Google to open Oakland tech lab amid diversity push by Jessica Guynn

Google to open Oakland tech lab amid diversity push by Jessica Guynn

Google is launching a tech lab in Oakland to mentor the next generation of African-American and Latino computer scientists.

The Internet giant is working with MIT Media Lab on the Code Next lab, according to an email obtained by USA TODAY. Code Next is slated to officially open in October.

The lab, which has already run a pilot program, will focus on educating young people in Oakland in the educational and career possibilities that computer science and nearby Silicon Valley offer, an Oakland Unified School District official said.

Google spokesman Ty Sheppard declined to comment. The MIT Media Lab could not be immediately reached for comment.

Oakland is one of the nation’s most diverse cities located across the San Francisco Bay from Silicon Valley.

Google has leased space in Oakland’s Fruitvale Transit Village, a 255,000-square-foot complex near the Fruitvale BART station developed and owned by local nonprofit The Unity Council, the San Francisco Business Times reported.

“It’s incredibly exciting to have Google’s presence in the Fruitvale,” a busy and highly visible spot, giving students passing by a window into high-tech they normally would only get in Silicon Valley, said Claire Shorall, manager of computer science for the Oakland Unified School District.

The tech lab will offer an engaging after-school program for middle-school students just as the school district is ramping up computer science curriculum for kids in those grades, Shorall said.

“This really allows us to have a meaningful experience and exposure for middle-school students that plants the seeds of college and career readiness while still being in an environment that is sponsoring joy and creativity,” she said.

This is the first time Google is venturing into Oakland where African Americans and Latinos make up more than half of residents. It’s one of a growing number of Silicon Valley companies establishing a beachhead there in an effort to hire more African-American and Latino workers amid growing criticism of their hiring practices.

The Internet giant says it’s hiring more black and Hispanic workers: 4% of hires in 2015 were black and 5% were Hispanic in 2015. But the increased hiring has not budged the overall percentage of underrepresented minorities in the Google workforce, with Hispanics making up 3% of the work force and African Americans 2%.

Technology entrepreneurs in Oakland are trying to grow a different kind of tech community, one that prizes diversity and inclusion. Start-ups there hire more underrepresented minorities than the industry norm.

“Google’s outreach to leverage Oakland’s inclusive innovative ecosystem has been an open door approach to the community, and that is a warm welcome that tech giants should emulate,” said Kalimah Priforce, CEO of Qeyno Labs which holds coding competitions for Oakland youth. “It takes a village, and Google gets it. To survive in Oakland, it has to be about community investment.”

Diversity advocates are keeping a close eye on Uber which is restoring the historic Sears building in the heart of downtown Oakland and the growing interest in the city from technology companies.

“We like to say that as Oakland becomes more tech, we need to make sure that tech becomes more Oakland,”:said Freada Kapor Klein, partner at the Kapor Center for social Impact and founder of the Level Playing Field Institute. “We are always happy to see tech companies engaging the community. Oakland is the future of tech, and any company would be smart and lucky to tap into these students’ genius. There is a lot for both sides to teach each other.”

Follow USA TODAY senior technology writer Jessica Guynn@jguynn


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