Karen Church of Intercom discusses why the company is funding an EDI scholarship for students of UL’s immersive software engineering course.
Starting in September 2022, software company Intercom is providing an equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) scholarship valued at €10,000 for students of University Limerick’s (UL) immersive software engineering (ISE) course.
Any student doing the course who is also registered with UL’s access, sanctuary or disability support services is eligible to apply for the grant.
There will also be a €10,000 scholarship for women students in the ISE programme, announced by Arizona-headquartered Transact Campus. The payments software company has its international HQ in Limerick, where it added 110 new jobs in 2020.
Last July, Transact Campus joined other Limerick tech employers such as Dell to develop a cybersecurity apprenticeship scheme in UL to fill the skills gap in that sector.
Applications for both Intercom’s EDI scholarship and Transact Campus’ scholarship will open in September. Applicants will be required to complete a written submission and participate in an interview to be considered.
Students who are successful in their applications will receive €5,000 to be awarded in the first semester of their first year with a further €5,000 awarded at the beginning of their second year.
The ISE course aims to change how computer scientists are educated by helping them learn through hands-on experience, building and collaborating with people in the industry through residencies.
To get an insight into why it is important to fund EDI initiatives in tech, SiliconRepublic.com spoke to Intercom’s VP of data science and research, Karen Church.
‘Your company, your culture and your products are only as good as the people who make them’
– KAREN CHURCH
“Software engineering as a field is so vital for our collective future, so the opportunity to train and work in this space and drive change in the world should be open to everybody, irrespective of their background.
“Diverse teams encourage better problem-solving and innovation, stemming from new viewpoints and insights, which opens up a whole world of possibilities when it comes to new ideas.
“It’s important to all of ISE’s industry partners to create an inclusive learning environment,” Church said. “This enables us all to benefit from more diverse graduates joining the workforce and contributing to the wider tech ecosystem.”
Church pointed to the fact that Intercom serves a diverse range of clients across the world, and that “building products that serve diverse businesses starts with building a diverse team”.
Intercom is headquartered in San Francisco and has offices all over the world. Among its 25,000 customers are Atlassian, Amazon and Lyft Business.
Prior to her current role at Intercom, Church served as the company’s director of product analytics and data science. In 2017, she spoke at Inspirefest about what user data tells us about people’s behaviours.
Intercom was co-founded by four Irishmen in 2011, one of whom, Des Traynor, recently spoke at Future Human 2022 about the future of entrepreneurship. Like Church, Traynor has also previously spoken at Inspirefest.
As a data analyst, Church has a unique insight into what happens if underrepresented groups in tech are ignored.
“Your company, your culture and your products are only as good as the people who make them. The benefits of encouraging diversity in your workforce and leadership teams are limitless. Diverse teams are repeatedly proven to be more innovative, productive and happier.
“This has a knock-on effect for business results, increasing retention and helping improve the overall company culture. Not investing in or advocating for more diversity and inclusion in your company and the wider tech community means that potential talent is wasted, innovation is hindered, diversity and inclusion gaps widen, and prosperity is stunted.”
The way to avoid wasting talent is to invest in education, she said, adding that she would love to see more companies also investing in EDI education initiatives.
‘Students have the opportunity to rotate around multiple companies as interns’
– KAREN CHURCH
As part of the scholarship, Intercom is also providing other more holistic supports to programme participants. Church described it as a “partnership between industry and UL, bringing the best of both together to prepare students for the real workforce.”
“This partnership means that students will get both a combination of deep academic theory along with tangible industry experience, giving them the opportunity to solve real-world problems, and gain invaluable experience collaborating on teams with professionals driving impact.”
“What’s exciting about this programme is that students have the opportunity to rotate around multiple companies as interns. They’ll be exposed to different industries, different problems and different people, giving them a rounded experience and a greater ability to learn and adapt quickly when they graduate.
“Our aim is that they leave the programme as confident engineers who have new skills in their toolkit and new insights about themselves, their passions, and their strengths.”
So, what kind of student is the programme hoping to attract? “I’d encourage any curious, talented, ambitious student with an interest in computer science and technology who wants to make a real impact in the world to apply,” Church responded.
And for those thinking of applying who are concerned they do not have the requisite skills, Tiziana Margaria, co-director of the ISE degree at UL, said that there was “no precondition” to have the ability to program.
“We’d also like to see applications from students who did not think so far of software or technology as a possible pathway for themselves,” Margaria said, adding that Intercom and UL looked forward to matching students’ aspirations with inspiration.
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