It’s no secret that the tech industry often doesn’t fully represent the people it tries to serve. Tech companies can often be homogeneous, and many of those leaving the industry can end up feeling excluded by corporate cultures that don’t feel inclusive.
And yet, paradoxically, there are more places available for technical jobs than there are people to fill them. This is a clear sign that the tech industry can do more to ensure the success of under-represented groups.
Microsoft’s new Growth and Resilience in Tech Toolkit, a free 6-hour course available on Microsoft Learn, aims to do just that. I was able to speak with Amanda Silver, CVP of Microsoft Developer Tools Products, about the new program.
Why non-tech skills are important
The goal of the free program is to help anyone learning computer science or working in the field to develop the more subtle skills essential to navigate their career. Rather than improving technical skills, the program focuses on improving “confidence, resilience and belonging” to help students succeed. It is also designed to help mentors and managers provide a more welcoming environment for success in the workplace.
Silver says right now “As an example, 80% of minority students drop out of their introduction to computer classes – 80%. And black and African American students make up just 6% of computer science graduates in the United States. So it’s a big challenge. This is compounded by the fact that when under-represented groups graduate, “they may actually see this workplace culture that doesn’t match their background or experience. A lot of people are leaving and it’s about equity, access and inclusion. “
In 2020, Microsoft launched a pilot program in partnership with Mount Holyoke College to support essential soft skills such as “belonging, emotional intelligence, cognitive flexibility, and how to receive and give inclusive feedback. “. The program began with more than 1,000 students – over 40% who identified themselves as both women and people of color – and 200 Microsoft employees.
The current course is organized around three principles:
- Recognize the discomfort: Working in technology requires you to constantly learn new skills and be pushed out of your comfort zone. It is important to be able to recognize when you are uncomfortable with a task and know how to overcome these obstacles, including seeking expert help.
- Strategy Development: When you’re faced with a difficult problem, you won’t always know where to start. This part of the course aims to help you strategize solutions, but also to help you become aware of your own emotional state when tackling a difficult project.
- Pivot and Persevere: This part of the program aims to help you learn to react and overcome unexpected setbacks rather than giving up or putting yourself down.
While building skills like “confidence” and “resilience” may seem like corporate buzzwords, research from Microsoft suggests that participants found the program invaluable. Of the original 1,200+ people who completed the program, “97% said the program had a profound impact in teaching them skills they can apply immediately in school and in life,” according to Microsoft’s announcement. Speaking with Silver, she said the students who went through the experience “found it to be life changing and one of the best courses or type of training they have ever taken.”
Bringing inclusiveness to the fore
I think most of us who work in the tech industry can understand the fact that there are certain skills that you just don’t learn in school. People skills, organizational skills, problem-solving skills and more are often just as essential as mastering a programming language. Developing these skills can often be more difficult for under-represented groups who don’t feel as welcome in the industry from the start.
This is something Amanda Silver is very familiar with. As an undergraduate student, she had experienced babysitting in the industry, which was even less hospitable to women. “Someone tried to convince me that I should be going into a different field rather than going into IT,” says Silver.
Instead, she joined Microsoft in 2001 and has since been a major force in its evolution to open source, including helping to develop the ever popular Visual Studio Code and making possible the acquisition of Xamarin and GitHub.
The Guardian Silver knew helped fuel his passion for “bringing in a new and diverse generation of tech workers and recognizing that you need not only technical skills, but soft skills as well to be successful.”
That’s where the new Microsoft Learn course comes in. This is just one step in enabling a diverse group of IT professionals to be on a more solid and fairer footing when entering the tech industry. You can join the Growth and Resilience course on Microsoft Learn now.
Of course, that’s only part of the equation and hopefully the industry can adapt to become more inclusive as well. For her part, after being told she should quit IT, Silver says “Thinking about it 20 years later, I think I did well.”
Amanda Silver will be speaking at the TNW 2021 conference, which will take place on September 30 and October 1. She will be joined by 150 other experts who will share their latest knowledge of business and technology.
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