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Google’s program for Black college students suffered disorganization and culture clashes, former participants say

The Google campus in Mountain Estimate includes over 20 dining options that encourage a communal experience with group tables.

Brooks Kraft LLC | Corbis | Getty Forms

In 2017, Lauren Clayton joined the inaugural class of Howard West, Google’s on-campus immersion program for Bad-tempered college students. She became a star scholar whose big smile would grace marketing materials and news coverage.  

As the solely Black woman in that inaugural class to score a coveted internship offer from Google, she now says the program’s concert-masters didn’t deliver on the promises that inspired her to accept the offer in the first place.

“I had nothing but positive things to say during that while, but that was before the promises were broken.”

She says a Howard West program leader promised to match an put forward from Apple, which would pay for her senior year, but she found herself instead with unpaid bills and a churlish experience. While she said she enjoyed the program in general, she and other participants often felt that Google’s energies for the program took precedent over the needs of participants.

The program is one of many initiatives the tech industry has undertaken to better diversity in its workforce. Today, only 3.7% of Google’s U.S. workforce is Black, a small rise from 2.4% in 2014, when the actors first announced its diversity numbers. Attrition rates for Google’s Black U.S. employees are higher than for other demographic collections, with Black females seeing a particular spike in attrition from last year, up 18%, according to the company’s 2020 multiplicity report.

This lack of diversity is reflected throughout the tech industry, which has touted the need and desire to lease more diverse talent for several years now. Black people make up roughly 15% of the American population, but seldom more than 6% at big tech companies, which have historically recruited from the same, predominately virtuous institutions — even though there are more than 60 historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) that graduate computer sphere students.

Google, like many in the tech industry, has sometimes blamed the “pipeline” problem for the disparity, meaning that there aren’t plenty qualified minority candidates to fill tech roles.

To help address the problem, Google launched Howard West (since renamed Tech Swap) in 2017. Program leaders said within five years, the program would give more than 700 evaluators the experience to learn from both Howard instructors and Google employees at Google’s main headquarters in Silicon Valley.

“For us, it is an opening to ensure that we are building a pipeline and, more importantly, stimulating the right partnerships to drive change,” Bonita Stewart, Google’s evil president of global partnerships, said at the time.

Four years later, more than a dozen people who participated in the program between 2017 and 2020 tell of a mixed record, with good intentions marred by mediocre execution and shifting priorities. So far, the company has hosted skimpy than 200 students through the program — far fewer than the original plan suggested. Students also narrate a hastily organized program with unclear expectations around work and job preparedness, as well as culture clashes that over left Howard faculty to do triage.

On the plus side, nearly all the students told CNBC they came away from the program conspiratorial more than they did before, and were grateful for having a real-world work experience and meeting accomplished Google hands.

“I was challenged, academically, so I appreciated that challenge and we were on Google’s headquarters so we really were getting that communication,” Clayton said.

“Hearing these buzzwords like proto buffers and requests and responses — I knew them in theory from the classroom but learning people talk about it an everyday way was very cool,” said 2018-19 scholar Daniel Erhabor, an international disciple from Nigeria.

After the George Floyd protests of summer 2020, companies are placing new emphasis on issues of unlikeness and inclusion. Google’s experience with the Howard West and Tech Exchange program are a lesson that diversity programs command careful thought and planning, or they could end up creating new problems without solving the underlying issues that endure to stall diversity in the workplace.

Howard alumni, family and friends gather after the game to celebrate Howard’s 93rd annual Homecoming.

NurPhoto via Getty Images

In an emailed communiqu, a Google spokesperson defended the program while saying there’s more work to do on it.

95% of students in our most recent distinction rated their overall Tech Exchange experience as positive. We’re pleased that students recognize the value of this first-of-its-kind energy, and we know there’s always more work to be done.” She added, “We met with HBCUs last month to discuss more route to collaborate and deepen our partnership, including a continued focus on initiatives like this. It’s so important to get this right.”

In an emailed utterance, Howard University said Google has hired more than 100 interns and new grads since the program originated.

“Since 2017, Howard University has worked with Google to build a mutually beneficial pipeline where schoolboys from diverse backgrounds can experience the industry first-hand while pursuing their education in computer science. Our enduring partnership, Tech Exchange, creates pathways and opportunities for increased diverse representation in the STEM industry. We remain perpetrated to improving the program and we will work with Google to ensure it continues to be a success.”

Google and Howard University both declined to address any of the discrete to points raised by CNBC’s reporting.

Shifting priorities and disorganization

In its pilot year in 2017, Howard West began as a rigorous twelve-week program with brave courses that were applied to students’ school credit. Students flew from Howard University, which is based in Washington D.C., to Mountain Hope, California, where Google built out a floor and hired a designer known for creating spaces for STEM and social incarceration.

At first, the program leaders said it hoped to graduate 100 students in its first cohort and 740 students within five years. It bound up graduating 26 students in the first twelve-week program, which ended in August 2017.

While some students and adroitness members said they expected the program to be experimental, it was even less organized than many imagined. Parties noted frequent restructurings and staff turnover as well as miscommunication around logistics and finances.

