The tech industry thrives on innovation. But when it comes to hiring, many companies are stuck with outdated practices that perpetuate homogeneity, inequity, and exclusion. According to Fortune, Black professionals make up a mere seven percent of the U.S. high-tech workforce—and just three percent of the total Silicon Valley workforce.
By partnering with one of the nation’s premier Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Netflix and 2U are helping to change the status quo. Developed exclusively for students and recent alumni of Norfolk State University (NSU), the recently launched Netflix Virtual HBCU Boot Camps powered by 2U provide accepted students with cutting-edge tech skills training and 1:1 mentorship with Netflix professionals—all at no cost through a Netflix scholarship.
Designed to help predominately Black talent be ready on day one in their new careers, this partnership is just one example of how 2U-powered programs are paving pathways to opportunity for populations historically underrepresented in technology. During today’s SXSW EDU online conference, David Sutphen, 2U’s chief strategy & engagement officer, spoke about this shared mission with two key leaders in the boot camps’ development: Kabi Gishuru, director of recruitment and inclusion at Netflix, and Dr. Javaune Adams-Gaston (AKA “Dr. J,” as Sutphen and Gishuru endearingly addressed her), the president of NSU.
Read on for highlights from their inspiring conversation.
What [these boot camps] provided for our students was access and training and mentorship—and those things are game-changers.— Dr. Javaune Adams-Gaston, President, Norfolk State University
Moving Beyond the Silicon Valley Bubble
When asked what inspired their partnership, Gishuru and Dr. J pointed to one person in particular: NSU graduate turned Netflix success story Michael Chase.
Five years after graduating from NSU, Chase landed a senior software engineering role at Netflix—and has been driving technical innovation at the company ever since. “When we’re thinking about amazing colleagues like Michael Chase who are having tremendous impact at Netflix, one thing that comes to mind for me is: How can we get more Michael Chases in Netflix?” explained Gishuru. “And the keyword[s] that came to mind [were] ‘access’ and ‘opportunity.’”
Dr. J also emphasized the importance of Chase’s story. As she put it: “Michael is an alum of Norfolk State University who’s giving back to the university by using his opportunities at Netflix . . . to say, ‘I know a great place where you can get exactly what you’re looking for. You’re looking for that diversity of individuals, of thought, of experience, and Norfolk State University is the place where you can find that.’”
In 2019, a handful of Netflix engineers flew east to visit NSU. “The goal was just to get to know students, get to know faculties, get across the country, get out of our Silicon Valley bubble, and understand: What are students learning at HBCUs?” said Gishuru.
Looking back, this was a pivotal experience for both Netflix and NSU. “We walked away just so excited by the possibility of partnership and the opportunity and what could be done if we continued to stay connected to Norfolk State University,” said Gishuru. “There was an aligned appetite and hunger for us to do something that was innovative and new and fresh.”
Watch the full session, "Mentorship: Pathways to Increase Black Tech Talent," presented at SXSW EDU.
Breaking Down Barriers with 1:1 Mentoring
Next came months of intensive and collaborative curriculum development between 2U, NSU, and Netflix, with Chase himself playing an active part in the ideation process.
“We worked very closely with NSU and 2U to really design each track and think about the participant experience—think about what success would look like for every participant,” explained Gishuru.
Finally, in October 2020, the Netflix Virtual HBCU Boot Camps were open for applications—and student interest started streaming in.
Beyond teaching in-demand skills across three separate tracks in data science, advanced Java, and UX/UI design, the boot camps offer NSU students regular, personalized advice and insight from Netflix tech professionals. “Not only did this opportunity provide financial support,” said Dr. J, “but what it really provided for our students was access and training and mentorship—and those things are game-changers.”
Especially for historically marginalized students, mentorship can make a world of difference. “When you come from an environment where you’ve always had those opportunities, you know how to look for things—you know how to ask for things,” explained Dr. J. “When you may not have had that opportunity, through no fault of your own, it is important that somewhere along the line we help those students understand access, understand training, and really utilize the mentorship to help them be more grounded in what’s possible—what’s available.”
The Netflix Virtual HBCU Boot Camps are designed to do exactly that. “Each participant has a Netflix mentor,” said Gishuru. “This mentor is a part of our technical organization, so this is someone who is pretty seasoned in their career, understands the skills that are needed to navigate the spaces that folks are in, [and] can really help participants think through their next step. They meet bi-weekly, and our hope is that these are long-lasting relationships.”
Dr. J knows firsthand the power of mentorship. Reflecting on her own career, she explained, “When I connect with somebody who cares about me, who says, ‘You can do this’—who says, ‘This is important, you are important, and here’s how I can help you’—I get that hope that I need in order to be successful. That’s what’s happening here, and that is a game-changer.”
Black voices move culture. If we want to be innovative at these companies [like Netflix], we need these Black voices.— Kabi Gishuru, Director of Recruitment and Inclusion, Netflix
“This Is the Future”
Looking ahead, Netflix and NSU are excited to continue growing their partnership with 2U—expanding opportunities, instilling confidence, and paving pathways for Black talent to thrive in technology.
At Netflix, Gishuru has directly witnessed the impact that HBCU graduates like Chase have had on the company. “Black voices move culture,” she said. “If we want to be innovative at these companies, we need these Black voices.”
For hiring teams, cultivating true innovation means searching for candidates across the full talent spectrum. “HBCUs are really home to amazing diversity and talent and different ways of thinking about the world because of the different experiences of the individuals who come to the university,” said Dr. J. “[A partnership like this] really gives organizations a chance to see what is possible: Who’s out there, and how do they make a difference?”
At the end of the day, HBCUs like NSU are among the trailblazers driving the tech successes of tomorrow. “What we’re delivering to the world is excellence,” said Dr. J. “Individuals who are excellent in their given area of study, in their career choice, and now in their career readiness. That’s the piece that I think will separate [NSU] from other places. We’re really focused on: Are our students first-day ready when they go out into the world?”
In classrooms and conference rooms alike, embracing diversity and empowering individuals from all backgrounds is the only way forward. As Dr. J put it: “This is the future. This is how we’ll transform not only higher education, but [also] organizations and—quite frankly—the world.”
To learn more about the Netflix Virtual HBCU Boot Camps, visit netflix.2U.com.
Learn more about us.
At 2U, we’re on a mission—to eliminate the back row in higher education and help universities thrive in the digital age. To learn more about who we are and what we do, follow the links below.