Howard University is leading the charge to diversify Silicon Valley with skilled African-Americans.
Although African-Americans make up 13% of the population, they constitute just 1% of the technical workforce at companies like Facebook, Apple, and Google.
Most of those firms look to schools like MIT and Stanford for their technical talent, something Howard has been working hard to change over the past decade. The biggest problem is that thanks to a lack of resources, most African-American students did not start learning to code until they were in high school or college.
That is the exact issue Obama is attempting to tackle as well with The Computer Science for All initiative, which pledges $4 billion to expand computer science resources for K-12 students.
|Howard Professor Legand Burge|
However, if the companies do not change their hiring practices, what does it matter? According to stats, over 20% of all black computer sciences graduated from an HBCU.
The hiring process is starting to change, thanks to the efforts of Professor Legand Burge and teacher Charles Pratt, who was sent to Howard to cultivate students for Google.
Legand Burge is the Chair of the Computer Science Department and Charles Pratt was the head of Google’s In Residence program at Howard. In addition to upping their students technical and programming abilities, Burge and Grant also prepare them for the cultural differences that exist once they get to Silicon Valley to work.
“Back in the civil rights period, it used to be that lighter-skinned people were able to pass and be more acceptable, so they were able to get into organizations or get into companies. Now it’s a little bit different. It’s about cultural fit. Do you laugh at the same jokes? Do you Rollerblade or whatever?” Legand Burge to Bloomberg News
Burge’s efforts over the past ten years have resulted in recruiters from companies like Facebook, Pinterest, Google and Dropbox expressing interest in Howard’s students. Unfortunately, only two of the 28 Computer Science graduates from Howard have landed jobs so far. One went to Google, and the other one landed a gig at Pandora.
As for Charles Pratt, he eventually grew frustrated with the Google In Residence program and quit to pursue his MBA at Stanford.
Down in Washington DC, Legand Burge continues his mission to prepare his students.