I/Own It: Creating opportunity for those underrepresented in tech
In 2015, Jenny Lin, a former Optimizely Engineering Manager, had a novel idea about how to help more women break into tech. The idea was I/Own It, a comprehensive program that would develop entry-level skills, via a software engineering bootcamp, and offer professional experience, through a three-month internship. Four years later, Optimizely, in partnership with Hack Reactor @ Galvanize, is still running with, and expanding on, Jenny’s vision. I’m excited to announce that we’re now accepting applications for our 2019 I/Own It program; submissions will remain open until September 19, 2019.
This year, I/Own It will once again help jumpstart the software engineering careers of three recipients who identify as underrepresented in tech. They will each receive a fully-paid scholarship to the 12-week Software Engineering Immersive bootcamp offered by Hack Reactor @ Galvanize, a $1500 living stipend and a dedicated Optimizely mentor during the Immersive, and cap the experience with a three-month paid internship with Optimizely’s Engineering team.
This combination, establishing the skills required to begin as a software engineer and the experience necessary to launch a career, is unprecedented and the best program of its kind that I’ve seen. Two years ago, I sat in the audience of Code2040 Summit and listened as a speaker talked about two effective methods for driving diversity in tech: providing bootcamp scholarships and offering internships to underrepresented minorities. I was beaming that day because it was an acknowledgment of something I already suspected. I/Own It, by providing both, is something special. That’s reflected in stories like Brie Mariscal’s, an I/Own It winner in 2017, who went from being a security guard to an accomplished software engineer on our backend team in under a year.
So, why does Optimizely, a mid-sized, privately-held startup spend so much time, energy and money on this program each year? First, and foremost, because our engineering organization is deeply committed to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. In a time when many tech companies are asking themselves hard questions about change, I/Own It is an answer. It’s one way to drive real change in our company and the broader tech industry.
I/Own It is also an extremely effective hiring pipeline. If you love the idea of a program like this and would like to see one started at your company but aren’t sure how you could sell it, here are a few stats. Over the three years that we’ve run I/Own It, nine recipients have been selected. Of those nine, Optimizely made full-time employment offers to seven and six accepted. That’s a 77.8% offer rate and 66.7% conversion rate. This far eclipses the success rates of both our summer internship program and regular recruiting pipeline. I’m not aware of any other recruiting method with this level of efficacy.
While we’re thrilled with the results we’ve been getting, we are continuing to iterate on how we run the program this year. We received feedback from previous I/Own It recipients that being paired with an experienced Optimizely software engineer as a mentor during the Software Engineering Immersive gave them a big leg up. When things got tough, these mentors helped them push through. Thanks to this feedback we’ll be placing more of an emphasis on the mentorship program this year. That will come in the form of offering training to better prepare mentors, setting higher and clearer expectations internally for the role, and collaborating with our Galvanize partners to educate mentors about the Telegraph Track so they’re equipped with the context of what their mentee is going through each week of the Immersive.
The past two years, a senior software engineer, Jess Chong, guided I/Own It to incredible success. I couldn’t be more thankful for her leadership and the results accomplished by her efforts. When she expressed an interest in finding a new owner for the program this year, I jumped at the opportunity. We were in agreement that it was important for someone on our Engineering Management team to take responsibility for I/Own It. This makes our engineering leadership team more directly responsible for DEI outcomes and frees up Jess’ bandwidth to accomplish her software engineering goals. I believe it also sends an even stronger message about how important I/Own It is.
The other reason I was eager to drive I/Own It is my own moral imperative. I often think about something a colleague said in our Diversity and Inclusion Group. To paraphrase:
“I have to work harder than most people here to be successful at my job because of who I am. On top of that, I have to work even harder to bring about cultural change or else it won’t happen. It’s exhausting and it’s not fair.”
He was right, it’s not fair. I’m a well-off, white, cis-gendered male in America, and I have no major physical or mental limitations. I hit the privilege jackpot. It’s time for people like me to carry more of the weight for driving change in tech. If you have a similar surplus of privilege, please stop and take a moment to reflect. Is there more you could be doing to share your privilege, to make opportunities for other people with less privilege? Think about who at your company is advocating for change. Is it usually people with less privilege? Can you share the load by taking on some of the grunt work? If you find yourself answering yes to any of these questions, please heed this call to action: take your first step today. Help us spread the word about I/Own It. If you’d like to go even further by starting a conversation about creating a program like I/Own It at your company, please reach out; I’d love to help you get started.
I/Own It applications will remain open until September 19, 2019. If you’re interested in applying or just learning more about the program, please visit the I/Own It website.