Having a skilled team is essential for companies to remain agile and competitive in the rapidly evolving business landscape. But what happens when team members’ skills, though strong, aren’t the ones they need to have?
This skills gap is the driving force behind online learning marketplace Udemy’s newest Badging product. The offering, along with the company’s Integrated Skills Framework methodology, is intended to help organizations effectively address three critical phases of skill-building: discovery, preparation and demonstration.
The Badging platform provides key insights into top technical skills, as well as a certification preparation center featuring curated learning paths and hands-on labs and assessments. With these features, it not only helps organizations keep up with rapid innovation, it shows them the value of their learning and development initiatives.
“When people are trying to justify why learning is so important within their organizations, they need to have data to show that these are the outcomes that have actually been achieved with the learning,” Principal Product Manager Ellie Good said. “Badging is a really cool way of validating and verifying a company’s skill profile at scale.”
For Good, launching Udemy’s latest product was a multifaceted undertaking. Most importantly, she was tasked with demonstrating to customers why Badging matters while deepening the company’s understanding of its users and their unique goals.
This focus on addressing learners’ needs guided the work Senior Product Designer Kristijan Popaginovski and his colleagues accomplished from a design perspective. Throughout the product development process, his team completed two major tasks: determining the overall approach through extensive research and design-thinking workshops and delivering a solution while ensuring alignment with other teams.
“The whole project was an ‘aha moment,’” Popaginovski said. He explained that the challenges his team faced throughout the project enlightened him and his peers and enabled them to build an effective user experience.
“The whole project was an ‘aha moment.’”
Of course, the designs delivered by Popaginovski and team wouldn’t have been made possible without a strong technical backbone. Alongside his teammates, Software Architect Graham Hayes ensured the company’s tech stack supported Badging, spearheading Udemy’s move to becoming an API-first company.
Not only did Hayes’ experience working on the company’s new product allow him to implement innovative technologies, but it also enabled him to grow. For instance, he learned how to communicate effectively about technical issues, which he considers paramount to being a tech professional.
“No matter where you are in your career, that’s something you’re always going to be improving,” Hayes said.
By playing their own roles in building Udemy’s Badging offering, Good, Popaginovski and Hayes all had the chance to help organizations future-proof their workforces through teamwork, innovation and personal evolution.
BRIDGING THE SKILLS GAP
Udemy’s Badging product helps address the challenges enterprises face in their inability to assess and validate their internal technical skills landscape. The new offering enables companies to track growing trends and prioritize organization-wide skill-building initiatives, offering access to nearly 200 in-demand and verifiable technical badges.
Designing With Learners in Mind
When Good began working on Badging last year, she and her peers knew the product would have a tremendous impact on organizations. But the big question they asked themselves was, “How will we make it?”
They needed to figure out what type of team they needed to create the product and how they would deliver their new offering, compelling them to ask questions such as, “What’s the highest priority, and what’s our long-term strategy?”
That’s when Popaginovski came into the picture. Popaginovski was in charge of the design approach, working with the team to define the product’s problem area and overall vision.
Popaginovski, along with Good, Hayes and the UXR team, conducted several rounds of interviews with learning and development professionals, which produced valuable insights. Over time, they realized that not all technical learners are alike, leading them to identify two key factors: an individual’s role and their experience level.
“For instance, a novice user might require more guidance, while an expert or someone familiar with the certifications would search for a specific badge or piece of content to begin learning,” he explained.
“A novice user might require more guidance, while someone familiar with the certifications would search for a specific badge or piece of content to begin learning.”
Guided by this understanding, the team developed filters and subject areas to help learners find badges that fit their role and experience, enabling those who need more guidance to filter what they need. Once they found a way to cater to different skills and career levels, they began to focus on the user mindset.
“After identifying who they were, we decided to delve deeper and comprehend their motivations,” Popaginovski explained. “We discovered that getting certified was a secondary goal for our users — a goal that is closely linked to their mental state.”
This realization enabled the team to create a more motivational experience that allows users to achieve their primary goals, such as a promotion, through certification. And once Popaginovski and his teammates felt like they understood learners’ motivations, they created a way for them to celebrate their achievements.
The team introduced ways for learners to share their badges with their peers on a dedicated platform, a feature that Popaginovski considers more important than people may think.
“This approach sets us apart from competitors, offering the users a meaningful way to share their achievements while providing valuable insights into their learning journeys for other learners or their managers,” he explained.
A Solid Technical Foundation
For Hayes, building Badging offered the perfect opportunity to use the services, tooling and infrastructure that Udemy is built upon.
In addition to leveraging tools like Kotlin and Spring, the team realized that DynamoDB was the right fit for Badging, providing an easy service for engineers to write and run operationally. It’s also beneficial because it’s highly accessible, given Udemy’s globally distributed nature.
According to Hayes, basing Badging on open standards ensured that it was interoperable with other tooling and proved to be a major time-saver for the team.
“It meant that we didn’t have to spend a long time doing data design, so we could use it pretty much as-is without having to go back to the drawing board,” he said.
Hayes added that, as the company migrates from a Python monolith to microservices, it’s also becoming an API-first organization, with GraphQL as the API of choice. This decision made it easy for the team to speed up Badging’s development time, as they could design back-end systems without waiting on designs.
In Hayes’ mind, the work the team did for the company’s latest product is a reflection of an overall focus on pushing the boundaries and exploring new approaches to innovation.
“I think the big difference between a lot of companies and what we do at Udemy is that we experiment,” he said. “We’ll do something and see how it works, and if it moves the metrics in a good way or users like it, then we’ll iterate on that.”
“We experiment. We’ll do something and see how it works, and if it moves the metrics in a good way or users like it, then we’ll iterate on that.”
‘Our Most Meaningful Breakthroughs’
Popaginovski believes that, although cross-functional alignment was critical to the creation of Badging, it was people’s unique backgrounds that ultimately made the product development process a success.
“It’s at the intersection of our differences that our most meaningful breakthroughs emerge,” he said.
With team members contributing diverse perspectives, Popaginovski and his peers were able to maintain a tailored and focused approach while adhering to clear objectives. These elements, combined with strong collaboration, made him feel as though he grew substantially as a design leader, enabling him to hone the art of managing a companywide initiative.
“Handling a project at this scale requires patience and focus, especially when working with different teams and stakeholders,” Popaginovski said. “I significantly developed my leadership skills during this process by being involved in all these different conversations across the company.”
While Badging is certainly a game changer for Udemy, it’s simply a precursor of what’s to come. Good said the organization just launched a partnership with Docker, enabling them to determine how they can integrate Badging across all of their products. The company is also considering ways to badge skills that currently cannot be verified or validated, such as interviewing and presentation skills.
In Good’s mind, the success of Udemy’s past and future endeavors comes down to one thing: attitude. Having a culture of learning is central to the organization, which is why it’s important to ensure those who join the company can engage their own level of curiosity.
“We try to hire people who always want to learn, and it’s really important to protect that,” Good said.