Promising Practice Apprenticeship Program


Industry: Technology

Principle 1: Employment and Compensation

Principle 2: Work-Life Balance and Career Development

In the heavily male-dominated tech sector, Pinterest has made gains in the number of female employees, growing from 40% to 44% women overall and increasing women engineering interns from 32% to 49%. Pinterest was also able to bring on new senior leaders like Li Fan, head of engineering, Ruben Ortega, head of the Seattle engineering office, August de los Reyes, head of product design, and Candice Morgan, head of diversity. In an effort to broaden the pipeline from which tech companies traditionally recruit and provide opportunities for people from underrepresented backgrounds, Pinterest launched an Apprenticeship Program.

The Pinterest Apprenticeship Program is an opportunity for candidates from non-traditional tech backgrounds to experience engineering at Pinterest. Those who are currently underrepresented in tech and at Pinterest (women and underrepresented minorities) are especially encouraged to apply. Apprenticeships are one-year long with the opportunity for conversion to employment every three months. The goal of the program is to expose candidates who would not otherwise be considered for engineering roles at Pinterest to real-life technical problems. At six months, candidates are reevaluated to ensure they are on track for employment by one year.

"Programs like these are proof that companies that claim that their diversity problems are due to pipeline problems are just not looking in the right places. Not only has the apprenticeship program brought a group of talented developers into Pinterest, it has made the rest of us better developers by forcing us to check our assumptions and exposing us to differing viewpoints and ideas." 
Sha Sha Chu
Apprentice Mentor
San Francisco Bay Area

The Program debuted in Q1 2016, when the inaugural class of three apprentices was selected. They are placed on various engineering teams across Pinterest. The current class consists of one woman and two men, and all three are from underrepresented ethnic backgrounds (Black, Hispanic, or Native American).

How does this promising practice work?

Pinterest offers three to five paid apprenticeships/year starting in Q1 of 2016. Applications for the 2017 Apprenticeship Program will be available in early 2017.

Who Pinterest targets

• Candidates from non-traditional tech backgrounds. This includes but is not limited to:
o Bootcamp grads (e.g. C4Q, DevBootcamp, Hackbright, Galvanize, Flatiron School, etc.)
o Candidates looking to return to or re-enter the tech workforce
o Self-taught coders
o Candidates without a computer science degree
o Candidates from atypical companies or colleges/universities
• Self-motivated and eager candidates with a passion to learn to code and curiosity to learn what it is like to work and succeed as an engineer at Pinterest.
• Applications are especially encouraged from groups currently underrepresented in the field of computer science (e.g., women, Black, Hispanic, and American Indian populations).

What they receive

• Work alongside other Pinterest engineers on a tightly scoped, high-impact project.
• Assigned a mentor to help navigate the technical challenges associated with being an engineer at Pinterest.
• Professional and personal development through various learning and development opportunities.

This program is in its infancy, but all of the Apprentices are performing well and are excited about their progress towards conversion to full-time Pinterest Software Engineers.
Pinterest recruits mentors who are passionate about helping the apprentices learn, grow, and develop into successful full-time software engineers. Employees are recognized for their work as mentors in that it becomes a core part of their role throughout the time they are mentoring and they are recognized by leadership. Mentors are matched with apprentices based on their skillsets and how these align with the skillsets they are trying to build for their apprentices.

"The Apprenticeship Program has provided me with a support system and the resources necessary to succeed in a fast-paced environment. Being able to work alongside really intelligent, kind and helpful individuals has made the transition into programming enjoyable. This opportunity has been invaluable to my growth and success as an engineer." 
Madelyn Tavarez
San Francisco Bay Area

Due to the success of the program so far, the next class of apprentices will be expanded from three to six.

How can I adopt this promising practice in my workplace?

Expectations for the role an apprentice is being hired into must be clear. For example, apprentices have one year to reach proficiency. While there may be a slightly higher level of coaching at the outset, Pinterest has found that apprentices with a broad range of backgrounds can successfully complete the work in the program and graduate to full-time status.

Additional guidelines include the following:

1. Expand the set of universities to recruit from, and launch an early identification intern program for freshman and sophomore students from underrepresented backgrounds.
2. Work with outside strategy firms to understand barriers to inclusion within your company, where staff can experiment with new ways to improve diversity.
3. Have every employee participate in training to prevent unconscious bias.
4. Support the creation of a training and mentorship program to maximize the impact of software engineers and students from underrepresented groups, led by one of the engineers.
5. Goals should be shared publicly to promote accountability for meaningful change in firm diversity.
6. Top-down support of the program: Those at the executive and management levels must show their support and be champions of program.
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