Creating learn-to-work opportunities in computer science
Meet Shameeka Emanuel and Jacqueline Olliges, leaders of the Amazon Future Engineer Pathway. They spoke about computer science education and early college work opportunities, why they’re important, and how their career paths led them to where they are now.
What is the Amazon Future Engineer Pathway?
Jacqueline: The Amazon Future Engineer Pathway is a program that creates accessible learn-to-work opportunities in computer science for students in the U.S. This includes: (1) AP Computer Science (CS) Courses with cloud computing content and access to AWS Educate, (2) $10k college scholarships for pursuing a Computer Science degree, and (3) Amazon Future Engineer Internships for college freshmen and sophomores.
What’s led you to this role and creating this program?
Shameeka: I was a hardware design engineer working at a semiconductor company. During my time there, I didn’t see many people that looked like me. When exploring what needed improvement, I found that we needed to start earlier in the educational journey to really make a difference. I then got the opportunity to help Amazon build a program that could influence STEM education.
Jacqueline: I was a recruiter at Amazon! My manager told me about the vision for the Amazon Future Engineer program and I was immediately drawn to it. My background in recruiting and my passion for diversity in tech made it a no brainer for me to join the project. Being part of a team that builds programs with the potential to help students realize their dreams is truly a gift that I am thankful for every day.
How did the Amazon Future Engineer Pathway start?
Shameeka: The Amazon Future Engineer Program started in 2016 and morphed into a pathway this year! The pathway started as a big idea to increase access to computer science education and to increase the representation of underrepresented groups pursuing a CS degree. Currently, according to research from Code.Org, women represent 26% of AP CS exam takers and underrepresented minorities represent 20%. That being said, we felt it was important to provide learning and working opportunities to help build the industry’s future workforce.
The oldest part of the AFE pathway is the software engineering internship for freshmen and sophomores in college. Why is this internship so important?
Jacqueline: AFE interns work in small groups on software development projects with their host teams, businesses, and customers. As a group, and with the support of their mentors and managers, these interns have theopportunity to collect requirements, design, build, and deploy their projects throughout their 12 weeks at Amazon. These internships allow students to follow a project through the whole development process and see what a computer science career really looks like!
Knowing that the internship provides an inside look at a computer science career for young college students, what made your team expand the pathway into high school education?
Shameeka: According to research from Code.org, only 40% of schools in the United States are teaching CS. This means that a majority of students in the United States don’t have exposure or the means to pursue this career path. We think more students should have access to this exciting career path!
What advice would you give young people shaping their education and career paths?
Shameeka: Be fearless and take electives that are out of your comfort zone! You never know where an opportunity may arise.
Jacqueline: Looking back, I would have told myself to think further ahead about my career. Internships and work-studies can help you get your foot in the door and help you determine what you’re passionate about.