For low-income students, Big Tech internships can be hard to get
Jalaun Ross, a computer science major at Central Connecticut State University, knew it would be tough to land an internship at a top tech company this summer.
He had chosen to attend an affordable local public university, not a top computer science school, and he didn’t know anyone in the industry who could speak well to him with tech recruiters.
Last summer, while interning at a financial services firm, Mr. Ross spent several hours each evening preparing for the coding tests that tech companies use to weed out applicants. He eventually applied for more than 200 internships, he said, but received no offers from tech companies.
“University itself is a huge workload, especially for minorities and people of lower socioeconomic status,” Ross said. “How can people who go to average public schools compete?”
Like attending an Ivy League college, getting a prestigious internship at a top tech company can confer lifelong benefits. Highly coveted software engineering internships at companies like Amazon or Google have been known to pay $24,000 or more for the summer, not including housing allowances. They can also offer exciting intellectual challenges, foster invaluable networking connections, and lead to full-time job openings.
With sometimes over 100,000 students applying for thousands of slots, getting an elite tech internship can be as daunting as getting into Harvard.
Critics say the typical recruiting process at high-profile tech companies often gives an advantage to students at top IT schools and those with industry connections — much like elite private universities that recruit massively in the best secondary schools and favor the children of former students. Wealthier intern candidates may also have more time and opportunities to polish their portfolios and hone their testing skills.
“Assumptions of privilege are built into the system,” said Ruthe Farmer, founder and CEO of the Last Mile Education Fund, a nonprofit that helps low-income students in technical fields graduate from college. “It’s skewed toward students who have more free time to spend on side projects, hackathons, and studying for tech interviews—characteristics that combine privilege with student potential.”
(Ms. Farmer’s nonprofit has received funding from Google, Microsoft and other tech companies.)
The intern selection process underscores long-standing inequalities in Silicon Valley recruiting and hiring. This year, layoffs and cuts at major tech companies have only reduced internship opportunities, students say, exacerbating socioeconomic disparities. In response to a call from The New York Times, nearly 300 people – college students, recent grads and software engineers – shared their experiences applying for internships and tech jobs, with some describing the process as ‘rough’, ‘unfair’ or “discouraging”. ”
In the world of Big Tech
To try and compete, dozens of students spent hours applying for over 100 internships, practicing for internship coding tests or working on personal coding projects to try and impress recruiters, they said. More than half of respondents said they had never heard from the companies they had applied to.
Some students at lesser-known public universities said they felt disadvantaged compared to their peers at computing powerhouses such as Stanford, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Georgia Institute of Technology and University of California, Berkeley. A few students said they quit part-time jobs or neglected coursework to devote themselves to applying for tech internships — only to receive no offers.
Some college students in higher-level computer programs have reported more satisfactory results. Kien Pham, a student at the University of Minnesota, said he spent much of the summer and fall intensively applying for more than 300 internships.
This included preparing for an interview with Amazon, he said, spending the better part of two weeks writing episodes of his life that aligned with the company’s guiding values, known internally as leadership principles. He then accepted a software engineering internship offer from Amazon for that summer.
Some students noted socioeconomic disparities throughout the application process.
Tech companies like Microsoft and Google have internal recommendation systems where employees can recommend candidates. These credentials can help distinguish some students from tens of thousands of applicants. But students at lesser-known schools often lack the kind of industry, family, or elite university connections that can lead to employee referrals.
Another concern, Ms Farmer said: The intern selection process may overlook or underestimate university students who have jobs.
Davita Bird, a computer science student at the Colorado School of Mines in the city of Golden, has studied half a dozen computer programming languages. In addition to her classes, she has three part-time jobs: as a teaching assistant for a math class, as a teacher in a science and technology education program for girls, and as a college event organizer.
Last semester, Ms. Bird spent an hour every evening for two months applying for 40 internships at Airbnb, Amazon, Google, Oracle and small businesses. She didn’t get a response from the majority of them, she said.
“I’m expected to be both a full-time student, working outside of class, and spending about five hours a week looking for a job for an internship that can’t even employ me for five months,” Ms Bird recently agreed. a cloud computing internship at an electronics company, wrote in comments to The Times. “I wish companies would give at least one email rejection.”
The process may seem opaque to some students because big tech companies rarely disclose their intern acceptance rates or publish lists of the universities from which they recruit the most interns.
In a recent interview, Vaishali Sabhahit, global head of college talent at Adobe, said the company typically receives applications from more than 100,000 applicants for its summer internship program in the United States and hires around 600 interns. This year, the company launched a separate cybersecurity internship program with Bowie State University, a historically black university in Maryland.
Apple did not respond to questions about its internship program. Microsoft and Meta declined to provide responses for this article.
In an email, Keyon Young, director of student programs at Amazon, said the company considers applicants’ education and work experiences, but primarily focuses on aligning students with corporate leadership principles. Last year, he said, Amazon hired the most U.S. interns at top computer science schools, including Berkeley, Georgia Tech, the University of Washington and Carnegie Mellon University.
“Networking with current Amazonians is not a requirement to consider,” Young added.
To try to broaden the opportunities, Oracle, Microsoft, Google, Meta, Amazon, and other big tech companies have over the years set up a variety of introductory internship or mentorship programs for undergraduates and college students. second year. These programs aim to provide students from groups underrepresented in technology – including female students, blacks, Latinos, and low-income students – hands-on experience working on engineering projects.
Google’s effort, the Engineering Student Education Program, is designed to prepare students for professional internships. The program welcomed several hundred students from 143 universities last year. A similar effort at Amazon, the Propel program, has extended return internships or full-time job offers to successful interns, Young said.
Wealthier students may also benefit from preparing for coding tests and tech interviews. To prepare for assessments, many students practice their skills on LeetCode, a free test prep site that offers coding and algorithm problems and step-by-step solutions.
The site also offers premium services. For $35 a month, it gives members access to specific issues that companies like Amazon, Google and Microsoft previously used — and some continue to use — to assess candidates. To keep questions up-to-date, the test prep service said, it regularly surveys members applying for technical positions.
However, spending hours practicing on LeetCode didn’t help Mr. Ross at Central Connecticut State University. He described the experience of applying and being rejected for 200 technical internships as “heartbreaking”.
“It made me feel like this field wasn’t for me,” he said, “although I love computing.”
Still, Mr. Ross said he felt grateful to have the opportunity to study and work in the field of computer science. He recently accepted an internship offer back from the financial services firm where he worked last summer.
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