The “OTHER” Diversity Problem

“Wait. You don’t go to a technology focused university?”

If I got paid a dollar for every time I heard this, I’d be rich.

When I go to conferences, recruiters sheepishly nod their heads like they know of my school. When I then ask them, “Have you heard of it?”, I get a large grin from them, realizing I caught them in their lie. Quickly they put my resume in a towering stack dismissively saying, “We will get back to you if we see a fit”. I try to strike up conversation with them about their company, but I see them looking over my shoulder trying to see if they can escape the conversation, so that they may talk to the student from the top 10 engineering school.

(I have nothing against these schools, I know people who go to these schools, and I think they are all qualified for the positions they apply to.)

I leave, knowing that I will never hear from this company. And I never do.

I chose to go to a liberal arts college. To answer your first questions:

No, it was not the only school I got into.
Yes, I got into engineering colleges.
No, it was not a money or scholarship thing.

I chose to go to a liberal arts college because I have a lot of interests. I play the baritone saxophone, I am drawn to cognitive science and psychology, I am interested in world cultures, but I also know that I want to major in computer science. And I want to explore my interests. At my college, I am not limited by my major, if I want to take a course in philosophy, I sign up and take it.

I am a technical individual with a foundation in the liberal arts with skills that most tech schools don’t teach. I can explain myself and my ideas and still have a constructive argument. I can think about who my software will effect on a larger scale and how that may impact specific communities. I can write an eloquent email but I can also stand in front of a crowd and give a speech about how my work is relevant to modern society. I will listen to other’s even if I don’t agree, because in that process I know that I will learn something. I have taken three semesters of a foreign language, shown writing proficiency, taken classes in topics ranging from Historic Preservation to Organizational Behavior to Molecular Gastronomy. I have also taken courses in JAVA, Functional Programming, Human Computer Interaction, Web Development, Software Development, Artificial Intelligence, Theory of Computation, Programming Languages, Calculus I, Calculus II, Calculus III, as well as had a side research project for every semester.

I am a technical individual with a foundation in the liberal arts and I am proud of that. To build successful products, you need diverse teams, but if your entire team is made up of graduates from X’s computer science program, how diverse is your team actually? They all went through the same classes, and were taught to think the same when it comes to solving problems. Is that really a diverse team?

Most job applications ask where you go to school. I always have to pick “OTHER”, which is at the bottom of the list. My school is never listed. And why would it? My school is known for their study abroad program, not their computer science department. But having to pick “OTHER”, while seeing this long list of schools, it feels degrading. My education is not worth being named because it is not one of the schools which you see fit? That is telling me that all the hard work that I have put into my degree is not as important as school X or Y instead it is just “OTHER”.

My school does not make the top 10 of fancy lists, recruiters of tech companies do not stop by my school to wine and dine us. And I am fine with that. I understand that the percentage of students from my school who will be hired is significantly less than those from any larger school, and on a cost basis, it is truly not worth it for recruiters to come to my college. But please, do not discredit my school, my education, and my capabilities because you have not heard of it.

If companies engaged with liberal arts students as well as technical students in the form of regional recruitment instead of school specific recruitment, maybe work forces would be more diverse.

If companies interviewed candidates about more than reversing a binary tree on a white board, maybe work forces would be more diverse.

And finally if companies stopped making students who don’t go to the “right” school feel less than, maybe work forces would be more diverse.