Analysis: Certifications to Grow Your Developer Community

By Miguel Amigot II


The Problem

We all have too much information to process, too many things to do, and too many libraries, frameworks, and languages to learn. Moreover, everything has an opportunity cost… but not everything has an equal return.

In order to grow an open source community, it’s not enough to release great software, blog posts, and videos, if the truly relevant KPI’s have to do with developer engagements and statistics on GitHub like how many people interact with our repositories by starring, creating issues and submitting pull requests.

Since we compete for engineers’ very limited attention and time, we have to make it worth it for them to learn and benefit from our software.

From an incentive analysis standpoint, what can we do to attract and retain engineers’ attention? What is the real reason that they would choose to invest four hours of their time learning about some tools out of the many others that flood Hacker News every week?


The Solution: Certifications

Engineers need to learn the latest technology in order to advance their careers and establish with their employers, peers, and recruiters that they’ve learned it.

Consequently, if they have to choose between spending four hours per week learning X as opposed to Y, they’re going to focus on the tool that has the highest rate of return for their careers. All else being equal, if they can get some sort of certificate or credential from one of them, then that’s going to make it that more compelling. Especially if it’s one that can be posted on LinkedIn or another channel.

From the educator’s perspective, sharing certificates on social media is also going to viralize the offering and lead to a positive feedback loop, as peers are going to view and wonder what it takes to earn it.

The level of effort that goes into earning that certificate or microcredential can vary: sometimes it can be indicative of an understanding of the fundamentals of a topic while other times it can represent true mastery. The important thing is that the learners be able to obtain some sort of credit or recognition for the time they invest.

Case Study: NVIDIA Deep Learning Institute

In less than a year, the NVIDIA Deep Learning Institute at surpassed 100k users following a simple idea: in order to attract users, you have to make their time worth it.

NVIDIA launched a catalog of high-quality deep learning courses and provided learners with tangible, verifiable and visible certificates that they could post on LinkedIn and Twitter.

This allowed learners to go to their employers and prove that they know the topics since NVIDIA’s certificates cannot be earned unless students train models sufficiently well.

From a market standpoint, NVIDIA’s deep learning education program has become much more valuable than any other which does not issue a certificate.

Needless to say, many other organizations such as Udacity, Coursera, edX, IBM, Red Hat, Databricks and others have also followed this mantra, evidenced by the frequency with which their learners share their credentials on social media.

Next Steps: Certify Your Open Source Community

Grow your open source community by issuing certificates that explicitly make it worthwhile for engineers to learn your technologies.

Implement an online learning platform which compiles documentation, readings, videos and multimedia materials (most of which likely exist from conferences and blog posts, anyway) into attractive online courses which, ideally, won’t last for longer than four hours.

These courses will culminate in certifications or microcredentials, which can correspond to any of the following: understanding the fundamental use cases and codebase, maintenance, unit testing, extensions or applications to a certain industry.

They will also provide developers with a “how to” venue to get answers, collaborate with each other and, potentially, benefit from mentor support.

If you want to implement a high level of rigor in your courses then, like NVIDIA, issue labs that provide learners with programming environments where they must achieve certain outcomes in order to pass assignments.

In any case, the argument is clear: if you want engineers to invest time learning about your technologies, then you have to make it worth it for them.

View: OPMs As Banks and Enrollment Machines

By Mikel Amigot

Now that online degrees are widely accepted by employers in the U.S., there is a new demand for the Master’s program business and universities are considering the OPMs (Online Program Managers) outsourcing solution.

OPM for-profit companies are mostly providing financial, enrollment, marketing, and curriculum design services. In a way, they are both banks and student recruitment/retention machines.

2U is the leading publicly traded company, with a market value of over $4.5 billion.

Universities that partnered with an OPM have outperformed their peers in increasing online enrollment, a recent study by Eduventures found.

The problem lies in the fact that institutions do not want to give up academic control and don’t like the way OPMs make money –by attracting students and keeping them enrolled, many times with aggressive techniques.

They tend to forget that OPMs need a certain enrollment threshold –typically 2,000 students, according to two experts– to recoup their investment or turn a profit.

Non-profit colleges seem to be living under the assumption that corporations follow an altruistic idea of higher education. They are not, despite their fancy mission statements.

Many academic administrators and faculty members would be scandalized listening to some of the conversations happening on OPM’s enrollment call-centers, as IBL News checked. They would immediately break their contracts and refuse to hire these companies again. These practices are one of the best-kept secrets in the industry.

To be honest, OPMs also offer a proven track record when is about designing high-quality programs.

Moreover, by overcoming universities’ enrollment stagnation challenge, OPMs are keeping institutions flourishing.

We can romanticize the higher education landscape as much as we wish, but in the end, it is a business, a genuinely American business. And OPMs, despite some of their practices, are fit partners for universities in the common goal of generating revenues in the new digital economy while educating.

View: Master’s Degrees At Scale Must Follow a Stackable Approach

By Mikel Amigot

The new MOOC-based professional master’s degrees usually include fewer or no synchronous sessions, limited contact with leading instructors and more auto-graded assignments.

