Pinterest, Airbnb, LinkedIn, and others are giving apprentice engineers with nontraditional backgrounds a shot at tech jobs–and paying them to learn.
Madelyn Tavarez doesn’t have a computer science degree. She studied economics in college and interned in finance-related roles before taking a 10-month coding course called Access Code, with C4Q. Now Tavarez works for Pinterest–as an Android engineer.
But first, she started as an apprentice Android engineer.
Despite high demand for tech talent, big-name employers tend to pick their new hires from predictable talent pools in their own backyards. A recent analysis by Paysa found that companies like Snap and Apple recruit heavily from Stanford, while Microsoft and Amazon stick to Seattle’s own University of Washington. Not exactly a recipe for a workforce to mirror these firms’ global user bases.
So the odds were high that Tavarez would’ve wound up just another millennial barista with a bachelor’s degree, instead of one of three candidates chosen out of hundreds for Pinterest’s new apprenticeship program–an approach to training nontraditional tech talent that other businesses, including Airbnb, LinkedIn, and Visa are now testing out.
A SEA OF POTENTIAL
Pinterest launched its apprenticeship program in early 2016 to widen the 1,200-person company’s access to self-taught coders, coding bootcamp grads, and others who may not have had the advantage of attending top schools or working at brand-name businesses. According to Pinterest diversity chief Candice Morgan, Tavarez and two others made the cut due to “promise, passion, and a stated interest.”
To get there, Tavarez went through several rounds of interviews, first remotely and then in person. The latter included a tech screening with a Pinterest staffer present in a mentorship role, allowing Tavarez to show she knew the basics in a lower-pressure environment. But she also had to go through a full day’s worth of showcasing her knowledge of software architecture, coding, and algorithms, just like any other tech hire.
LinkedIn’s “REACH” apprenticeship program is similar. According to the initiative’s executive sponsor, Mohak Shroff, who also serves as SVP of engineering, applicants had to submit a portfolio software project, then do a take-home technical assignment, followed by in-person interviews. With more than 700 applicants, Shroff admits narrowing down to 31 apprentices was “agonizing.” This first-ever cohort of 29 started a six-month tenure at LinkedIn in April. The company hasn’t yet announced how many were offered full-time jobs.
Last June, Airbnb started “Airbnb Connect” for its engineering and data science teams. Apprentices were all people from underrepresented backgrounds who had two to five years’ experience in non-technical fields. Three apprentices in engineering were sourced, like Tavarez, from C4Q, while Galvanize, another tech education company, helped Airbnb recruit for eight additional data-science apprenticeships.
A company called Andela, which launched in 2014, is tackling the apprenticeship idea from a supply side. It helps connect talented engineers from across Africa with some 100 partner companies like Viacom and Gusto, so those firms can build distributed teams. Much as an in-house apprentice program might, Andela trains its developers extensively over a six-month period before placing them at employers.
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