Girls and underrepresented minorities made up a larger proportion of US high school students taking the Advanced Placement exam in computer science this year than ever before, Code.org CEO Hadi Partovi announced in a Medium post on Sunday:
In 2018, a total of 135,992 students took the AP Computer Science exam, a rise of 31% from last year. Female students and underrepresented minorities showed the greatest increases from last year:
- Black or African American students — 7,301 participants, up 44%
- Hispanic or Latino — 20,954 participants, up 41%
- Female students — 38,195 participants, up 39%
- Rural students — 14,184 participants, up 42%
Last year, these figures grew even more rapidly, increasing by 135 percent among girls and 170 percent among underrepresented minorities between 2016 and 2017: a spike Partovi credits to the launch of Code.org’s Computer Science Principles course. According to Code.org a nonprofit organization that focuses on expanding access to computer science, 70 percent of students in CS Principles classrooms say they want to pursue computer science after graduation, so the organization expects these growing numbers of students to translate into more diversity in the tech workforce down the line.
The credit card company Discover has launched a new program that will pay for its 16,500 employees to earn bachelor’s degrees from three partner universities in certain business- and technology-focused majors at no cost to them. Fortune’s Lucinda Shen reported about the announcement on Tuesday:
Discover says the new program, dubbed The Discover College Commitment, will cover tuition, fees, books, and supplies for U.S.-based employees. The credit card issuer will offer a full-ride specifically for courses in cybersecurity, business, and computer sciences—burgeoning areas that the firm believes could strengthen its own business while also providing a long and stable career for its workers. …
Additionally, Discover plans to cover any income taxes that may be placed on employees due to the program. Due to IRS regulations, employers may only offer up $5,250 in tuition benefits to workers tax-free.
All employees are eligible, provided they work at least 30 hours a week for the company and have not been flagged for conduct issues or severe underperformance. Discover employees can complete their degrees at the University of Florida, Wilmington University, or Brandman University. The program is similar to one just launched by Walmart late last month, which also covers online or on-campus at University of Florida, Brandman University, or Bellevue University. Walmart’s benefit allows employees to study supply chain management or business at an out-of-pocket cost of $1 per day.
Google is expanding its Howard West initiative, a partnership with Washington, DC’s Howard University, from a three-month summer residency into a full-year program to which students from other schools will be invited. Howard Sueing, a Google software engineer and an instructor at Howard West, announced the change in a blog post on Tuesday:
We’re announcing that in 2018, the program will expand from the original three-month residency to a full academic year—and for students not only at Howard, but also from other esteemed Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The expansion was part of the original program goal, and it’s wonderful to see it blossoming so quickly.
The pilot exceeded our expectations in many ways. Students and faculty noted both the rigor and immersion in life at Google as the program’s most compelling aspects, and the Googlers involved felt there was a true exchange of knowledge, culture and understanding. Almost all of the students were rising juniors, making them eligible to apply for full software engineering internships at Google this coming summer. Notably, when the session concluded, 14 students applied. Four of them received offers, and they all accepted.
This fall, 100 students from Howard and other HBCUs will begin the immersive program at Google’s campus in Mountain View, California, TechCrunch’s Megan Rose Dickey reports.
By way of explaining the lack of gender and racial diversity among their technical staff, US companies sometimes cite the “pipeline problem“: They would like to hire more women and minorities, they say, but not enough of them are coming up through college STEM programs with the skills tech employers require.
Recent trends suggest, however, that this excuse may be wearing thin. Code.org, a nonprofit that focuses on expanding access to computer science, happily reports this week that the number of both girls and minority students who sat for the College Board’s Advanced Placement exam in computer science registered huge spikes this year, increasing by 135 percent among girls and 170 percent among underrepresented minorities between 2016 and 2017:
Racial diversity in Code.org’s AP Computer Science classrooms exceeds the nation’s average, because of our work in urban schools. While we’re not ready to report aggregate statistics for Code.org’s partner schools, the results we’ve seen from school districts using Code.org are incredible. For example, in Broward County Public Schools, FL, more African American students took AP computer science exams this year than in the entire state of Florida last year, and a significantly higher percentage received a passing grade. Broward County Public Schools also saw record participation by Latinx students, whose participation in AP computer science more than tripled since last year.
