Apple CEO Tim Cook wants to teach every Chicago public school student to code
Tech giant Apple is setting its eyes on teaching coding to every public school student in one of the biggest and most racially diverse school districts in the nation.
Source: Aamer Madhani
Apple CEO Tim Cook told USA TODAY that the company — which like many top tech firms has faced calls from politicians and activists to take steps to diversify its workforce — in the New Year will partner with Chicago school system officials to teach the coding language Swift in city classrooms and through after-school coding clubs in a school district.
Cook described the push as the next progression in the company’s “Everyone Can Code” initiative launched last year, an effort that has brought the coding curriculum designed by Apple engineers to about 60 community colleges and 1500 elementary and high schools around the globe.
The effort in Chicago — which has more than 450,000 elementary, high school and junior college students — marks the company’s most ambitious effort to introduce their coding curriculum to students yet, according to Apple officials. The school system is the biggest district, one in which about 84% of the K-12 student body is black or Latino, where Apple has pushed its coding education program.
“We’ve fundamentally concluded instead of just waiting and going into the four-year school system and seeing how many women and minorities are graduating in coding, which is abysmal, that we had to back up,” Cook said in an interview. “(We have to go) all the way into elementary school and junior high school in order to fundamentally change the diversity.”
Apple is not alone in its effort to spread dollars (and coding) into big urban school systems, part of a growing effort to address the nation's shortage of computer scientists and the systemic lack of diversity in the tech industry.
Students from underrepresented backgrounds are gaining access for the first time to computer science curriculum through offerings from technology companies such as Google and Intel and from nonprofit groups such as Code.org, Black Girls Code, Freada Kapor Klein's SMASH Academy, and Girls Who Code.
Last week, Google announced it was teaming up with Chance the Rapper to bring computer science education to Chicago's public schools. The Internet giant's philanthropic arm, Google.org, is giving $1 million to Chance's SocialWorks organization and $500,000 to the schools.
Apple officials would not comment on how much they’ve spent on their Everyone Can Code program.
The efforts to build students' and educators’ knowledge of coding in minority communities come as tech companies have faced an avalanche of criticism from Hispanic and black politicians over the diversity of their workforce.
Apple was one of 32 top companies that recently received a letter from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus requesting detailed diversity statistics and an accounting of how much partnership and philanthropic spending is allocated to Hispanic-serving and Hispanic-led institutions.
In October, the non-profit Ascend Foundation published research showing that black and Hispanic representation is declining even as strides have been made in closing the gender gap in San Francisco Bay Area technology companies.
At Apple, about 9% of its overall workforce in the U.S. is black, and 13% is Hispanic, according to company estimates. Its senior leadership ranks are more than 80% white and male, according a 2016 federal government filing that the company made public last month.
Apple recently confirmed its first vice president of inclusion and diversity, Denise Young Smith, was leaving the company. Her departure comes less than a year after she took the post and shortly after she made controversial remarks on diversity while speaking at a conference.
“There can be 12 white, blue-eyed, blonde men in a room, and they’re going to be diverse, too, because they’re going to bring a different life experience and life perspective to the conversation,” she said.
Cook said Apple needs to do more to diversify its workforce and leadership ranks, but insists the company is making strides — particularly in recruiting more women to the company.
“I suspect that tech as a whole will look dramatically different over a course of time,” Cook said. “It happens year-by-year.”
“It’s a wave, so to speak,” Cook added. “The wave has to progress through years, and it will change.”
Officials in Chicago say Apple will help the school district launch two coding boot camps at city colleges during the upcoming spring semester that will focus on developing students’ skills and making them more marketable for internships and jobs in the tech sector.
Public schools will also start after-school Swift Coding Clubs to introduce students to the programming language—which has been used to develop the Airbnb, Kayak, Lyft and other apps— and will walk them through an app design and prototyping project.
Major companies with Chicago offices—including GE Transportation, IBM, Jellyvision, McDonald’s, Lextech, Rush University Medical Center, Ulta Beauty and United Airlines—have agreed to recruit employees to volunteer to assist the coding clubs. In addition, Apple received commitments from several Chicago-based businesses have also agreed to offer more than 100 internships to high school and city college students who complete the coding curriculum.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that Chicago is an attractive laboratory for tech companies' coding push not just because of diversity of school system but also because city and business leaders have adopted Cook’s outlook that coding is the most important “second language” you can learn to thrive in the U.S. economy. The city has made passing a coding class a requirement for all students starting with the freshman class entering city high schools next fall.
“Our diversity is important, but you also have to have a shared belief in the importance of developing the skill set for technology,” Emanuel said of Apple’s and Google’s interest in promoting computer science at Chicago schools. “If you do it right, it makes sure you can have a shared future where everyone has the chance to succeed. “
Melissa Bradley, a faculty professor at the McDonough Business School at Georgetown University, said it is commendable that big tech companies are working to improve coding skills in minority communities. But she said that it remains to be seen whether such efforts will have any impact on diversifying the industry.
“While I believe that many of these companies are well-intentioned in their efforts, the reality is that you are talking about a 10 to 20-year horizon before we know if it’s actually going to happen,” Bradley said. “Unfortunately, I don’t see a parallel track happening inside these organizations to addressing the lack of diversity at senior levels.”
Top universities turn out black and Hispanic computer science and computer engineering graduates at twice the rate that leading technology companies hire them, a USA TODAY analysis showed.