You are currently viewing This program pays new grads a hefty tech salary to work in nonprofits

This program pays new grads a hefty tech salary to work in nonprofits

When Chase Thomas graduated from Cornell with a concentration in data science, he could have gotten a job at a big tech company. But he started working with nonprofits instead, developing technology that could help solve bigger problems.

“I had done a few internships at Big Tech in the past, at Microsoft, and it was technically interesting,” he says. “And it was fun. But that’s not really sustainable – you don’t wake up every day thinking, “Oh, I can’t wait to increase shareholder value.”

Thomas is one of 11 recent graduates from a unique Associate Product Manager (or APM) program run by Schmidt Futures, the philanthropic organization created by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt. Google launched an APM program in 2002 to train new project managers; other tech companies followed. Five years ago, Schmidt Futures decided to launch a similar program focused on training new leaders to use technology for the public good and offering a salary that can rival what anyone could earn if they began a career at Google.

Chase Thomas [Photo: courtesy Schmidt Futures]

The program lasts two years, with each APM alternating between six-month or one-year assignments in nonprofits, government departments, or social impact businesses aligned with their own interests. Cassie Crockett, who leads talent programs at Schmidt Futures, explains that the program has two main goals: to use technology to help increase the impact of organizations that do socially beneficial work, and to create a cohort of technologists who are excited about use their public utility skills. One of Thomas’ projects at a non-profit organization called Uptrust was to create new technologies to help people navigate the criminal justice system. Previously, when someone had to go to court, they received a letter in the mail.

“If you couldn’t [make that court date] because you have a job or you have kids, it’s hard to reprogram those things,” Thomas says. “You have to send a literal letter in the mail, by snail mail, to your attorneys saying, ‘Can we ask for a separate date?’ reduce technical offenses and re-arrest warrants by more than 50%. The tool texting is now in place in 44 counties in 22 states.

“It’s a goal of most of our projects to find that area where a little technical talent at the right time and in the right place can have an outsized impact,” he says. During his next rotation, at the nonprofit Broad Institute, he helped create tools to help biologists use machine learning and cloud computing to discover new drugs for cancer and infectious diseases. Another APM, Adedoyin Olateru-Olagbegi, recently finished working on an open-source platform that can be used by child helplines around the world and allows children to seek help via WhatsApp, SMS or various other platforms. “A lot of times the technology they have now is very outdated and prevents the helpline counselors from doing their job well,” she says.

Adedoyin Olateru-Olagbegi [Photo: courtesy Schmidt Futures]

A participant works with a startup to create technological tools for farmers in Kenya to avoid food insecurity. Another built a tool that has helped Connecticut enroll thousands of new people in a program to help low-income new mothers and their children. (The work will help unlock $3 million in additional food benefits over a year.) Someone else worked with startup Recidiviz to create tools to reduce the prison population, helping to reduce the prison population by 25% number of prisoners in North Dakota. Early in the pandemic, another APM helped create an app in Colorado to generate notifications when someone was exposed to COVID-19. After completing the program, some APMs became entrepreneurs or took jobs with social impact businesses.

Many computer science graduates may be interested in social impact, but few are going that route now. “I think people just don’t know about all of these nonprofit opportunities,” Thomas says. “And if they do, maybe they’re scared because it’s their first job. The bids aren’t as competitive — Big Tech can really squeeze in everyone they’re looking for with their talent, and nonprofits can’t afford to do that. A new software engineer at Google in New York could earn about $138,000, plus a $41,000 stock award and a $22,000 bonus; salaries for nonprofits vary widely, but are significantly lower. His own classmates, he says, mostly ended up either at big tech companies or in consulting.

Nonprofits and governments typically need more funding to modernize their systems, as well as to compete with large corporations for other types of talent. Nonprofits also need to evolve, says Josh Hendler, chief technology officer at Schmidt Futures. “Another element is that nonprofits can be a place where technologists want to work and be tech-literate,” he says. In the Schmidt Futures program, the more than 150 participating organizations already have technology leaders in place who can guide and train APMs as they learn both technical skills and user-centered design, as well as general project management skills and how to gain political support. for projects within an organization. (Schmidt Futures also provides ongoing support to participants themselves.) But many nonprofits may not have staff in place to guide new employees, or may not have career paths that new graduates can follow after accepting an entry-level position.

If more new graduates can be persuaded to give up big tech jobs for social impact, the impact could be significant, says Olateru-Olagbegi. “I went to college with so many brilliant people who had so many skills in computers and other technical areas,” she says. “If I could just take all that shine and channel it into all of these issues that are the main issues of today, I just have to think the world would be so different.”

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