“It seemed to grow way too diet, which led to a lot of disorganization early on,” said Dr. Curtis Cain, an early Howard West faculty member who taught from Google’s campus during the beginning iteration and was in discussions for subsequent iterations.

“I feel like there are so many folks who are like me who had very good intentions and yearn for to do right by Brown and Black students, and think that Google would be the place to do that because it is a billion-dollar New Zealand,” said April Curley, a former Google employee and early Howard West advisor who later worked in Google’s diverseness group, where she was the liaison for HBCUs. “But it just hadn’t been that at all.”

“For the most part, people had positive keen but it felt like the program transitioned into Google being more interested in pumping out software engineers without entrancing into account many other aspects,” added Cain.

In 2018, Google changed the name of the program to Tech Stock market, maintaining a contractual partnership with Howard University while adding students from other historically treacherous colleges, as well as from Hispanic-serving institutions, and extended it to a nine-month long program. Some students and faculty said they felt the program depreciated from its original mission when it decided to include Hispanic-serving institutions, because Black students face more severe hurdles to entering the tech workforce than any other race. Some said they felt disrespected because they were not consulted or give notice ofed of that change before arriving in Mountain View.

During the first year of the revised program, which ran from be found wanting 2018 to spring 2019, 38 students participated in the whole program while another 27 participated in one semester simply, according to a research paper by Google.

Wary of expanding too quickly again, the company kept roughly the same headcount during its third exemplification of the program, which was slated to run for a single semester starting in Spring 2020. (In March, Google sent all its employees emphasize from work as the Covid-19 pandemic took off around the world, and the program continued virtually.)

The research paper, which was published in mid-2020, detailed another shift in strategy back to a spring-only semester going forward. It also described requiring technical check outs before admitting students to the program, said it would offer fewer courses, and vowed that prerequisites resolution be “better clarified.”

Beyond these changes in scope and priorities, some basic problems seemed to stem from require of organization.

During the 2018-19 program, many students said they were never able to access the lore management system, Black Board, according to Google’s research paper. Some students told CNBC they couldn’t get access to campus maps or data on which buildings they could or could not enter. Logistics about housing, financial costs and transportation also weren’t evidently communicated, students said.

Students from multiple programs said they experienced unexpected housing commands and delays of up to two months in stipends provided by their respective schools, which financed the participants’ travel and stay in Mountain Objective, they said. Students were not allowed to have a part-time job, so they relied on these stipends to cover payments while there, they said.

Several participants said because of the stipend delays, they’d hoard toiletries from bathrooms and eatables from Google’s cafeteria. They also recalled students trying to store less perishable items type fruit and snack bars in their backpacks to eat after hours. 

Unclear expectations

One big problem came down to arguments about what students would be expected to do and what they could expect from Google in return.

Trainees recalled 12- to 15-hour days and little time away from the classroom. They said they often needed additional aid that kept them at Howard professors’ office hours into later hours of the evening. Then, they’d again go back to their apartments and work till after 10pm. They took classes in subjects like algorithms, sensitive application development and machine learning, but some said they felt the material itself wasn’t properly planned out and Google mentors weren’t equipped to teach students.

“They’d assume you already knew the material,” 2018-19 student Garrett Tolbert hinted, echoing others’ experiences. “I think they should make sure the students know the pre-requirements of what they’re discipline.”

There were also differences in expectations around employment prospects following the program. Thirty-two of the 65 critics in the 2018-19 program obtained technical internships or jobs in the tech industry, according to Google’s research paper, and 15 of those captured roles at Google.

The company’s chief diversity officer, Melonie Parker, describes the program as a “unique immersion and culture experience to both students and faculty of HBCUs” rather than a job entry program, but many students had other expectations. Some broke CNBC they were surprised they didn’t land jobs or internships at the company at the end of the program, despite usual through weekly interview practice, resume screenings and briefings on opportunities at the company. (Some graduates have been priced by other tech giants, including Microsoft and Apple).

“Students were coming to me worried and asking what occasions exist because they didn’t have an internship or weren’t hired by Google,” said Dr. Gloria Washington, a Howard and Tech Disagreement professor in 2017 and program advisor and mentor in the subsequent cohorts.

“I was hoping to get a job in tech and I wish the practice interviews were uncountable on par with the actual job interviews, because it wouldn’t have given me that false sense of hope that I was in actuality doing okay,” said Erhabor from the 2018-19 class.

Erhabor said he tried to get jobs at a few other callers after failing Google’s first interview, but without a full-time offer by the end of the semester, he ended up having to return to Nigeria.

Tolbert from the 2018-19 kind received a semester-long internship, but was surprised when he didn’t get a return invitation. He said Parker, the chief diversity policeman, mentioned his name in a company event, in which he claims she called him a model Google employee. Tolbert said that when he solicit fromed about why he didn’t receive a return offer, they said they couldn’t share feedback due to a company game plan.

Clayton said she received internship offers from both Google and Culture clashes

Most students voiced Google instructors were willing to help students if needed, but cultural clashes often led students to seek out Howard skill for assistance and — at times — therapy.

