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Michael MacTaggert
Michael MacTaggert

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Google's Certificate Training Program is About Power

When I write things, I must strike when the iron is hot or the fire leaves me and I have another incomplete project. This has turned into one of them. Unlike the others, I find I don't hold out hope that the fire will come back here. The idea has a Best By date that's probably already passed and, as with some other pieces, the idea (at first tantalizing) has become so obvious to me that I find the dance required to turn it into a cogent essay intolerable. I stand by the points raised within enough that I'll put it out there anyway. Nonetheless, it is ultimately incomplete and I don't want to finish it. In a better world, I would have figured out the way to merge the narratives together into one line instead of leaving the claims separate. I just didn't and won't.

On August 4, Google announced its Career Certificates Program, a partnership with Coursera that offers training in basic technical topics as a launchpad into tech careers. It's a MOOC bootcamp or microdegree, basically, and the initial offering is for "IT support specialists." Courses for data analysts, project managers, and UX designers will be the second wave, and the program will doubtless expand if it's popular. The thing that separated this from any other private partnership between an industry titan and Coursera was Google's promise to treat the degrees the same as four-year university degrees for the purpose of hiring.

Immediately after this, more than one White Guy In Tech decided to show his entire ass by recycling his complaints about bootcamps generally. Essentially, they said the six-month program could not possibly prepare people to work in tech because it couldn't provide all the things four-year degrees promises. This is, obviously, credentialist gatekeeping. This is, obviously, erasing the experiences of people who self-studied their way into tech. It's even specious on its own terms just because it assumes four-year degrees live up to their lofty promises just by existing. However, discussing these complaints further would be a huge waste of time. In rushing to throw people with different educational backgrounds under the bus, they missed a huge and obvious truth: there is no universe where Google being in charge of a "degree-equivalent" program is OK.

Let's start with the problem Career Certificate Program aims to solve. Ostensibly, it is meant to ease entry into the tech industry for newbie outsiders. This is inherently rooted in the premise that there is a shortage of technical talent that can't fill all the jobs companies want to create, which is a lie. Companies like Google have been investing heavily in that lie for at least as long as I can remember. There are more than enough people who trained in the "traditional" path, who did everything "right," who don't end up getting hired no matter how much they try. A lot of them are people of color. As much as I could center racism on this topic all day long, and will return to it within this very post, the most obvious way that this lie does not comport with reality is that most software jobs go to people with connections at the company. The entire job search process sans-connections is a treadmill designed to wear people down until they'll accept anything or give up. Rather than solve the actual problems of fitting people who are already trained into roles that already sit vacant, companies like Google and Microsoft are all about training "new generations" of technologists.

There are a lot of potential reasons for that. Because these companies insist on hiding behind PR and employee silence, we can only speculate, hence the entirety of this article. One possibility is that Google intends to glut the labor market with suckers who'll accept lower pay as the supply of labor increases, but I'm not interested in turning to such matters. I'd rather stick to ideas about how the power dynamic shifts. What power does Google hope to gain by creating a pathway into the industry that it controls?

This is not a promise of better education or a promise of improving the industry. This is, first-and-foremost a PR move and a power play.

This is a play for controlling what software developers learn. A year after launch, people will complain about companies not accepting Google microdegrees, similar to the bootcamp stigma. But, here, it will be a corpus trained on Google tech, clamoring to work using Google tech.

Just one bad thing about Google setting up a bootcamp is that Google would have direct control over its employment pipeline and its engineers' basic education. That's super not their place. Those things should be socially mediated.

Another bad thing about the Google microdegree is that it will provide another layer of Google-controlled deniability in its hiring. The demographics of who gets to take it will be important. The demographics of who actually gets hired through it will be doubly important.

Google charging any amount of money for this program is laughable. It's a billion-dollar megacorporation. It could eat the costs of this program without thinking about it, just like its massive slush fund for failed projects eats all the stillborn projects that never see the light of day.

The "degree-equivalent" bit is branding. To be fair, the entire university degree system is about branding. But to be balanced, the purpose of Google branding the certificates this way is to turn them into an industry virus. When the students mysteriously do not get hired by Google, will they take their $300 degrees with them to colleges around the country? No, they'll be at least minimally ready for work (and all the credentialists know it), so they will take their degree-equivalent certificates to other companies and ask for jobs. This means Google would have a corpus of dedicated learners going forth, representing themselves as trained on Google products. All a company would have to do to tap into that excess would be to adopt Google products. Which is super not-trivial, but it would still be a pressure. Outside of Google, I'd be surprised if it took a year for the articles to start coming out about how other companies should be treating the Career Certificate Program as an undergraduate degree. It's just an appealing underdog narrative in general.

