Liz Gannes

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Udacity Beefs Up Product and Engineering Team

The online education startup Udacity has hired Nitin Sharma as VP of engineering and data science, and Brent Tworetzky as VP of product management.

Brent Tworetzky and Nitin Sharma

Brent Tworetzky and Nitin Sharma

Sharma led data science at Groupon for the past three years, after stints at Google and Yahoo, and Tworetzky had been an executive in residence at Shasta Ventures after leading Chegg’s e-textbook effort.

Though Udacity helped kick off the broader massive open online course craze, affectionately known as MOOC, the company has in recent months decided to focus its efforts on equipping people for careers in technology, CEO Sebastian Thrun said in a recent interview.

Thrun, a former Stanford professor, is also famously the creator of Google’s driverless-car project.

Mountain View, Calif.-based Udacity had previously augmented its executive ranks by adding Vish Makhijani from Zynga as COO. Another prominent leader on the team is Irene Au, the former Google user experience and design exec who leads Udacity design.

In an interview, Sharma and Tworetzky talked of Udacity’s promise in “turning a video experience into a learning and skills experience,” as Tworezky put it.

“A lot of technical skills are learned on the job,” Sharma said. “So we need our tools to be more interactive, and to widen the scope of things beyond watching lectures. There’s no better way of learning programming. We don’t have all the answers, but our thinking is more evolved than the other players.”

Sharma and Tworetzky have both started their roles.

Udacity raised $15 million led by Andreessen Horowitz last year. Since then, its former fraternal twin MOOC company Coursera took it up another notch by raising $43 million in July.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus