TechPrep: Finding and inspiring the technologists of the future with Facebook

It’s no secret that the technology sector struggles with diversity. Engineers at tech’s biggest and brightest companies are predominantly white and male. This is not only an ethical issue but also a looming economic problem. By 2020, there could be one million programming jobs unfilled in the United States; encouraging a wider swath of the population to pursue technology careers is part of the solution.

Such is the background to our support for Facebook’s TechPrep initiative, which launched last week. A California-based McKinsey team led by Susan ColbyJames Manyika, Helen Ma, Kelsey Robinson, and Lareina Yee worked with Facebook for several months to research and understand ways to boost the talent pipeline of young people of color and women in tech. The team researched the attitudes of parents and children to careers in programming and then curated an online platform to provide the information and resources they need. The TechPrep website features resources, profiles, and videos in English and in Spanish to spark interest, inform, and inspire.

“The lack of diversity in most tech organizations—and many organizations in general—means that we’re not getting the benefit of the full talent pool. And for these young people, the opportunities that careers in tech bring are tremendous,” says Susan.

The team brought together members with expertise in social-science research, consumer marketing, user experience, technology, and education. The nature of the project quickly became personal. “I never even considered computer science as a career, so it’s been really interesting to think about why I didn’t pursue it. Others on the team with technical backgrounds felt a personal commitment to this cause. I think this is one of the most meaningful projects that the team has done," says Kelsey.

Kevin Caldwell, an associate based in San Francisco, agrees. “I grew up in a community where economics had limited many people’s educational opportunities.  But at an early age, I discovered that I could speak the language of math and science.  It just clicked," says Kevin.  “I want to see that happen for more kids today.”

“Many of us are parents who are trying to encourage our kids too. Even though I’m in this field, I learned a ton,” explains Lareina. She was happy to learn from the team’s research that Minecraft, beloved by her two young sons, is also a helpful introduction to programming concepts.

The path to achieving parity in tech holds different obstacles for girls, Latinos, and African-Americans. “The barriers are not one-size-fits-all,” says Lareina. For African-Americans and Latinos, less awareness of computer science is due to less access to both people and programs in computer science. This significantly contributes to decisions about dropping out of the field when the same groups decide to pursue it. Meanwhile, women and girls use the computer science resources available to them at a lower rate than men and boys. Only 24 percent of females take computer classes in school, compared to 35 percent of males. And only 33 percent of women and girls say they would be good at working with computers, compared with half of men and boys.

What’s more, parents are largely unaware of how to encourage their children to pursue computer science: 77 percent say they don’t know how to help their children in this regard at all. That figure increases to 83 percent for parents without college degrees or with lower incomes. When women, African-Americans, and Latinos report that being encouraged to pursue computer science by a parent or guardian was a primary motivator, there’s reason to believe an increase in parental awareness and involvement could yield dividends in the future for a diverse body of technologists.

What does the future hold? For the initiative, McKinsey will continue as a research partner to Facebook and share some of the key findings garnered from the project. “The research is not exclusive to Facebook. In fact from day one the goal has been to create an open platform and pipeline (hence the age range) that benefits the sector as a whole and society at large. So colleagues are encouraged to draw on this research and leverage it with their own clients and others in the tech community,” James explains. 

For computer science and technical professions, “We have an enormous way to go for girls and underserved populations, but I think the awareness has improved. It’s starting to become more transparent that we don’t have a true representation of the population in these professions,” Lareina says.

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