HBCU Howard University opens Google campus to land more black engineers in Silicon Valley jobs
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Howard University (CC BY SA 2.0 Founders Library via Wikimedia Commons)

This might be the most substantial logistical move yet by amajor technology company to sustainably tackle the problem of diversity in Silicon Valley

Google is taking a massive logistical step to fix diversity gaps in Silicon Valley through a new partnership with Howard University, which will open a campus at the Googleplex.

Howard is one the US’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and will become a direct source of talent for future Google hires.

“Howard happens to be my alma mater, so I am especially proud to share that our formal recruiting from the university has evolved into a residency for Black CS majors right here at the Googleplex,” wrote Bonita Stewart, VP of Global Partnerships, on Google’s official blog. Being dubbed Howard West, select juniors and seniors from Howard’s computer science program will earn the right to spend up to three months at the new complex and receive instruction not only from Howard staff but also senior Google engineers.

“With a physical space on campus where Howard students and Googlers can grow together, I can only imagine what innovation and creativity will come to light,” Steward said, adding the development is built on years of cooperation through the Google in Residence (GIR) program that embeds company engineers at HBCUs throughout the US. “Through GIR we’ve learned a lot about the hurdles Black students face in acquiring full-time work in the tech industry. The lack of exposure, access to mentors and role models are critical gaps that Howard West will solve.”

Howard University President Dr. Wayne Frederick was equally enthusiastic and ambitious about the project.

“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,” Frederick wrote. “We envisioned this program with bold outcomes in mind—to advance a strategy that leverages Howard’s high quality faculty and Google’s expertise, while also rallying the tech industry and other thought leaders around the importance of diversity in business and the communities they serve.”

There are other programs directed specifically at historically black higher education, particularly the SXSW HBCU PArtnership led by Opportunity Hub Founder and CEO Rodney Thompson that brings about 500 HBCU students to Austin for the annual tech and startup confab. The Morehouse College Entrepreneurship Center offers the only HBCU-based certificate in the US related to startup investing (let alone at any school for that matter).

Howard was founded in 1867, right after the conclusion of the Civil War, and is the alma mater of American icons like Thurgood Marshall, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Toni Morrison.

Despite the widespread belief there are not many African-Americans learning development or coding, HBCUs and other schools have graduated plenty of black computer science students. Roughly 20 percent of said grads came from HBCUs between 2001 and 2009 according to Bloomberg, but blakcs have composed only 1 percent of all technical employees at prominent Valley companies (including Google).

While racial bias might be cited as one issue, proximity is likely and unfairly another. San Jose State University, UC Berkeley, San Francisco State University, and Stanford were the top four most likely schools to produce Silicon Valley workers according to Jobvite. Riviera Partners ranks Berkeley, Stanford and UCLA in the top five for tech talent recruitment in the region. Outliers like MIT, Carnegie Mellon and the University of Waterloo are known for top tier robotics and AI research, leavbing many schools (including HBCUs) outside of recruiters’ itineraries.

This will help HBCU students get more exposure. It was not mentioned if Howard would expand its program beyond three months or if other schools would follow in their footsteps, but it is hard to imagine there won’t be an effort.

All in all, this seems like one of the most practical approaches to solving Silicon Valley’s diversity problem undertaken yet.

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