The Atlantic

Are Universities Training Socially Minded Programmers?

Four Stanford engineers started a club for students interested in using their skills for social good. But then came job-recruiting season.
Source: JR Cabansag

Vicki Niu arrived at her freshman orientation at Stanford, in 2014, with dreams of changing the world with technology. At Stanford, professors consulted for Facebook and Google, and students took classes in buildings named for Gates, Hewlett, and Packard. Google, Yahoo, and Snapchat had been started by students while they were on campus. “I remember before coming here, I looked up a list of Stanford alumni, and was like, I can’t believe these people started all these companies,” Niu told me. “It had to be this place that made people so exceptional.”

But even as a freshman—years before popular sentiment began to turn against the tech industry—Niu took issue with an engineering culture that she saw as shallow. “I saw my really bright peers starting these CS + Social Good, Stanford’s first student group focused on the social impact of computer science. “We wanted to create a community of people that valued impact,” she said. “To remind computer scientists that they have skills to do things that matter and remind folks who are already doing impact-oriented work how technology is a tool they could also leverage.”

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