But more important than those features is stackability, as we are experiencing on Coursera’s MasterTrack or edX’s MicroMasters. This means that learners earn a credential and then apply for an on-campus or an online master’s degree program.

However, the crucial innovation is stackability.

Stackability is also a learning strategy, as James DeVaney (University at Michigan) and Matthew Rascoff (Duke University) innovation experts rightly explain on Inside Higher Ed. “Educational providers meet learners where they are, and provide the right level and amount of learning, and an appropriate credential, for their needs.”

At the same time, a stackable strategy can reduce the cost of the program without compromising quality, and can be the basis for admissions instead of the existing flawed tests.


View: Master’s Degrees, a Cash Cow and Vehicle for Advancement

By Mikel Amigot

Around 800,000 master’s degrees were awarded by U.S. universities in 2018, becoming an essential credential.

A baccalaureate degree doesn’t suffice for an increasing number of jobs in education, healthcare, business and STEM. A master’s is now the educational minimum for many occupations and professions. This new entry credential conveys more salary: $12K more than a bachelor’s degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Between 1990 and 2010, public universities increased the number of programs in business from 266 to 321, in public administration from 153 to 220 and in communications from 90 to 141, according to Michael T. Nietzel, President Emeritus of Missouri State University and contributor of Forbes.

For employees, it’s a vehicle for career advancement, and it helps to build a personal brand (Ph.D. programs are dramatically more expensive and difficult to achieve). For universities, it’s a cash cow, mostly because scholarships are seldom used to discount tuition and can reach a large number of students.

Students’ and institutional interests are aligned and, as result of it, master’s programs continue to thrive.


View: MOOC-Based CME Programs, a New Hot Area

By Mikel Amigot

Continuing medical education (CME) and healthcare content is a new area for MOOC providers.

Professionals are obligated to complete CME credits every two years to maintain their medical licenses, and Coursera, edX, and other platforms are providing timely digital courses in new areas (machine learning, data analytics, law, and regulations, etc.) to re-skill them.

Coursera has announced an entire vertical with 100 new courses and 30 new “specializations”, with six accredited CME universities: Columbia University, the University of California at Davis, University of Minnesota, Icahn School of Medicine Mount Sinai, University of Pennsylvania and Emory University.

Additionally, Coursera has launched two degrees: a Master of Public Health from the University of Michigan School of Public Health, and Master of Public Health from Imperial College London.

There are other entrants in the programs-based CMEs such as Lambda School, a well-funded coding boot camp, and Grand Canyon Education, who recently purchased healthcare OPM Orbis Education for $362 million.

        Mikel Amigot is the CEO at IBL Education (Open edX)            

View: Master’s Degrees Are Increasingly Online

By Mikel Amigot

Master’s degree programs are increasingly offered online.

Over 31 percent of students enrolled in master’s degrees took them entirely online, while 21 percent took some, but not all, classes online, according to an analysis from the Urban Institute.

Digital education fits particularly well for these students because they tend to be proactive and self-directed learners. This segment tends to achieve better outcomes as they are more likely to be employed.

For every five taken bachelor’s there were two master’s degrees during the 2015-16 academic year. In total, about 785,000 master’s degrees were awarded in the U.S.

In terms of pricing, tuition and fees for full-time master’s rose by 79 percent during the last 20 years, compared to a 47 percent increase for full-time bachelor’s programs.

        Mikel Amigot is the CEO at IBL Education (Open edX)            

Analysis: Build vs. Buy vs. Open edX

The initial process for learning innovators aiming to launch a large-scale online learning initiative may seem daunting, as there are many paths to getting started. This post offers information to help clarify best practices for learning initiatives supporting a significant number of students (above 10k) that expect to provide added value with innovative software and exceptional online learning solutions.

The classic dilemma is “build vs. buy” when launching an online learning ecosystem – should you build a proprietary platform from scratch or buy/license an existing platform?

  • Building a proprietary platform allows your team to design the platform end-to-end, and control all integrations and intimate knowledge of your process.
  • There is also the added benefit of no vendor lock-in, which gives you the ability to modify the platform in the future.

Building a platform will have a longer production timeline, in comparison to buying or licensing an existing one, and would also require the assembly of a dedicated team as an engineering organization: product, designers, frontend, backend, and devops. Depending on your organization, this could prove costly when factoring in salaries and staff opportunity costs.

Another consideration is that developing proprietary platforms is difficult. It must be extensible in order to incorporate future features (minimal technical debt). It must also be well-documented for the purpose of incorporating and training new staff on your proprietary solution. The level of difficulty will depend on the culture of your organization, the mindset of your engineers and any deadlines and short-term incentives to ship code.

Buying or licensing an existing platform comes with its own host of considerations. They offer immediate deployments and are reliable, given that you will most likely not be their only client. However, unlike the flexibility offered in building a platform, buying or licensing will include vendor lock-in — you will be unable to incorporate new features to the platform, unless the vendor decides that it’s worth it to include additional features unless you pay top-dollar to get them. In terms of cost, there will be expensive licensing fees, especially for a non-negligible number of students. Realistically, your organization could end up paying $100k – $220k per year to host 10k students.

