Stanford Online offers two paths to learn artificial intelligence: Students can take graduate courses online or on campus and earn Stanford academic credits. These courses are offered once or twice a year, on the academic calendar, and require you to submit a graduate application. For working professionals looking for a more flexible format and schedule, Stanford Online offers the Artificial Intelligence Professional Program.
But what should you know before you enroll?
We interviewed Petra Parikova, the program director for the Stanford Online AI Professional Program at the Stanford Center for Professional Development, to get an insider’s perspective. During our chat, which you can read below, we discussed the program’s rigor, prerequisites, and completion credentials.
We also discussed notable faculty and what prospective students should expect from the application process. Here’s our conversation. Please note that we have edited and abridged the transcript of the interview. To see the full interview, please check out the video below
Stanford Online AI Professional Program: Full Interview with Hackr.io
Hello, I am Petra Parikova and I'm the Associate Director for our Artificial Intelligence programs and courses at the Stanford Center for Professional Development. I'm so excited to talk to you today about the AI Professional Program.
The Stanford Online AI Professional Program is a series of online courses focused on the topic of artificial intelligence. Topics include machine learning, reinforcement learning, deep multitask- and meta-learning, and also natural language processing with deep learning.
How Did You Develop the Curriculum?
To develop the curriculum we worked very closely with faculty to see which subjects are actually obtaining popularity, and we also talked to our learners to see what they are interested in.
We saw our content on machine learning, supervised and unsupervised learning, and reinforcement learning getting a lot of traction. Also natural language processing, natural language understanding. These topics were also on people's minds; to learn how to work with language, or understand language, develop translation models, all these kinds of things.
Who Is the Typical Learner in the AI Professional Program?
If you look at the data, we see a lot of software engineers and data scientists who are working in the field and using some of these models in practice but would like to be better equipped to debug and develop their own models.
That said, we have such a wide range of other learners working in industry or working in academia, looking to apply artificial intelligence to their fields. For example, they may be social scientists studying political uprisings, but they would like to use artificial intelligence and machine learning principles in their own research.
Also, we see a lot of college students. They might not have the typical machine learning course as part of their university curriculum, and they would like to take this course so they can develop more knowledge about the subject.
Where Are Your Students Located?
We see learners joining from all around the globe. Stanford is located in California, but our learners are not just from California or from the US.
Because our program is fully online we do our best to accommodate people from all around the globe. We get a lot of learners in Europe–obviously from bigger countries like the UK and Germany, but also smaller ones like Switzerland. We also get many people in Asia as well as people from South America and Africa.
Wherever you are coming from, we try to accommodate your time zone as much as we can. And also it's likely that you won't be alone in your own time zone. If you are joining us from the other side of the globe, we would love to see you in the program.
Can You Describe the Learning Experience for Learners in the AI Professional Program?
Our AI professional courses run as cohorts, meaning that you are joining a group of learners all studying this subject at the same time. You have the same deadlines and you are starting and ending the course at the same time.
This doesn't mean that you need to work with other people at the same time.
You can work on the assignments and on the lecture videos based on your own schedule. But you will have a lot of opportunities to connect with your classmates. We see people building study groups, who are joining office hours together with their course facilitators.
We see that some people get really connected and work on a project together.
That said, we understand that some people prefer working on their own. They don't want to be distracted by others. If that's the type of learning experience you wish for, that’s also an option.
How Would You Describe the Learner Community Within the Program?
When you join our courses, you will be joining a group of approximately 120-200 learners. And we know that it's a big number, right? And especially in a technical subject and the deeply advanced technical subject of artificial intelligence. You might need support, you might have some questions.
We split the group into several smaller groups, and we connect you with a course facilitator at a ratio of about one per 25 students.
The course facilitators are subject matter experts who took the original artificial intelligence graduate course. They know the rigor of the course and they know the subject very well.
Many of them also work in the industry, so they bring industry knowledge in addition to technical skills.
That course facilitator is able to take the time to join a one-on-one session with you if you have questions, or chat via email or over Slack.
