Google Attempts to Improve Tech Diversity Issues by Embedding Engineers at HBCU Campuses

Google Attempts to Improve Tech Diversity Issues by Embedding Engineers at HBCU Campuses

Tech firms have a diversity problem, and Google (among others) is trying to do something about it.

Google has embedded some of its software engineers at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) to teach, advise and mentor students, according to an Associated Press article. Only about 1% of its technical staffers are African American.

Therefore, Google sent staffers to Howard University in Washington, D.C.; Hampton University in Hampton, Va.; Fisk University in Nashville; and Spelman and Morehouse colleges, both of which are in Atlanta. About 35% of all African Americans who earn computer science degrees come from HBCUs.

“They taught introductory courses, but they also trained students on everything from how to send a professional email to how to make it through a software engineering job interview, which can involve a lot of time solving coding questions at a white board,” according to the AP.

In addition, 30 students will intern with Google this summer.

Sabrina Williams, an African American software engineer at Google’s Mountain View, Calif., headquarters, taught at Howard University and said she understood the difficulties her students faced. She noted that she was the lone female African American computer science major when she was at Stanford University.

“I’m inspired,” she told the AP. “Change is slow, this is going to take time, but I think what’s interesting about this program is that it’s a different way of attacking the problem of lack of diversity in tech.”

Williams, who called herself Professor Sabrina, had 70 students in her class.

Howard University Computer Science Department Chairman Legrand Burge said similar programs have occurred before. The university partnered in the 1970s and 1980s with AT&T, Bell and Hewlett Packard.

Burge said he likes the mentality Google is bringing to campus. He said academia often lacks an experiment, fail, and then learn-from-your-mistakes mentality.

Many tech firms released workforce diversity data last year after requests by civil rights advocate Jesse Jackson. That data showed African Americans, Latinos and women were underrepresented in tech.

Aside from Google’s efforts, the Anita Borg Institute and the National Center for Women and Information Technology have partnered with companies in support of female engineers. In addition, Intel committed $300 million to diversify its workforce, Apple developed a $50 million partnership for women and minority computer science majors and Facebook created “Facebook University” internships for low-income minority college freshmen interested in computer science.


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