Amazon interviews tens of thousands of people for software engineering roles every year, and lots never make it past the technical interview. That’s especially true for college students in computer science programs outside of the elite few—the MITs and Berkeleys—that specialize in sending interns and graduates to Big Tech and start-ups.
“You could be class president and be amazing and a great worker, and if you don’t meet the bar in the technical assessment, nobody is ever going to know how great you are,” says Tiffany Blacknall Benjamin, senior program manager for higher education at Amazon. “And it’s not something universities teach for.”
The result, she says, is that a lot of otherwise-qualified students—especially women and Black and Latino students coming from large public institutions—lose out.
Now, a new partnership between Amazon and CodePath, a fast-growing nonprofit, puts corporate muscle behind changing that reality. The tech giant tapped CodePath to run two courses this summer to train college students in the Washington, D.C. area, home to Amazon’s HQ2, on the ins-and-outs of the technical interview. The high stakes interview is required for both summer internships and entry-level engineering jobs at most major tech employers.
Amazon also is supporting a third course that will introduce less-experienced students to real-world software engineering. All the work is run through the company’s AmazonNext program, which Blacknall Benjamin leads.
The big idea: The new partnership reflects a growing recognition in higher education and industry that the pipeline and equity problems in tech aren’t just about the need to get more diverse students into computer science programs, or even through them.
Far too many students get tripped up at the finish line. They lack the professional networks needed to launch careers, or essential internship experience, or the know-how to navigate the complex interview process for technical roles.
For all those reasons, many graduates—especially women and people of color—with computer science degrees don’t end up in tech careers. At the City University of New York, for example, only 50% of recent computer science graduates were employed in their field a year after graduation.
CodePath’s work takes aim at those hidden stumbling blocks. “It has to be this really robust combination of education, career supports, mentorship, and peer engagement,” says Dana Ledyard, the organization’s chief operating officer.
‘Path to economic mobility and growth’
CodePath grew out of the tech industry. It launched as an onboarding service and coding bootcamp for senior engineers at major tech companies, including DropBox, Airbnb, and Netflix. And over time, it transitioned to a nonprofit working with college students—first redesigning Facebook’s flagship internship program for underrepresented college freshmen, and then bringing its bootcamp-style course offerings directly to college campuses.
CodePath focuses on specialties within computer science like cybersecurity and iOS app development, along with running internship programs for companies. It’s most popular fully-remote course is the one preparing students for the technical interview, serving more than a couple thousand students each year.
Across all its programs this summer, CodePath will work with about 2,500 students, 78% of whom qualify as underserved. Almost one in five is a Black or Latina woman, well above the national average for software engineering roles.
“Our goal is to get students into the most competitive technical roles,” Ledyard says. “We see that is the path into leadership roles and to economic mobility and growth.”
The details: The Amazon cohort pulls even more heavily from underserved communities. The company is covering the cost of training and also is awarding $5,000 scholarships to the students to defray their regular education costs. Only those attending five colleges and universities in the DC-area, a geographic priority for Amazon, were eligible.
CodePath received more than 900 applications for the 100 slots in the courses. Of the students selected, all are from groups that are underrepresented in tech.
- 37 are women, and one is nonbinary.
- 75 are Black, 15 are Latino, and four are Indigenous or multi-racial.
Fully a third are students at Howard University—a top HBCU, but with only 50 computer science majors—and nine are from Northern Virginia Community College. The majority of participants will be entering their junior year of college.
The idea is to grow the software engineering talent pool in the Washington area, though Blacknall Benjamin says the company will expand the initiative to other regions if the model proves successful. The volatility in tech has shifted hiring plans for HQ2, but Amazon and its supplier and client networks still have a large need for technical talent, she says.
“We are part of an ecosystem of big tech companies that need a lot of talent,” she says. “We recognize that, hey, we say we need a lot of talent, so we should be part of developing that talent.”
In addition to the 10-week education programs, students will get mentoring from Amazon engineers and recruiters will participate in an end-of-summer event with the students. Blacknall Benjamin says Amazon doesn’t have any official hiring goals—it will be looking at measures like the growth of participants’ skills, feedback from mentors, and retention in computer science—but it does plan to follow through on recruiting.
“We want to make sure we’re going to these students first,” she says. “While it’s not an official metric, it is a cherry on top if I’m able to come back in January and say something like 60% followed through with the candidate process and accepted internships.”