The following is a response written by Karla Monterroso, our amazing VP of Programs.
Like many people watching New York City this week, I’m floored and elated at the investment Mayor de Blasio has made in educating computer scientists throughout New York City public schools. The size and scope of this investment befits the size and scope of our tech talent problem. As you stated, the Association of Computing Machinery forecasts that by the year 2020 the United States will have 70% of its tech jobs unfilled. We agree with you that this huge talent gap will leave our country hamstrung during this important age of innovation. Our nation’s tech infrastructure is being built in the cloud, without enough architects to keep it safe. I hope that mayors across the country follow suit and make similar investments.
While this investment is hugely important, I am concerned it and other educational investments will not be enough to alter the course of the tech industry’s “talent pipeline problem”. The tech industry itself will also have to change. While the industry has recently demonstrated that it recognizes it has a problem, it has been largely unwilling to do the kind of self-assessment and introspection that will significantly move the needle.
Every year, 18% of graduating computer scientists are Black and Latino. Frustratingly, every year, tech leaves half of these computer scientists without jobs. As these students are turned away, tech companies feel the pain. Skyrocketing overhead abounds as their talent is continuously poached. Wage inflation and a cadre of perks in their hiring packages contribute to exorbitant onboarding costs. I’ve had recruiters tell me that they send out up to 300 emails a day in search of talent.
In the face of all this pain, the way we insist on evaluating tech talent has not changed- even though we know this interview process fails to predict future performance.
Most tech talent vetting is different from both the work a person may encounter on the job and the way that 90% of universities are educating their computer science students. Prepping for these interviews has become a business. Lists of websites, books, and coaches have cropped up in the middle of this dysfunction. We have created a free market Princeton Review to help the nation’s talent get a job. This benefits people with the means and connections to access these expensive tools. This archaic system leads many students to believe they are bad/dumb/unprepared computer scientists. In reality, they are simply unaware of how to navigate what has become a complex set of arbitrary standards, but the damage is done when a talented individual can’t make the connections they need to find a job. They often leave tech for other jobs.
The technical recruitment process fails to reflect what employers actually need their employees to excel in when on the job. It never ceases to amaze me that two highly competitive companies, both of which I know to be equally as rigorous, will talk to me about the CODE2040 talent pipeline in completely different ways. One company, incredibly impressed with our talent pool, begs to recruit more of our students. Another lets us know that no student in our pool could ever make it through their screen, and express disappointment. Same pool. Two TOTALLY different views on the pool of candidates.
We are very lucky. We get to engage in conversations with great companies and let them know what we are discovering across a portfolio. They have the opportunity to reflect on their process through a different set of eyes. The reality is that tech has a long way to go before it can take advantage of the pool of candidates Mayor de Blasio and New York City just invested in building.
I have had a lot of people ask me how CODE2040 has grown as quickly as it has in the last few years. The answer feels simple to me. We reject the premise that diversity in tech is an option. Our country is in desperate need of understanding how to engage with each other across lines of difference.
We need each other. Badly.
The outstanding question is whether or not we are willing to build the new competencies necessary to engage in a highly diverse world. Do we value and want innovation badly enough that we are willing to question the validity of our processes and standards? Will we push our companies and portfolios to engage in uncomfortable but fundamentally necessary skills building? Do we have the courage to fire managers and employees who make the workplace miserable for diverse communities? Do we have it in us to not believe our own hype?
It’s time we all take the leap together to dismantle systems we know are broken. We have a school district full of diverse technologists coming our way, and a short window of time to make this sector worth the effort they are about to put in to meet us here.