April 18, 2019

Expanding pathways into computer science

By: Daron Green, Jess Erickson

Most major tech companies are wrestling with how best to recruit and retain diverse talent. Companies may strive to provide attractive employment opportunities and build an inclusive culture, but they face steep challenges with the talent pool of new graduates with computer science degrees. There are few women in this group and even fewer underrepresented minorities. According to the National Science Board, women earned only 18 percent of the bachelor’s degrees in CS despite their having earned more than half of the total number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in the U.S. in 2015 and 2016. Similarly, in its latest Taulbee Survey (2017), the CRA indicated the number of African Americans, Hispanic people, and Native Americans finishing master’s degrees in CS or CE collectively accounted for below 4% of graduates despite being approximately 30% of the U.S. population.

In a step toward helping diversify the pipeline of students entering CS, today Facebook is sharing news of a $4.2 million investment to expand the Align program at Northeastern University, which helps people make a career shift into the technology sector. This program focuses on increasing the number of women and underrepresented minorities studying and pursuing careers in CS in the United States.

Specifically, it provides students who did not study computer science in college with the opportunity to earn a master’s degree in the field. Students enrolled in the program have undergraduate majors in more than 80 non-CS disciplines. Over the course of four years, Facebook’s investment will provide scholarships for 200 students. Recipients will include those with demonstrated financial need, as well as women and minority populations that are less prevalent in computer science and, more broadly, in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Each scholarship covers eight credits of coursework at the beginning of the program.

Since the launch of Align in 2013, students who have earned a degree through the program have gone on to work at Facebook and other technology companies, including Amazon, Apple, eBay, Google, Microsoft, and Oracle.

More than 575 students are currently enrolled in Align. The program is offered at Northeastern’s campuses in Boston, Seattle, Silicon Valley, San Francisco, and Charlotte, North Carolina. The university has a goal to extend the program to its international sites in London, Toronto, and Vancouver.

“Diversity is critical to the success of our industry, and our work at Facebook is no exception. We need to establish and support a workforce that’s representative of the people we aim to connect, says Andrew Bosworth, VP, AR/VR at Facebook. “That’s why Facebook is happy to partner with Northeastern University. We want to scale the Align program, and programs like it, to be part of this collective effort to broaden the talent pipeline of women and underrepresented minorities in computer science.

“In our early trials of this program, we’ve already found dozens of people with intern and FTE roles at Facebook people who previously didn’t know computer science was an option for them or didn’t feel like it was a career for them. We know this works, and it’s why we’re increasing our investment here.”

Facebook is also committing to support three other institutions — Columbia University, Georgia Tech, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign — as they launch equivalent master’s programs modeled after Northeastern’s efforts. Facebook’s goals are to build greater awareness around these programs in the U.S., to inspire companies to sponsor similar initiatives at other schools, and to form a consortium of at least 15 U.S. colleges and universities within four years to focus on increasing diversity of thought and demographics in computer science. Facebook and Northeastern are actively looking to recruit and support other schools that are willing to commit to launch equivalent programs.