If you aren’t already hosting Sprinterns™ — you should

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If you haven't heard me talk about the Sprinternship™ program we've developed at Break Through Tech, then it's probably been a while since we caught up, because it's something I'm incredibly proud of. This program is a powerful example of how to deliver transformative outcomes for underserved women in tech by operating in the white space at the intersection of industry and academia.

Judith Spitz She/Her
Founder and Executive Director at Break Through Tech
Written By
Judith Spitz
  • Sprinternship Program

If you haven’t heard me talk about the Sprinternship™ program we’ve developed at Break Through Tech, then it’s probably been a while since we caught up, because it’s something I’m incredibly proud of. This program is a powerful example of how to deliver transformative outcomes for underserved women in tech by operating in the white space at the intersection of industry and academia.

What’s a Sprinternship™?

It’s a 3-week, paid, micro-internship experience that happens in January (or May, in certain cities) and it’s all about helping women who are underserved by the tech ecosystem get their foot in the damn door (sorry, but there’s no other way to say it).

What problem are we solving?

Anyone who works in the diversity in tech space knows that students who are atypical techies often get overlooked in the interviewing and hiring process for internships. There is plenty of data showing that the percentage of paid internships that go to white candidates, and to male candidates, is disproportionately high and cannot solely be explained by the nature of the candidate pool itself — which is the standard reason that employers give for hiring fewer women and students of color. Given the outsized importance of a paid internship in landing a job upon graduation, the persistent under-representation of women and students of color in paid internships is highly problematic, both for the students and for industry. So what’s going on here?

Our experience over the last five years at Break Through Tech tells us that the students we work with — primarily women who are Black, Latina, first-generation college goers, and/or eligible for Pell Grants — lack what can be described as the benefits of privilege. Their resumes reflect a work history driven by the need to make money, rather than the freedom to rack up the kinds of impressive but unpaid experiences that move applications to the top of the pile. For the same reason, these students’ resumes also typically lack the extra-curricular activities that are highly valued by resume-screening algorithms, because they often work multiple part-time jobs to support their families and pay for their education. What’s more, they often lack the personal and professional networks that applicants so often need in order to get a foot in the door. And for various reasons, they tend to attend universities that lack the “tech pedigree” that many employers prioritize.

All of these factors create a Catch-22 for diverse women undergraduates: they are the very individuals that companies insist they are trying so hard to recruit into the tech workforce, and yet, they cannot overcome the barriers that these same companies erect, often unwittingly.

In 2016, we saw this play out as part of our partnership with the City University of New York (CUNY). Break Through Tech’s industry partners expressed their strong desire to work with us in order to hire CUNY women in tech into their summer internship programs — but very few of our applicants made it through the resume screening and/or interview process! In response, we got creative, and asked both our academic and industry partners to try something different. We designed and piloted our Sprinternship™ program as an innovative way to skip over the requirement of privilege and jump right to the opportunity to show potential.

What’s the goal of Sprinternships™, in a nutshell?

The goal of the Sprinternship™ program is to provide a resume-worthy tech experience with a low barrier of entry for companies, and to do it early enough in the college careers of diverse female-identifying students to actually change the trajectory of their education-to-work journey.

Can three weeks really move the needle?

Our data over the last 5 years shows that our students are 10 times more likely to land a paid 10-week summer internship once they have a Sprinternship™ experience on their resume as compared to when they do not. And the first summer internship leads to the next one, and then to a job — and then to changing the world.

Plus, we routinely hear how the Sprinternship™ program benefits our employer partners as much as our students; companies are always blown away by how much our students can accomplish in three short weeks.

Over 1300 Sprinterns™ have been hosted by over 100 company partners over the last several years, and each of them has an amazing story to tell.

Here are some stories from the January 2022 cohort which included students from the City University of New York, George Mason University and the University of Maryland, College Park.

A small sample of the kinds of projects our Sprinterns™ accomplished in just three short weeks:

  • Capitol Interactive Sprinterns™ used virtual reality photo capture to create an interactive virtual tour experience along Washington, DC’s historic U Street.
  • Easy Dynamics Sprinterns™ coded a Microsoft Teams Chatbot to improve internal communication and decipher acronyms.
  • Two Six Technologies Sprinterns™ created a hate speech classification model in LaBSE using Python.
How did our students talk about their experience?
  • “During my Sprinternship™, I realized that I loved working in the tech space — and that actually working in the real world teaches you valuable skills and lessons that I can’t learn sitting in my dorm studying.”
  • “We got one-on-one time with each of the co-founders and the senior vice president, who all acted as mentors and extended their hands to say they’d be happy to help us anytime in the future.”
  • “The most important takeaway was the value of proactive communication in teamwork, a lesson I’ll carry with me for a long time to come. To reach our team goals and effectively get my ideas and thoughts across, I need to actively communicate them. I plan to apply this to my academic and career goals by calling attention to my ideas and not letting myself go silent out of fear. They may be more valuable than I think.”
  • “I got to meet with amazing people from different teams … including Data Science, Sales, Customer Success, Design, and more. This wide overview of the functions of the company gave us great insight into who works here, how they got here, and which teams they collaborate with to create the greatest impact. This experience was more than just finishing a project, it was a real integration into the company and a stepping stone to a career in tech.”

And if you really want to have some fun, watch this “Day in the Life of a Sprintern™” video that one of our amazing first-year young women posted on YouTube.

What can you do?

If you are not already hosting Sprinterns™, you should. If you can muster the resources to have a summer internship program, then you can do the same for a Sprinternship™ program. Why? Because the future of innovation depends on all of us, and the future of diversity in tech depends on innovative collaborations at the intersection of industry and academia. GET INVOLVED!

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