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Google expands Howard West program to lure more black engineers

The program will grow from three months to a full academic year, and is opening up to other historically black colleges and universities.

Sign outside of Google headquarters in Mountain View, California.

Google headquarters in Mountain View, California. 

Claudia Cruz/CNET

Google is doubling down on its program to bring more black technical workers to the Googleplex.

On Tuesday, the search giant announced that it's expanding its pilot Howard West program to a full academic year. It's also opening up the program, previously only for Howard University students, to students from other historically black colleges and universities.

The program began last year when Google selected 26 Howard University students for a 3-month residency at Google headquarters in Mountain View, California. The program is intended to give students hands-on experience in Silicon Valley with classes and other technical training. In addition to Google opening up the program to more schools, the residency is also growing from a 12-week program to a full 9-month academic year.

"Proximity to resources, inclusive cultures, and fairness in institutional processes play fundamental roles in shaping a person's experience of the world," Howard Sueing, a Google software engineer and professor at Howard West, wrote in a blog post. "I found my way to Silicon Valley during a time when pathways for black engineers were much less defined."

The expansion comes as Google, and the tech industry as a whole, struggles with diversity and gender problems. Google's technical workforce is 80 percent male and 53 percent white. Only 1 percent of its technical workforce is black.

Google in particular has been rocked with controversy regarding its workforce. Last year James Damore, then an engineer at Google, made national headlines for a divisive 3,300-word memo he wrote about diversity at the search giant. In it, he argued that a gender gap exists not necessarily because of sexism, but in part because of "biological" differences between men and women. Days after the memo went viral, CEO Sundar Pichai fired Damore.

Earlier this month, Damore filed a lawsuit against his former company, alleging that Google discriminates against white men and conservatives. Meanwhile, the US Department of Labor is probing Google for allegations of gender pay discrimination. 

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