North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University produces more Black engineers than any other college except Georgia Tech. And that’s no small feat: with a student population of less than 13,000, NC A&T is half the size of its Atlanta-based rival.
Like North Carolina A&T, other historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have thriving engineering programs.
But this success has not translated into diversity in the tech industry. Black Americans make up 13% of the nation’s workforce, but Black employees represent only 3 to 6% of workers at leading technology companies.
To ensure a place for Black talent in the technology industry, Oracle is partnering with HBCUs to promote both the talent and demand for Black skills: first by investing in students and then by recruiting the talent from HBCUs to build a diversity of voices into the company’s workforce.
“Our partnerships with HBCUs have a strategic goal: to build deeper and more impactful long-term relationships and a pipeline of technical talent,” says Brittiney Jones, diversity and inclusion consultant at Oracle. “To do that, we need to start well before the job interview and engage students upstream in their academic programs. We are building relationships with deans, faculty, and students that will extend beyond the classroom and help shape Oracle’s future.”
To create space for Black voices to influence the future of Oracle, senior leadership has made a commitment to reach young engineers before they start their careers. An important early part of this effort was to enlist influential Oracle executives as sponsors of HBCUs to ensure that curriculums align with business. The company also has representation on the board of Advancing Minorities’ Interest in Engineering (AMIE), a coalition of corporations, government agencies, and HBCU engineering schools.
“We had to expand awareness of the valuable talent at HBCUs,” says Jones. “In the tech industry, most think of engineering schools and Ivy League Schools—places like MIT or Stanford. But there’s a whole world of engineering talent at HBCUs and they are hidden gems.”
Introduction soon evolved into specific action. For example, Oracle Executive Vice President Steve Miranda is the executive sponsor of North Carolina A&T and is sponsoring a scholarship fund for students interested in product development. And Senior Vice President, Developer Services for Oracle Cloud Infrastructure Dan Gerrity is the executive sponsor to Morgan State University’s Computer Sciences and Engineering schools and works with both departments to create interdisciplinary courses, which he notes are key to understanding cloud technologies. He and his coworkers are also giving a series of undergraduate lectures, and have invested $100,000 to sponsor an Oracle Summer Coding Bootcamp on campus in 2021. Other Oracle executives oversee similar relationships with North Carolina A&T, Howard University, Southern University and A&M College, and others.
“I learned the value of diverse perspectives when I was working with scientists from different fields to develop and patent new technologies at Intellectual Ventures,” says Gerrity about the impact he expects Black talent to have on Oracle’s business. “I saw that diversity is essential for synergy, which in turn is essential for superior results.”
Jones expects that cultivating ongoing relationships at HBCUs will have a far greater impact than simply donating money, eventually culminating in coding camps and leadership development academies to support HBCU students. “There are lots of other ways our executives can nurture these programs, from sitting on advisory boards to mentoring students and faculty, giving guest lectures, and offering resources like free our cloud credits,” she says.
Gerrity says for him, Morgan State is a great fit. “They were looking for help with curriculum development, which was something I’d had experience in and wanted to explore further. I also love to teach, and I can’t think of anything more worthwhile than giving people who traditionally haven’t had a serious chance a better shot to succeed in the cloud world.”
But helping develop Black talent is only one part of the equation. You’ve got to put that talent to work. To that end, Oracle is recruiting more heavily than ever at HBCUs, focusing on the schools where executives are building relationships and investing in programs. “North Carolina A&T and Morgan State are two of our targets,” says Terrance Lockett, Oracle’s senior diversity program manager. He adds that, like everything else, recruiting has been tricky due to COVID-19. “But we’re looking forward to being back on campuses this fall.”
One idea he hopes to launch: Coffee, Coding, and Culture, informal one-to-one sessions with interested Black students who seek a more private—and honest—dialogue. “They hear things from their peers about the tech world and Silicon Valley,” says Lockett. “They want to ask about issues like workplace microaggression and how to deal with it. If they’re going to move across the country, say from a Southern HBCU to the West Coast, they want to know what it’s going to be like.”
Data Scientist Ronald Doku joined Oracle last summer after graduating from Howard University. He too had heard the tech world can be tough on young Black candidates. “I had read about things like the ‘impostor syndrome,’ where people don’t feel like they’re good enough or that they’ll ever belong,” he says. “Before my interviews, I psyched myself up, reminding myself that I got a good education, had good experience, and that, in fact, I did belong.”
To help candidates prepare for job interviews, Lockett created a learning resource, “How to Hack Your Oracle Interview,” which offers dos and don’ts, plus tips on what to expect. One key piece of advice: Be ready to explain—clearly and simply—the core business value of their engineering interests and to illustrate how they think and solve real-world problems. Oracle also offers a resume-writing workshop and a mentorship program for recent graduates from diverse backgrounds.
Account Executive Taleah Hawthorne came to Oracle from Huston-Tillotson University, a small, private HBCU where her grandmother was dean of student affairs and her grandfather was dean of the math department. “My Oracle recruiter was really helpful in describing not only the job but Oracle’s culture as a whole,” she said. “That helped me transition from a college of only 1,000 students to a large organization.” She tells HT students who are considering jobs in tech to reach beyond HR and speak directly with employees. “They’ll share their experiences and their challenges, so you’ll get the bigger picture.”
According to the US Department of Education, high schools with a majority of nonwhite students are far less likely to offer calculus and physics. Those that offer advanced STEM courses may be giving students their first taste of subjects such as coding, while in tech centers such as San Francisco students have access to coding at an earlier age. As a result, many minority students have to play catch-up in college, thanks to America’s public education gap.
“Evaluating certain skills can be a matter of perspective,” says Lockett. “A student who has learned a lot about computer science in three or four years of college might demonstrate the potential employers are looking for, even if that candidate has less specialized experience than someone who grew up in a tech bubble.”
Lockett tells Black students they have a chance to be agents of change. “I stress that they have a unique opportunity to do something groundbreaking—help the industry and Oracle gain from different perspectives.”
Since coming to Oracle, Doku has joined the Alliance of Black Leaders for Excellence (ABLE) , an employee resource group with a chapter in Colorado, where he plans to move this year. His chapter connected him to a mentor, with whom he has weekly meetings that he finds “extremely helpful.”
Hawthorne, who is president of the Austin ABLE chapter, says the group fosters a sense of community. “It’s good to connect with people who look like you,” she says. “They’ll give you smart advice, like the value of networking and having career conversations with hiring managers. And it’s cool to see ABLE members advance in their careers. It inspires a sense of teamwork.”
Notes Lockett, “The company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is real. I see it at all levels. People aren’t just talking about change; they’re doing the hard work it requires. I think the new generation of Black technologists can be part of something big.”
Mark Jackley is an Oracle digital content specialist.