Talent Pipeline Dilemma
Also published on LinkedIN
During Thanksgiving break last year my wife and I went to dinner with our daughter and one of her long time friends. They were both back from college and wanted to reconnect. During the dinner, I found out that Sharmayne, which we have known since she was 4 years old, is pursuing Computer Engineering at CalPoly. She said it’s a fun program, but she’s having a hard time finding an intern position for the summer.
Hold up . . . I have to tell you this surprised me for a number of reasons. First, she’s in engineering? How the heck did I miss that?! Second, it’s hard to find internships? Don’t we live in the heart of Silicon Valley? The tech mecca? One of the highest concentration of global tech brands who are in an all-out battle for talent?
We talked further and she said that her class at CalPoly has about 120 students of which 10 are female. This matched similar stats I’ve seen in the industry. <10% female engineers, especially in infrastructure. Later I found a CalPoly Computer Engineering article highlighting a few students from her class striking a World War II-era Rosie the Riveter pose (See page 8).
I reached out to my team at Uber to see if there would be a fit for Sharmayne as an intern. One of my managers in the hardware team completed a phone screen. He said the interview went well and she is a motivated student with potential, but she hadn’t yet had the chance to take the specific classes in systems engineering (examples: Unix OS, Python and Go) that we need for incoming interns. He gave her this feedback and offered his help if she had any questions or needed further input along the way. His goal was to help her add these skills to prepare for an internship opportunity next year. That was great feedback and support, but it meant Sharmayne was in a catch 22. She didn’t have the specific academic training to land an internship to gain specific industry training to land a tech job in the future. She was in the murky middle.
Role Models & Mentors
This led me back to a discussion with my industry peers on one of the biggest challenges facing our industry – finding talent. Which is tied directly to an emerging threat – an aging talent population and shrinking talent pipeline limiting succession planning opportunities. Which led to the next conundrum – how do we expand the diversity of talent in the industry when we don’t develop the pipeline of diverse talent? In this specific example, gender diversity. To break it down, we have a simple supply / demand issue. We are not greasing the skids to make entry into this industry easier for students, especially diverse ones, who are still deciding their career path. If we want them in our industry, we need to get to them early.
That led to my final point. When female students look at our industry, do they see roles models of what they can become? Or, do they see an industry dominated by men?
I recently saw a posting from Brynn Fowler, a leader in the networking space at Oracle, and the co-founder of Women’s Tech Forum which is chartered with creating a community of women in the cloud, networking and data center infrastructure industry. Her article, What A Woman Sees, summed up the problem well. Her internet and stockphoto searches showed the current perception of women in technology. They’re not seen as leading, they’re seen as following, needing help. That is the exact opposite of what I have seen from the outstanding women I have worked with in our industry. To help break this stereotype, we need to showcase success stories on both sides. Brynn is a perfect example of a female leader that incoming students can aspire to become. Cindy Meyrath, CalPoly computer engineering alum highlighted in the the article referenced above, is another success story. Another example I found goes back over 20 years.
Anoop Grover is a colleague of mine at Uber. His career started as an intern at Sun Microsytems. He recently published an article about his path titled, Building for the future. One element of his article highlighted how he was inspired, mentored and sponsored by two senior female executives at Sun, Ann Wondolowski and Michaele James. His career was launched and nurtured by these executives. This reminded me of my own executive career which launched by Kelly Palmer, another a female executive at Sun. She mentored me and enabled my promotion to Director. Bottom line, she believed in me. I would not be where I am today without her support.
Sun Microsystems had one of the best cultures I’ve ever had the privilege to be a part of. They didn’t have diversity quotas, they just nurtured talent through mature development programs. Talent like Ann, Michaele and Kelly developed more talent.
We have problems at both ends of this spectrum – Attracting new diverse candidates into the industry and developing and retaining the talent we already have.
Groups like Women’s Tech Forum are powerful communities that can bring current and future leaders together to provide a support structure and opportunities for women in our industry.
The talent pipeline is the next. We need to actively change the stereotype and recruit more talent.
Pay it Forward!
To help address the pipeline challenge, I decided to leverage a conventional method. Use the power of our network to open doors for new students. This is where I would love your help.
- Connect with these CalPoly Computer Engineering students on LinkedIN to help start their professional networks. Sharmayne Tanedo, Celestine Co, Yu Asai, Tiana Ton Nu, Ty Farris
- Reach out to your companies and contacts and see if there are summer intern opportunities for them.
- Identify other schools and programs that need the same type of industry support.
- Share and comment on this post with other thoughts and ideas. Some examples: tips and guidance on how they could expand their network, references to expanded training to accelerate specific skill learning, mock interviews, etc.
Remember back to when you were in college; exploring career options but not being entirely sure where you were going. What guidance would you have wanted to receive?
Sharmayne, Celestine, You, Tiana and Ty are examples of potential future leaders. Consider them our apprentices. Industry talent in training! Lets all pay it forward by helping them land opportunities to learn and shine. Then, rinse and repeat!