Another very useful tool we have is our Slack community. At the beginning of each course, we invite everybody to Slack. The Slack channel is organized around the assignments and lectures.
In addition to having a direct connection to a course facilitator, the Slack community includes all the other learners and all the other course facilitators.
Our Slack communities are very lively. Students ask questions and get responses. You're usually able to come up with solutions, feedback, and all these kinds of things much faster.
That said, ultimately it's your responsibility to be working on the assignments.
Don't expect that they will provide you with the solutions, but it will be more pointers to navigate you towards finding the solution on your own.
How Rigorous Are Your Courses?
Our courses are based on graduate lecture materials. We are not trying to make them easy. We are trying to make them more manageable for people who are working.
Given the rigor and depth and breadth of the subject, we do ask for some prerequisites that you come with. We expect that you have a solid knowledge of the Python programming language. We recommend you familiarize yourself with Python before you join the course because all the coding assignments will be in Python.
The other elements are linear algebra, probability review, and math you might have learned as part of your undergraduate or graduate studies. Some of the courses include written assignments that will require doing some derivation.
What Is the Application Process Like?
The short application lets us know whether you have the prerequisite knowledge to succeed in the program. Don't be too worried–it’s not a rigorous process. We are just looking for a brief explanation of your background with the relevant topics
For example, what's your level of Python? Are you using it day-to-day at work, or did you learn it a few years back? This is the type of information we are looking for in the application. It can be a few sentences, but please be clear. The application should be fairly quick.
What Tips Do You Have for Prospective Students?
Before applying, we generally recommend that you go back to your notes from school about linear algebra, probability, and try to get ahead of the subject. Also, familiarize yourself with Python.
Once you start, we recommend that people really utilize the Slack channel. We see many people struggling with the same thing. So, if you have a question, it’s likely there are 10 other learners who have the exact same question. So please, go ahead and ask.
We also recommend that if you are stuck, you try your best to debug. But if you are really stuck, get some time with your course facilitator.
We see some people being shy and not wanting to reach out, or feeling that they are not really succeeding. Don't hesitate to reach out to your course facilitator and ask for help.
Get connected. It's really a unique opportunity to get to know people from different industries, different job positions, different markets, different countries who are struggling with the same questions you are having at your own work or in your own projects.
And it's really valuable to make these connections.
We see some people staying connected. I know during the pandemic, many people made connections also on a personal level because it was so hard to make connections in real life. So we encourage you to do that.
For some people, it's uncomfortable. You can also work on everything alone. But if you are actually interested in getting connected, just go for it, right? Be a little bit courageous and try to make connections with others.
What Benefits Do You Get From the AI Professional Program?
One of the biggest things is definitely the content. We cover top-notch algorithms in the world right now.
We cover machine learning with a lot of rigor. We cover reinforcement learning, and natural language processing with deep learning. We have new subjects like deep multitask- and meta-learning. Our courses are really going into depth.
We believe that it helps you with debugging, that it helps you with developing your own machine learning solutions or your own models, your own artificial intelligence tools, that you are really able to become creative, that you're not just using the packages that are available and being stuck with them because you are not sure what else to do.
We also have assignment overview sessions. We invite faculty for a Q&A, so you're able to ask questions. We have industry-related sessions. We try to bring a little bit more value in terms of making connections outside of just the online content available to you.
Stanford is a renowned university, and getting a certificate from the Stanford School of Engineering is valuable in the job market. We recently started issuing digital certificates that you are able to put on your LinkedIn profile.
I recently talked to some of our learners who successfully completed the program or successfully completed the courses. They were able to apply for new positions and appreciated being able to showcase their work with a certificate from a well-known university.
Outside of the content, outside of the connection between the experts and the other networking possibilities, we believe the certificate, content, and rigor are really valuable in today's market.
What Faculty Are Associated With the AI Program?
Our Artificial Intelligence Professional Certificate Program is based on Stanford’s graduate-level content. This brings a huge value: learning from Stanford faculty who are very well-known computer scientists in the field.
Our academic director and one of our leading faculty is Christopher Manning, who is an eminent figure in the field of natural language processing.
