Google’s HBCU Specialist is Helping to Make the Technology Industry Look More Like America

April 22, 2020
By: Hattie Hill

At age 30, Jana Landon has already amassed an impressive list of accomplishments. A graduate of Dartmouth College, Jana has worked at Google for nine years and was named to the 2019 Forbes 30 Under 30 list. But Jana’s biggest achievement is what she’s doing for others more so than for herself.  As an HBCU outreach specialist, Jana has helped recruit hundreds of college interns from America’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), in order to diversify predominately white and male STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics) fields.

Jana is a perfect fit for her position because she knows what it’s like to sit on the other side of the table. A psychology major, Jana never considered a career in computer science because she had never been exposed to those opportunities. When Google came to Dartmouth to recruit nonscience majors for internships in marketing, sales and HR, Jana decided to give it a shot. She completed an internship and was immediately hired onto the HR team. Following a rotational program, she accepted a full-time position as a campus specialist—hiring students into the same program she attended—before eventually moving on to recruit for the technology side.

“Now that I work with these students, I wish I’d had more exposure to computer science,” she said. “Minority communities haven’t gotten the same type of exposure because of their zip codes and where they go to school. But now, we have nonprofits like Black Girls Code and All Star Code, designed by software engineers and scientists who want to pay it forward and see more people like them in tech careers.”

At the T.D. Jakes Foundation, we, too, want to create bridges to opportunity. In fact, in discussing the obstacles women and people of color must overcome to enter STEAM industries, Jana uses the same language as our Founder and Chairman T.D. Jakes: “if you can’t see it, you can’t be it.”

Jana feels fortunate to work for a company that is committed to creating new opportunities for those who have long been underrepresented in STEAM. It is this commitment that has kept her at the same company for nearly a decade—far longer than most of her peers.

“Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” she said. “We want to serve everyone and to create products that are useful to everyone. You can’t create for everyone if people don’t have a seat at the table.”

Today, accessibility is at the forefront of the national conversation, with schools around the country shuttered in order to contain the spread of COVID-19. It’s a crisis that underscores the importance of Google’s mission—making sure that the people who are creating products and algorithms look like America as a whole.

Throughout her time at Google, Jana said she’s seen management take a more hands-on approach to diversity. At first, no one wanted to talk about the lack of diversity at the company. But beginning in 2014, Google began releasing a diversity report. According to its 2019 report, black employees comprise 3.3% of the workforce, a slight increase over the previous year. And while Jana acknowledges that Google—like the technology industry as a whole—has a long way to go to close the gap, the first step toward fixing a problem is recognizing it.

In one attempt to address this, the company created the Google-in-Residence program, which sends engineers to HBCUs to teach an introduction to computer science course, often giving students their first glimpse of someone working in the industry. The tech giant created the program after learning that 35% of all black computer scientists come from HBCUs but it hadn’t had success hiring engineers from these schools.

For underrepresented communities, access and exposure are typically huge barriers to entry. Jana said it’s important to expose students to these skills early on. Parental education is also key, as parents play a big role in supporting their children’s career choices, taking them to classes and helping them along the way.

Jana said one of the best parts of her job is seeing these students blossom after completing the 12-week internship program, where they work side-by-side in a pod with another intern, two managers and a mentor.

“A lot of minorities suffer from imposter syndrome,” she said. “We do sessions on imposter syndrome to identify it and to let them know that they’re not the only ones feeling it. They’re gaining confidence and abilities, and learning new language skills that they can take back to their schools.”

And while not all these students will return to Google as full-time employees, many have gone on to work for other top technology companies, in addition to startups and founding their own businesses, which she says is a big win for the industry.

The way Jana sees it, you don’t have to be a multibillion-dollar company like Google to commit to diversity both immediately and over the long term. She encourages companies to attend conferences put on by the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE). And if you work in an industry where these conferences don’t exist, she encourages companies to create their own. In addition to hiring, Jana said development programs like the Google-in-Residence program are a must.

“Hiring shouldn’t be the full focus,” she said. “Development programs help to prepare people for the industry. I’m an example. If you’re able to showcase the company and give participants a favorable experience, people will come back.”


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