“Howard West,” and Epidemic of Black Scrutiny

A couple of days ago, a reporter from a Bay Area publication reached out to me over LinkedIn to ask if I’d be willing to share my experience with her about my time at Howard, and the Googler in Residence program that was offered while I was there. During our phone call, they told me that an announcement was to be made that Thursday, dropping the news that Howard and Google were partnering up to create what is now being referred to as Howard West — a 12 week summer school, open to rising juniors and seniors from Howard’s computer science department, on Google’s Mountain View campus.

On the surface, to most people, this sounds great — students from a majority-minority institution being given the opportunity to learn what it’s like to be surrounded by people from one of the most well-respected technology companies in the world — like a weird cultural immersion program in our own country. But the details of it make it sound absurd, demeaning, and — quite frankly — make me feel embarrassed to be even vaguely associated with the partnership at all.

The Googler in Residence program (GIR) started my first year at Howard. It involved a full-time Google engineer moving to DC for two semesters, volunteering their time to help teach Howard’s Intro to Computer Science course. As someone who benefitted from the program — connecting with people who were seriously invested in my personal success, and actually ending up with an internship at Google that following summer — I am incredibly grateful for the amazing people who volunteered their time to bring all of it together. But, because I’m so grateful for them, I know I would be doing them a huge disservice if I didn’t bring the truth to light.

GIRs are there on a 100% volunteer basis.

Despite the fact that they’re being shipped to the other side of the country, with the expectation of becoming full-time professors — writing their own curriculum, making their own tests and homework assignments, and teaching 2–3 courses a semester — they are still expected to do all of their work as full-time engineers, and get no internal recognition for their efforts. In fact, it actually hurts their careers to volunteer. Most of the GIRs barely make it through their first semester (often switching to commuting back and forth between the school and their office during the second one, rather than staying full-time for the whole year).

Splitting their time between work and teaching results in subpar reviews from their managers, and puts their chances at upward mobility on hold until they finish.

While at the school, in order to justify the program’s existence, the GIR will pick the top performing students in their classes, coach them in the ways of Cracking the Coding Interview, and then present them to Google on a silver platter for a final evaluation of their skills.

With enough information, it doesn’t take much to see that the residency program is just a thinly-veiled, low-cost poaching tool under the guise of social servicing. After just its first year, Google went from never having a Howard student intern with them to having 13 (which is an absurdly high number when you consider the fact that Howard’s CS graduating class last spring was 18 people). At virtually no actual recruiting cost!

But now Google wants to cut the cost of recruiting from Howard even further by just giving up space on its oversized main campus for Howard to teach classes — on Howard’s own dime, using Howard’s own professors, under the watch of Google engineers. This program is only open to rising juniors and seniors — people who, at this point in their educational careers, should be getting paid internships by companies that actually want to hire them when they graduate from college — during the summer — prime time for interning!

And Howard is footing the bill for this entire thing.

It’s even the one left giving the students money to find a place to live. Google deserves no pat on the back for this. This is abuse.

When Google received all of those interns that first year, it should have been a wake-up call. They should have walked away from that realizing that they’d been wrong for not taking Howard and other HBCUs seriously from the start. But, instead, they decided to scrutinize them even further. Instead of having Howard students go through the normal motions of a prospective employee — looking at their resumes, giving them an interview, assessing their abilities through an internship (which is really just a paid 3 month extended interview) — they’re treating this next batch of students like a bunch of lab rats who don’t even deserve the compensation or access to resume-ready work experience that would come with a traditional internship opportunity.

This is messed up.

Howard isn’t even some nobody school. It’s produced some of this country’s most notable black professionals — from world-renowned scientist, actors, leaders, to politicians including California’s own Senator Kamala Harris. The students there deserve way more respect than what Google is currently offering them. This is a toxic relationship, and I think it’s time for Howard to move on to someone who wants to do right by them.

If this is the level of disrespect Google has when it’s courting potential black employees, I can only imagine how hard it is to get any level of respect once you’re on the inside.