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Job fair at SJSU matches black students with Silicon Valley’s tech giants

February 22, 2020
In The News

Like a lot of job fairs on college campuses, the event that brought tech-industry recruiters to San Jose State University on Saturday featured plenty of eager students and company-branded swag: Amazon foam footballs, eBay water bottles and Salesforce socks.

But unlike a lot of tech-industry job fairs — and unlike Silicon Valley itself, which has long been criticized for its lack of diversity — most of the prospective employees, and the recruiters from some of the sector’s biggest firms, were black.

“It’s really cool to see that, to see representation at all of these companies like Facebook, Apple, Salesforce,” said Harrison Peters, a sophomore finance major at Santa Clara University who is on the hunt for a summer internship. “You don’t know what you want until you see it, in a sense.”

Organizers of Saturday’s African-American Career Fair, where about 90 local college students and graduates met with recruiters from a dozen tech firms, described it as one step toward addressing the stubborn problems Silicon Valley has had in recruiting and retaining black workers.

“We have seen an explosion of opportunity that tech has created in the global economy for some,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Santa Clara, whose office put on the event. Meanwhile, Khanna added, “There are a lot of people in East San Jose and South San Jose that haven’t had the opportunity to even visit places like Apple and Google, let alone to work there.”

Industry-wide, less than 7 percent of tech employees in 2015 were black, according to a 2017 Government Accountability Office study, which found that percentage had not significantly changed in the previous decade.

Just 2.9 percent of Salesforce’s workers in the United States identify as black, according to Tony Prophet, the company’s chief equity officer, who spoke to students before the job fair began.

“We are not putting those data out there because we’re proud of them,” Prophet said. “We are putting those data out there to be held accountable and to create a benchmark for the future.”

Several students said they appreciated being able to talk with recruiters in a smaller and more intimate setting, where they could learn more about what jobs the big tech firms are hiring for. At other job fairs he has attended, recent Columbia University graduate Robert Boyle said, things were a lot less personal.

“It was really just, ‘Give us your resume, and we’re not really going to talk to you because there’s a line of 50 people that are behind you,'” Boyle said. “This is definitely a much better opportunity.”

Charlotte Kaninda, a student in the informatics master’s program at San Jose State who has a bachelor’s degree in computer science, said she has applied for plenty of tech jobs and gone to other career fairs, but so far hasn’t received the type of offers she’d hoped to receive for full-time positions.

For now, Kaninda said, she is doing data analysis as a contract worker. As her search continues, Kaninda said she appreciated getting to talk with recruiters about how to improve her resume and, she hopes, stand out from crowds of other applicants.

“I know how well I work, how well I can do the job, and I’m thinking with the right opportunity I’ll do wonders,” Kaninda said. “At the end of the day it’s about skills, but you might be overlooked for some reason — this is an opportunity for someone to take a second look.”

And the fair was not just aimed at those students seeking jobs and internships. It was also an effort to reach actual tech companies, which might focus recruiting efforts on the small handful of elite colleges where well-connected students already have a leg up in nabbing the industry’s high-paying jobs.

An institution like San Jose State turns out plenty of graduates who have the skills those companies are looking for, President Mary Papazian and other university leaders noted, but are much more likely to be people of color or the first in their family to go to college. So Khanna and others said they hope the fair becomes an annual tradition at San Jose State and other local colleges.

“Not all of the talent is at Stanford and MIT,” Khanna said.