Case Study: Global Knowledge

Global Knowledge, the largest private IT training company in the world, offers an interesting case study for this build vs. buy dilemma. About four years ago, Global Knowledge realized they needed a new learning platform that would support classroom, virtual and on-demand training. Their primary approach was to build the platform themselves. However, a year in, they realized their path of innovation was moving too slowly. Too much time was being spent shipping their needed features that were already available across a plethora of platforms, and they came to the realization that they would end up developing rudimentary features like multiple choice problems, rather than developing value-added features like custom labs or analytics.

Global Knowledge found that building their own proprietary platform offered too few features to start with, and an innovation timeline that was too long, so they chose not to build from the ground up an LMS for delivering on-demand training. They realized it would only make sense to build non-LMS capabilities, and developed a student portal, MyGK, that allows learners to access their courses, irrespective of their modality.

Global Knowledge’s second approach was to acquire an LMS startup to radically increase the features provided “out of the box.” This approach came equipped with staff to accelerate innovation. However, it was still too slow in comparison to its competitors and the at-large market of learning platforms. Although there were more features to begin with, the innovation was at a slightly higher slope but still unsatisfactory. Global Knowledge decided to make an acquisition in this space to accelerate the delivery of their learning platform, especially around digital asset management and jump-starting their team.

Finally, Global Knowledge’s third approach started in the winter of 2017-2018 under the new management of their Director of Engineer, Paul Tocatlian. The ask was simple: deliver a better solution that allows Global Knowledge to come out with a superior learning experience, cost-effectively, that allows faster innovation and can integrate with their existing backend systems.

For the reasons mentioned above, building their platform was not feasible. Neither was licensing a solution, as it would be inflexible and cost-prohibitive to license a learning platform with hundreds of thousands of users, costing Global Knowledge tens of millions per year. They had plans to innovate, and needed a cost-effective and flexible solution.

Given these considerations, Paul Tocatlian recommended using open source technology, and specifically Open edX. It comes equipped with most features, has the highest rate of innovation, extensibility, and integration. Open edX is also proven, built by MIT and Harvard for’s 16M+ learners. In the nonprofit and government fields, the Open edX technology is used by the US Air Force and millions of learners across XueTangX (China), FUN (France), Campus IL (Israel), and Edraak (Jordan and the Middle East).

As a practical example of Open edX’s extensibility, consider a recommendation engine (to put this into perspective, Amazon makes 30 percent of its sales from recommendations), which the platform does not currently support. They are focusing on this task, with zero vendor lock-in, by utilizing their own engineers and leveraging IBL’s consultancy services as their development partner.



More About Open edX


        Miguel Amigot II is the CTO at IBL Education (Open edX)            

Opinion: Modularize and Repurpose Your Learning Content

Producing non-credit MOOCs by using grants which cover costs has been the norm in many top universities.

But this model is unsustainable.

“My view is to modularize all of the MOOCs production for multiple purposes and dissemination channels”– explained to me by a visionary online learning manager.

That’s right. Modularize, repurpose and disseminate the learning content through multiple channels.

The focus is to design for revenue-generating professional programs.

Choose the right subjects and engaging instructors. Always produce with the learner in mind, following a specific business plan for every MOOC.

Let’s pursue a modular future.


        Mikel Amigot is the Founder of IBL News and IBL Education (Open edX)         

Opinion: Education as a Marketing Tool for Software Companies

By Miguel Amigot II

Education is a genius and growing form of marketing for software companies, especially those with developer communities.

Lower the learning barriers for newcomers and deepen the expertise of those who are already familiar with your platform.

If you can also provide micro credentials with your courses, then you’ll generate leads as people share them on social media in order to advance their careers.

You’ll also be able to drive up usage at your client companies as more team members understand your platform (thereby achieving internal network effects).

Databricks follows this strategy by issuing Apache Spark certifications, Microsoft with Azure and NVIDIA via its Deep Learning Institute at


        Miguel Amigot II is the CTO at IBL Education (Open edX)         

Opinion: Artificial Intelligence Will Reshape Education

By Mikel Amigot

We are walking into an AI-empowered era. And not only self-driving cars and robots are performing repetitive tasks.

Nearly all industries, including education, will eventually be affected by AI (Artificial Intelligence).

Today we are seeing the impact on customer attention, where machine learning algorithms using data are making decisions.

Machine learning, a subset of AI, is the new weapon in education, too. Personalized learning, adaptive pathways, and predictive analytics will be the most visible outcome.

We’re already seeing how data is helping to track student knowledge and recommend next steps.

We all know IBM Watson, ALEKS, and Knewton. Even us, at IBL Education, we’ve implemented these algorithms in some online lessons, and we’ve deployed predictive analytics on the Open edX platform.

However, we need much more data to improve our algorithms.

Machine learning in education is in the early stages.

Students, parents, and advisors will continue to make decisions about learning pathways, but data will play an increasing role in guiding recommendations.

In a way, the AI tsunami has not even started.


        Mikel Amigot is the CEO of IBL Education (Open edX) and IBL News        


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