Not everybody who takes this degree will be hired by Google. This degree-replacement is not a commitment to hire people from the program. It may be a way to funnel more people into their hiring system, but the Google hiring process is a discriminatory meat grinder. We shouldn't assume that more people entering the process means more people hired over time, especially considering that Google already gets thousands and thousands of applicants for every position. Besides, why should we want more people to go through their discriminatory abuse process? If nothing else changes, the disparities caused by their misguided interviewing will just continue. What's the good in that?

They do this training shit and target non-white people in order to sell hope, and then they don't hire these people. They just don't. The demographics of these companies' technical teams has never changed. They train these people up and then send them out into the world with dashed hopes of working for Google, only to face the reality that non-white people are rarities at all the other companies, too. Is that Google's hope? That these people will be trained up and then other places will just magically start hiring them? My guess is yes. These wannabe Googlers will be trained on Google technologies and if they get hired elsewhere they might want to evangelize for Google technologies once they have the clout to do so.

Understand Google's hiring practices. They have historically funneled most of the resources of their organization to the enrichment of white people, whatever else they project via PR. Google's diversity initiatives are not to be trusted even slightly. They are, in effect, a white supremacist organization. They must be treated with the highest level of suspicion. If the team behind it is not anticipating that, and they are not already thinking about the ideas in this article, then they're not doing their job. But, in all likelihood, they are. In launching the project, they have already abandoned the pro-social path of not trying to leverage their way into developer education. To be fair, they were already doing that through universities. But to be balanced, this is an idea that can only grow in scope and Google shouldn't even be asking to take responsibly of an in-house alternative education path. It's a disastrous idea that could turn out very badly for everyone who isn't connected to Google executives.

As a general rule, there are always better ways to criticize an idea from a billion-dollar mega-corporation that regularly fucks people up just because it can than "wow, people really won't enter the industry like I did, huh?"

Just another day in 2020 hellworld. I'm sure the people working on the Google microdegree are very happy with themselves and the white supremacy organization they work for. We'll see what happens.

Top comments (2)

v6 profile image
πŸ¦„N BπŸ›‘

They are, in effect, a white supremacist organization. They must be treated with the highest level of suspicion.

My various acquaintances at Google would probably disagree with this extreme characterization based on little evidence.

lethargilistic profile image
Michael MacTaggert • Edited

Super don't care. This is a scrapped opinion post, not a newsletter.

The sole fact that their own reported diversity numbers were so abysmal for so long that they changed their reporting to downplay the exact figures would be enough for me to come to this conclusion. Compare 2018, page 8 (breaking out tech hires), to 2020, page 15, to see that the charts no longer break out tech to shed light on their higher-paid positions. They know the significance of this. In 2020, you have to go to the data appendix on page 52 to see that break out. In 2020, you have to go to page 58 to see their overall workforce numbers quietly tucked in. They know most people don't read those.

And before you point to the rise in Asian employees that accounts for most of the decrease in white employees (referring to 2020 page 58), just pause for a second and ask yourself how it is possible that Google authentically engaged in a broad diversity initiative when one non-white demographic that was already favored in tech (Asians) increased by 12% in 6 years when non-white demographics that were not already favored (Black, Latinx) increased by 1% in the same 6 years. Or, in the case of Native Americans, decreased. And after you do that, remember the Asian cohort includes South Asians, who are typically paid far less than their East Asian counterparts and certainly less than their white counterparts. For all we know, that Asian number could include the contractors Google buys from South Asian temp agencies like Tata Consultancy Services or Infosys, which pay South Asian people far, far, far less than they're worth because they can get away with it.

Let alone the anecdotal evidence I've encountered from Googlers I've know. They don't hide.

Google is a Silicon Valley tech company founded in the 90s. Absent a huge shift away from the white monoculture it helped create--a shift which we have never seen--the company is culturally white supremacist by default, IMHO. If you're interested in a broader attack at the software industry's hiring practices, I wrote one for Juneteenth and it links out to a lot more stuff you could read about these issues.