In the MIT Tech Review, George Anders flags a recent study from the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project, which analyzed US Census Bureau data from 2010 to 2013 to trace the job choices of 1.2 million college graduates and to answer the question: What do people who major in (X) typically end up doing for a living?
Overall, the study offers a fascinating look at how college educations in the sciences, arts, and humanities translate into careers, but Anders highlights one finding that may be of particular interest to employers, that “many people working as computer scientists, software developers, and programmers used their college years not to major in computer programming or software development, but instead to major in traditional sciences or other types of engineering”:
Among graduates with degrees in physics, math, statistics, or electrical engineering, as many as 20 percent now work in computing-based fields. At least 10 percent of people who majored in aerospace engineering, astronomy, biomedical engineering, or general engineering have made the same migration. Even geography, nuclear engineering, and chemistry departments send 3 to 5 percent of their undergraduate majors into software development or similar fields, the Hamilton Project reports.
In a blog post on Thursday, Google’s VP of global partnerships Bonita Stewart announced the establishment of Howard University West, a residency program on the Googleplex campus in Mountain View, California for computer science majors from the historically black university in Washington, DC. The program, to be co-taught by Google engineers and Howard faculty, will start this summer for rising juniors and seniors in Howard’s computer science program, Stewart said, and the company hopes to launch similar programs with other historically black colleges and universities in the near future:
HBCUs are a pillar in the CS education community, producing more than a third of all Black CS graduates in the U.S. Google already has a strong partnership with Howard through Google in Residence (GIR), a program that embeds Google engineers as faculty at Howard and other HBCUs.
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. We’ve also heard that many CS students struggle to find the time to practice coding while juggling a full course load and part-time jobs. Left unchecked, systematic barriers lead to low engagement and enrollment in CS, low retention in CS programs and a lack of proximity and strong relationships between Silicon Valley, HBCUs and the larger African American Community.
Google’s announcement comes at a time when many employers in tech and other highly-skilled professions have been exploring new ways to build stronger and more diverse talent pipelines by forming partnerships with educational institutions. The new program will also enable Googlers to get involved in teaching and mentoring without having to leave Mountain View and get pulled out of the promotion and evaluation cycle for engineers, the Washington Post’s Jena McGregor adds:
Marcio Jose Bastos Silva / Shutterstock, Inc.
Artificial intelligence expertise is one of the hottest commodities in the talent market today, and large, wealthy tech companies are taking the lead in hiring the best minds in AI, to the point of raising concerns about smaller firms being unable to compete. Just last month, Microsoft Ventures launched a fund dedicated to investing in AI startups and Uber bought a small AI startup to turn into its in-house research lab.
While the startup scene is one important source for these AI hires, universities are another. In November, the Wall Street Journal reported that tech giants were poaching AI experts from academia at such a rate as to raise concerns that this hiring frenzy might jeopardize the growth of the AI talent pool by leaving behind a shortage of teachers for the next generation:
The share of newly minted U.S. computer-science Ph.D.s taking industry jobs has risen to 57% from 38% over the last decade, according to data from the National Science Foundation. Though the number of Ph.D.s in the field has grown, the proportion staying in academia has hit “a historic low,” according to the Computing Research Association, an industry group.
On the other hand, Lauren Dixon adds at Talent Economy, the high technology industry has been moving toward a less secretive approach to AI development, with projects like OpenAI aiming to democratize the field. That increased openness was necessary to attract star academics into the private sector, and because of it, their employment at private companies may not hinder the free exchange of knowledge as much as some fear: