplishing."
  • Udacity is now a California registered company for #selfdriving car!
  • Sebastian talking about #SelfDriving car #AI is the only dedicated and the largest program teaching 5,000 engineers at #UdacityIntersect
  • Udacity teaches more students in self-driving cars than all universities combined
  • "If I had infinite time, then I would love to address every job in the world."
  • Self-driving cars: Costs are massively shifting in this field. Cost of cars dropping, but Lasers are still built one on one. - Sebastian
  • "I have been blown away by what you are accomplishing." SebastianThrun says to #SelfDriving Car #AI students at #UdacityIntersect
  • "AI is the single biggest thing happening today"
  • "Thanks to #AI, we can get rid of repetitive, remedial work, and replace it with creative work."
  • "The world is going in the right direction. Science is winning."
  • "We need the optimists in this world, and if you believe it, it will happen"
  • "A student at #UdacityIntersect says doing @udacity courses gives him more kick than alcohol and drugs combined! "
  • Conventional programming is absolete. Coding in thousands of rules is the past. #AI at #UdacityIntersect
  • "There is a thirst for great talent with great skills."

11 a.m. — Keynote: Robotics

  • Yoky Matsuoka - Yoky Matsuoka is currently the Chief Technology Officer at Nest, and the former Vice President of Technology at Nest where she was in charge of UX and the learning aspects of the Nest Thermostat.


Nest has a mission to really create a home that takes care of people inside it and the world around it. Yoky Matsuoka discusses how she abandoned Tennis for robotics, the latest developments. 

You can watch the full keynote at 2:24:04 here.



11:20 a.m. — Fireside Chat: Steve Blank in conversation with Sebastian Thrun

  • Steve Blank, Stanford University
  • Sebastian Thrun, Udacity


Another great fireside chat with Sebastian and Steve. Great discussions on entrepreurship, and how to get ahead and build successful products.

You can watch the full fireside chat at 2:36:12 here.



  • Crazy people that actually change the world are unemployable.
  • "Question is not can you teach entrepreneurship?, but who can you teach it to?"
  • "Volunteer, show up, work hard and speak yourself"
  • "Find out what your customers want before you build it."
  • "Your first idea is almost always wrong."
  • "A pivot is iteration without crisis."

12 p.m. — Lunch

This will not be livestreamed, but we will keep an eye out on Social Media.

Afternoon Session — 1 p.m. — 3:45 p.m.

This session consists of several different breakout sessions. As such it will not be live streamed, and our coverage will be limited.

BREAKOUT SESSION 1 — 1 p.m. — 2 p.m.

This will not be livestreamed, but we will keep an eye out on Social Media for insights

  • Perfect Your Pitch: Memorable Networking Tactics
  • Cracking the Coding Interview
  • Deep Learning & Creativity

BREAKOUT SESSION 2 — 2 p.m. — 3 p.m.

This will not be livestreamed, but we will keep an eye out on Social Media for insights

  • The Present & Future of Self-Driving Cars
  • Udacity Blitz — Closing the Loop between Education & Work
  • Deep Learning & Creativity

BREAKOUT SESSION 3 — 3 p.m. — 4 p.m.

This will not be livestreamed, but we will keep an eye out on Social Media for insights

  • The Present & Future of Self-Driving Cars
  • Udacity Blitz — Closing the Loop between Education & Work
  • How Do We Prevent an AI Apocalypse?

Closing Session — 4:30 p.m. — 5:30 p.m.

