Google seeks diversity through female IT graduates

Google is planning to roll out a female diversity scheme annually and in more countries after a successful pilot in the UK and Germany.


Google is planning to roll out a female diversity scheme annually and in more countries after a successful pilot in the UK and Germany.

Over the past two months, a number of Google employees have taken part in a scheme to mentor female students studying computer science or related degrees at university.

Two hundred students from 46 UK universities applied for the Google CodeF scheme, which was designed in partnership with Rare Recruitment, a recruitment agency for ethnic minority graduates.

The scheme targets female computer scientists who have not yet graduated, and all applicants - including those studying other subjects such as mathematicians - were required to have basic coding skills in at least one of C++, Java or Python programming languages.

Fifty of the successful candidates from universities including Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial, Southampton, Surrey and Sussex, were then invited to an 'insight' day at Google's UK office last November, where they met the company's software engineers and worked on live problems with them to test their technical abilities.

The top 21 students were chosen from the insight day to be matched up with Google mentors.

Mentors were required to keep in touch with the students at least once a week over a period of eight to 10 weeks. Most of the communication was virtual, using email, videoconferencing tool Google Hangouts and online messaging. Topics covered by the mentors included advice on improving technical skills, CV and career advice, doing mock interviews and giving mentees a better idea of how their IT skills can be applied in a work environment.

Computerworld UK spoke to some of the students on the scheme, who said that CodeF had helped to "demystify" the Google brand.

Florence Driscoll, a third-year maths student at Oxford University, who created C#-based Sudoku-solving application as part of her mentoring, said: "I would never really have considered Google. It's a bit mythical. You hear so much about Google. It has done a really good job of demystifying Google."

Nicola Asamoah (pictured, left), a third-year IT student at Southampton University, agreed. She had applied, unsuccessfully, for a web developer role at Google before trying out for the CodeF scheme.

"I now feel I have a chance to get a job at Google," she said. "It feels achievable."

One of the mentors, Konstantin Yegupov, a software engineer at Google, volunteered to take part in the scheme because he had enjoyed teaching students when in his final year at university.

The scheme gave him an insight into the differences between the US and English education systems, and allowed him to take stock of his role at Google.

"I reviewed my experience in Google, the good things about it, how we describe our job and how jobs differ from the expectations that the students have.

"The difference in expectation is you will have to do much more supplementary work as part of your job. You're not just cranking out code. You spend a lot of time writing tests for code. It's monitoring the whole infrastructure around it," said Yegupov.

Confidence, he added, was an important quality for female computer science graduates to have, as well as having structured knowledge.

"It's very important to have structured knowledge. When everything you know is connected to everything else you know. So when you approach a solution you know the solution from top to down. It's important to know existing solutions to problems. When you see a problem you know immediately the class of the problem and the solution to that," Yegupov said.

He also believed that it would be helpful for students to become familiar with the tools that the software industry uses, such as wikis, so that they are more prepared for the workplace.

Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe, head of EMEA diversity at Google, believes that the CodeF initiative will be a two to three-year programme. As well as CodeF, the company launched a scheme to promote black people and people with disabilities last autumn.

While jobs are not guaranteed for everyone on the mentoring schemes, some candidates have been successful at gaining two to three-month internship roles at the company. Two females from the CodeF scheme have been offered internships at Google so far.

"From all three programmes we have hired people into paid intern positions. We are currently interviewing a significant proportion for other intern positions and new graduate hire positions," he said.

Palmer-Edgecumbe believes that the mentoring experience will also prepare students for other jobs in the high-tech industry.

"At the end of the mentoring programme they graduate and we are keen that this mentoring programme should equip them with the knowledge and the skills to perform really well in our interview process and any other IT interview process," he said.

Palmer-Edgecumbe declined to reveal what proportion of Google's software engineers are women, saying only that the company was "very diverse already but we understand that we can always be more diverse".

Google is well-known for its employee benefits, with a number of perks to support working mothers and new families.

For example, it provides mother's rooms, a 'Mommy Mentor' programme and a New Parents Group. Maternity leave comprises up to 12 weeks off at approximately 100 percent pay, with employees who have worked at the company for more than a year eligible for an additional six weeks.

Sector skills council e-skills UK has welcomed Google's initiative to help promote the role of women in an industry where just 18 percent of the UK's IT professionals are female, according to the organisation's latest research.

"Women are missing out on rewarding careers and the IT industry is missing out on a vast pool of talent. We welcome any scheme that encourages women to explore and pursue careers in IT and to see high-profile companies like Google addressing this issue is heartening," said Bob Clift, head of the higher education programmes at e-skills UK.

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