You, too, can be a computer engineer, Facebook tells kids


Much has been written about two core challenges in the tech sector: shortages of skilled programmers and a workforce that lacks diversity.

By some estimates, there could be as many as one million unfilled computer engineering jobs by 2020, according to Raquel Lucente, a Facebook manager who works on increasing diversity in the tech industry.

Last year, Facebook launched "TechPrep," with management consultant McKinsey & Company, in an effort to ameliorate those twin problems. The TechPrep website matches kids to resources to help them learn computer programming on their own, based on age and skill level. It also advises parents how to support their kids as they learn about programming.

On May 11, Facebook hosted a "TechPrep Roadshow" at Menlo-Atherton High School, one of a series of workshops being held in seven U.S. cities to help parents and students learn about careers in technology. The program targets those underrepresented in the tech sector: females, blacks and Latinos.

A total of 208 people attended the M-A event.

In many families, parents urge their children to become doctors or lawyers because those are seen as high-status positions with good pay and job security, Ms. Lucente said.

She comes from a low-income immigrant family that encouraged her to pursue those careers, she said. Ultimately, she decided to teach in elementary school before landing a job at Facebook. Initially, she said, her family didn't know what people do when they work at a website.

She said she wanted to raise awareness and help other families learn what it means to work in the tech sector and understand the job opportunities available.

Unlike the advanced education required to become a doctor or lawyer, an undergraduate degree in computer science can lead to a high-earning, fulfilling career, said Darryl Gardner, a Facebook hardware engineer who spoke during a panel discussion for parents at the M-A high event. People can start their careers sooner and won't have to take on as much debt to complete their education, he said.

Another panelist, Alejandra Queveda, a Facebook security engineer, said girls shouldn't be afraid or intimidated to get into computer programming. Sure, most of her colleagues are men, she said, but not having a shared background – or even a familiarity with Star Wars – doesn't diminish her ability to be a good coder.

Patricia Perozo, a Stanford computer science student and Facebook intern, said it helped her to find a group of peers with whom she can study and solve problems. Challenging coursework and demanding on-the-job tasks make collaboration with others a near necessity, she said.

Menlo Park Mayor Rich Cline also spoke at the event. He said he regrets not taking the time to learn more languages when he was younger. His wife is Italian, and his three daughters all speak the language, so when the family visits Italy, it can be difficult for him to communicate. Just like spoken languages, he said, computer programming is also a language.

"This is is the language of the future," he said.

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