Google launches new program to boost Black coders

It’s no secret that the tech industry lacks many employees of color, so Google is leveraging its relationship with an HBCU, a Historically Black College and University, to do something about it.

Google announced yesterday that is it teaming up with Washington, D.C.-based historically Black college Howard University to open up a new campus for Black computer science majors at the Googleplex in Mountain View, California. The “Howard West” program will offer 25-30 of the college’s juniors and seniors a chance to learn from “senior Google engineers and Howard faculty” for 12 weeks at Google this upcoming summer.  The residency will provide a place to work at the Googleplex and a stipend for “housing and other expenses in Silicon Valley,” and participants will receive 12 academic credits, Howard said in a statement.

Bonita Stewart, a Howard alumna and Google’s Vice President of Global Partnerships, wrote about the company’s push to step up its game in terms of diversity.

Her top thought: quoting Peter Drucker’s comment that “the best way to predict the future is to create it.”

“’Howard West’ is now the centerpiece of Google’s effort to recruit more Black software engineers from Historically Black Colleges and Universities [known as HBCUs]—and to make them feel right at home here in Mountain View,” Stewart wrote in a statement.

Google’s diversity numbers show a lack of balance

Google seems to be taking on the underrepresentation of minority groups head-on because the data show a workforce that is heavily homogenous. Google’s US workforce is reportedly 2% Black, 3% Hispanic, 3% “two or more races,” 1% “other” (including “American Indian/Alaskan Native and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander”), 32% Asian, and 59% White, according to January 2016 data. The company also has a long way to go in terms of hiring more female Googlers. It’s global employees are reportedly 31% women and 69% men, according to January 2016 data.

The Google-Howard relationship

Howard University President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick commented on Howard West’s goal.

“Howard West will produce hundreds of industry-ready Black computer science graduates, future leaders with the power to transform the global technology space into a stronger, more accurate reflection of the world around us…We envisioned this program with bold outcomes in mind,” Frederick said in a statement.

But Google and Howard already go way back.

The school is one of 10 HBCUs involved in the Google in Residence Program, an initiative where the company’s software engineers teach beginner-level computer science courses on campuses for four to five months. Outside of Howard in Washington, D.C., Google in Residence has a presence at other HBCUs in Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee, Virginia, Georgia and Maryland.

Students in their first year get instruction on “basic coding and debugging, simple data structures, and how to work with large code bases,” according to Google, as well as development and other skills they take with them to the tech world.

Facebook’s work with diverse college students

Facebook has done something similar.

Facebook University (FBU) is an 8-week internship program for college students of color “those who are historically underrepresented in the tech industry” to get experience in business, engineering and analytics.

FBU for Engineering began in 2013 with a class of 30 students, and increased to 170 students in 2016. FBU for Business started in 2015, and FBU for Analytics began in 2016, but students don’t need to know coding beforehand. “Former trainees” came back for full-time jobs at Facebook starting in 2016.