SAN FRANCISCO -- Google's putting its money where its diversity isn't. A new initiative announced at Google I/O will pay for three months of continuing education for women and minorities in tech.
In conjunction with its third annual women techmakers panel, which this year focused on women working on robotics projects at Google, the tech titan said it was partnering with Code School to provide thousands of paid accounts for free. According to a blog post by the CEO of the for-profit online school for programming, Gregg Pollack, Google will pay for three months free for select women and minorities already in tech to expand their skills.
One thousand people will receive free accounts directly, while the unnumbered remainder, estimated to be in the thousands, will be given by referral. People interested who did not receive a code from Google can apply here.
Pollack, who noted that only a quarter of IT jobs are held by women and only 3 percent of scientists and engineers are African-Americans, said that the statistics were "sobering."
"Together, our goal is to invest in women and minorities so they can continue developing their technical skill sets," he said.
The free education offer is part of Google's $50 million Made with Code initiative, said Google X vice president Megan Smith.
"We shouldn't feel guilty about our biases, we should wake up and do something about them," Smith said.
By Google's own admission, its efforts to hire women and minorities have fallen far short. Women make up only 17 percent of Google's tech employees, according to Google's recently-published diversity report, while African-Americans and Hispanics comprised only 1 percent and 2 percent respectively of Google's tech workers.
Google I/O has improved in recent years. Of its 6,000 or so attendees, it went from 300 women in 2012, the first year of the women techmakers panel, to around 1,000 this year.
The panel had advice for the standing-room only audience of several hundred people. Nest vice president of technology Yoky Matsuoka, Google X hardware engineer Gabriella Levine, and Google X systems engineer Jaime Waydo talked about their histories building robots prior to working for Google, and what drove them to robotics in the first place.
"It's almost completely impossible for a robot to do this even today," said Matsuoka, wiggling her fingers. But, she added, it was important to focus on solving specific problems. Matsuoka, who joked that she got her start in robotics by wanting to build a robotic tennis partner that would let her win when she was tired, said she was motivated by answering, "How can we enable people who've lost their movement?"
"Try crazy ideas," said Levine, who used her background fighting forest fires, and the lack of robotic aids that could be useful there, to build snake-based water robots to help clean up environmental disasters. "Some will fail, but you'll learn and maybe solve the world's big problems."
Waydo, who worked at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory on the Mars rover Curiosity before a frustrating detour into the medical world that finally lead to Google X's self-driving car project, said that it was important not to get dejected by frustrating results.
"How you tune an answer across no good answer," and adaptability, Waydo said, is important to success.
Putting it in a language I/O developer attendees could understand, Smith concluded that they were in the process of "debugging inclusion."