We also have faculty like Percy Liang, who is excited about all the foundational models and who has been part of the team developing the Alpaca model which got a lot of attention recently. We also have people like Chelsea Finn, who is working on how robots can learn to generalize across tasks.
All of the faculty are so outstanding. There’s Dorsa Sadigh, who studies the intersection of robotics, machine learning, and control theory. There’s Emma Brunskill, who is working to build AI systems that can learn to make good decisions. There’s Christopher Potts, who develops computational models of linguistic reasoning, emotional expression, and dialogue.
The faculty are renowned, and we believe they are the best people you can learn these subjects from.
Which Course Should Students Take First?
We don't have any required sequence. If you already know that there's one course you're most interested in, you can jump right in once your application is approved.
But if you're unsure which course to start with or would like to get an overview of the subject, XCS221: Artificial Intelligence Principles and Techniques is a good course to start with because it covers a lot of the algorithms and tools.
If you join the AI professional program, you can decide. You might be just interested in getting started. So, you might join Artificial Intelligence Principles and Techniques and that might be enough for you. If you pass the course, you will get a course certificate and a digital badge. You will be able to show your employer, especially if they're reimbursing you, that you succeeded in the course. You can take one course or several–it’s up to you.
If you complete any three courses in the program, you will earn a Stanford Professional Certificate in Artificial Intelligence.
I would say it really depends on your motivation and what you would like to do.
How Much Does the Program Cost?
Our courses cost $1,750 per course. To earn the program certificate, you will be paying $1,750 x 3. If you are unsure about the schedule and the rigor of the program, we make most of the content available for free as well.
If you go to Stanford Online YouTube, we offer course lectures in the AI professional program over there. Just find a course name, and you will be able to watch the lectures. Also, our Stanford faculty are just wonderful in making the content available on their graduate course pages. You will often be able to find some of the slides and assignments there.
What Benefits Have Students Seen After Completing the Program?
One big benefit is understanding the algorithms much more in-depth and really understanding what is happening behind the curtain of many of them.
They bring more connections and more understanding of the field. But also in terms of the practicalities, we see people transitioning their careers. They might be engineers working in some specific industry, never working with any of the AI models, and they start implementing them.
We also see people getting more and more involved with AI projects in their work, and getting promoted as a result. Or getting more job opportunities within their organization just because they learned more about the topic.
We have a course that includes open-ended project work in the area of national language understanding, and we see that some people continue working on their projects after the course ends and they're able to publish their research.
They put it on Archive or they publish it to conferences focused on the area of NLP and NLU. We have some learners who have presented at conferences.
So we usually tell people they can take from the course what they want.
Overview of the Stanford Online Professional AI Certificate Program
Stanford’s Artificial Intelligence Professional Program features 10-week courses on several subjects, including machine learning, reinforcement learning, natural language processing, and meta-learning.
These AI courses cater to professional learners who already started their careers. Fully online, they can be taken from anywhere without sacrificing the collaboration and camaraderie you expect from a robust and immersive course. Learners form study groups and collaborate with others in the same courses.
Perhaps most importantly, Stanford’s Artificial Intelligence Professional Program boasts educational resources developed from the University’s on-campus graduate courses.
Expected Duration: At least 30 weeks (three or more 10-week courses)
Program Completion Award: Stanford Professional Certificate in Artificial Intelligence
Those interested in joining the Artificial Intelligence Professional Program can also request more information at Stanford Online.
Courses in the Stanford Online AI Professional Program
- Artificial Intelligence: Principles and Techniques
- Natural Language Processing with Deep Learning
- Natural Language Understanding
- Machine Learning
- Machine Learning with Graphs
- Reinforcement Learning
- Deep Multi-Task and Meta-Learning
Stanford AI Graduate Certificate Program
This is an alternative to the AI Professional Program. Stanford’s AI Graduate Certificate Program draws talented individuals from around the world. The course load usually takes 15-20 hours per week (including lectures and homework), and students must complete at least four courses over one or two years.
Those interested in joining the artificial intelligence graduate program can request more information at Stanford Online.
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