4:30 p.m. — Panel: Technology & Social Good

  • Stuart Frye — Is Udacity's Vice President of Economic Opportunity, and former Harvard Business School graduate.
  • Brian Pinkerton — Pinkerton is CTO of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiativeleading efforts to help tackle challenges in science, education and other areas of social impact. Before CZI, Pinkerton was VP of Search at Amazon, and GM of Amazon's search and ad technology group.
  • Matt Merrield — Merrifield is responsible for developing technology solutions to The Nature Conservancy’s conservation strategies. He has more than 20 years of experience using geospatial technologies i.e. Google Maps, drones, smartphones.
  • Jennifer Dulski — Dulski is president of Change.org, the popularsocial change platform, with more than 175 million users in 196 countries who start, support and win campaigns on causes that matter to them


A look at how in many cases people don't tackle social problems as risk \ reward ratios are not as attractive as profit based models. Jennifer Dulski disagreed saying that economic incentives are shifting and that many companies have customers who demand that they do good in the world. Furthermore, many companies do well because they do not, not despite it.

You can view the relevant part of the stream at minute 5:07 here.

In closing, Dulski told us a story about how Change.org has made a real difference (paraphrasing):

A young women was a Harvard Student studying student National Security and Astrophysics. She was raped. Went to local rape crisis center. Evidence can only be preserved for 6 months, and to extend that she would have to go to the State of Masachusets every 6 months to ensure it would be kept.

She did a courageous thing and sent emails to everyone she new, and everyone rallied behind here, including lawyers, comedians etc. 150k signed petition on change.org. Raised money to fly to her and others Washington to speak to Congress, and law was past last year to change the position.



  • "The more vulnerable you're willing to be about your own story, the more people will rally behind you."
  • Dulski: 86 percent of millennial workers demand to work at companies that do good.
  • Q on funding landscape: Soft, very lumpy, uneven; short runway... get it right quickly
  • "It's actually possible to be financially successful & drive positive impact in the world"
  • "The return is about impact, it's not about dollars"
  • "Our belief is that change only happens if you have all voices participating in the conversation"
  • "The more vulnerable you're willing to be about your own story, the more people will rally behind you."

4:50 p.m. — Keynote: Conversational AI in Amazon Alexa

  • Dr. Ashwin Ram — Ram is an artificial intelligence researcher and entrepreneur. He is currently the Senior Manager of AI Science for Amazon's Alexa.


Excellent talk about how Amazon's Alexa works, including how difficult it is to have a conversation with an AI. Alexa needs to analyze Goal inference (i.e. why are you saying this?), put the request in content (i.e. what do we both already know), and create a response.

You can view the full keynote speech at time 27:04 here.

Key Takeaways:

Alexa Intersect

How inputs have changedAlexa serviceHow people use alexaconversation is hard

5 p.m. — Keynote: Advent of Virtual Reality

  • Maureen Fan — Maureen is CEO and co-founder of Baobab Studios, the industry's leading VR animation studio.


Maureen's talk was about having dreams. What do you consider yourself to be? An athlete, singer-songwriter, astronaut? She makes the point that when you were 5 years old, you would have answered yes to them all. The point of VR is to allow you to dream.

Key Takeaways:


5:15 p.m. — Fireside Chat: Astro Teller in conversation with Sebastian Thrun

  • Astro Teller — Dr. Teller currently oversees X, Alphabet's moonshot factory responsible for developing impactful and new ideas.
  • Sebastian Thrun, Udacity


Astro Teller, previously and underling of Sebastian Thrun reunite in this informative and interesting discussion of how to be successful by rewarding those who fail fast, as well as those who succeed. These forward-thinkers provide some great insights.

You can view the entire discussion at time 51:45 here.

Key Takeaways:

Astro teller insights

  • What is the magic of Silicon Valley? Healthy embrace of failure. I am willing to look stupid now for a long term grain.
  • "I'm willing to look arbitrarily stupid now, if that's what it takes to win in the end." — Astro Teller
  • "Have raging optimism, but balance it out with skepticism to get what you want" — Astro Teller
  • The world will is going to be unrecognizable 20 yrs.,progress of technology
  • What Sebastian Thrun once told Astro Teller (when he was his manager): "Don't listen to your manager."
  • Reward people for failing fast. — Dr Astro Teller
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