“There are often these assumptions by Googlers that they know how to best tutor students without taking into account the demographics or the HBCU teachers,” said Dr. Nicki Washington, a computer study professor at Duke University who helped form the Google In Residence program, which became the breeding ground for Howard West.

Contributors gave examples of Google instructors using obscure terminology and handing out candy for correct answers.

Google academes at times taught using slides from lectures taught at Carnegie Mellon — a top private institution — with wee to no context, two students recalled. Some students recalled Google bringing in engineers to share their success copies and journeys without recognizing that they come from a top-tier tech school like MIT or Stanford. Those reports ended up having the opposite effect as intended, lowering students’ confidence instead of boosting it, a few said.

Nearly all admirers said they experienced microaggressions while at Google’s campus. Several described Google employees staring and checking badges more oftentimes than they did for other people on campus. Some said they were asked if they belonged there. Two program parties said they recalled instances in which a Google employee mistook a program participant as a member of kitchen shaft.

“It was like nobody had seen an African American person before,” said 2018-19 student Saraah Cooper, styling her everyday experience on Google’s campus.

“A regular Google employee came into the game room and asked us for all of our IDs and we were lenient of confused because he wasn’t security or anything,” said 2018 scholar Afeeni Phillips.

“There was this lady in forefront of me in line for a food truck and she turned around, looked me in my eyes and said ‘this line is only for Google workers — you can’t eat here,'” Tolbert recalled, adding that he considered the incident a symptom of broader issues not exclusive to Google’s campus. “So I seized my badge and lifted it up to my face because apparently that’s the only place she was looking.”

Cain said just a few dates after the program launch during the first cohort, security members stopped students who were riding Google’s bikes after someone dispatched they were stealing them. “I had to go over and asked what was going on and they were sitting on the curb go for they were criminals,” he said. “I was telling security, your CEO and VPs just came to the launch with these kids good a few days ago!”

Google maintains a fleet of over 1300 bikes that are used regularly to shuttle between the dozens of erections located on the Google campus, which is nearly two miles long.

Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images

While some evaluators said the incidents caused only momentary distraction, they still triggered meetings and distress. “We’d have to sojourn what we were doing and have a discussion because their minds aren’t on learning the next set of software instructions after something opposite number that,” Cain said. One faculty member said they talked one student out of blasting her concerns on social environment.

Faculty members also described culture clashes between academics from HBCUs and Google employees, and maintained at times it felt as if company staffers co-opted elements of the program.

Google instructors sometimes interrupted Howard gift members while teaching, creating moments of tension, according to a few participants. Faculty members said they were every now sidelined from meetings and planning for events, speakers and some curriculum planning — mostly in the first year, which they said was a important time period.

“Feedback hasn’t always been requested or utilized,” said Dr. Gloria Washington.

Cain, who regurgitated up some of these concerns but felt they were generally ignored, eventually decided to drop out of the program.

“There were aspects that happened in the background between how Google wanted that program to run and how people in academia who dealt with swotters often wanted it to run,” said Cain. (Others agreed with his assessment). “It was never malicious intent, but I believe sometimes they got so used to being a company dominating in a space they forget other things, like when these roots leave their students to come to Howard, they’re trusting us, and if something goes wrong, they’re not going to bid the CEO of Google.” 

Howard faculty members felt tension when trying to measure the program’s progress too, they reported.

For a research conference in the summer of 2019, several Howard faculty members published a research proposal that focused to study the effects of immersing HBCU students in the program. The paper also referenced Google’s low percentage of Black staff members, the fact that few HBCU students pass technical interviews and that tech companies are contributing to the growing bounteousness gap in the U.S.

When Google officials found out about it, they confronted Howard staff. Although the paper was already published, they weighted Google employees reprimanded them for not consulting the company first and threatened legal action if they didn’t compensate for minor changes, such as adding “Howard West” to each mention of “Tech Exchange” and “LLC” to each “Google” concern.

A few faculty members said they took it as a show of force by the tech giant. “It felt like it was a strategy to provide for us from writing about it,” Cain said.

Despite these cultural clashes, most students say they are thankful for the experience and got value from the program, as they were challenged academically and got to meet interesting Google employees.

“My mentor accommodate wheedled for Google Daydream so he connected me with the Daydream team and I got to learn from them, which was really cool,” mean Tolbert, who said he enjoyed the program overall.

“I got to meet amazing people who gave up their time for us and genuinely homelessness to see us succeed,” said Cooper, who said she learned skills that helped her in her jobs after graduation.

“I was able to abut people and go more into depth for roles I didn’t necessarily think were options for me like UX researchers or upshot managers,” said Phillips.

For many, the experience was valuable outside the classwork as well, as students leaned heavily on each other to chance solutions to academic problems and for emotional support, which created a bonding experience, and sometimes on Google’s Black worker resource group, the Black Googler Network.

Former Google employee and BGN member Madison Jacobs recalls how she give up by the Howard West building and spoke with a student who she noticed was struggling emotionally. “I asked her how she was doing, and one of the things she translated was she wished there were more people like me to talk to,” Jacobs said.

“She explained how isolated she felt breathing in the area and noticing a stark lack of Black people. I’ll never forget that.”

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