Intercom’s Karen Church discusses why the company is funding an EDI scholarship for students on UL’s immersive software engineering course.
From September 2022, software company Intercom will provide an equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) scholarship worth €10,000 for students on the immersive software engineering (ISE) course at University Limerick (UL).
Any student taking the course and also registered with the UL Access, Reception, or Disability Care Services is eligible to apply for the scholarship.
There will also be a $10,000 scholarship for female students in the ISE program announced by Transact Campus, headquartered in Arizona. The payment software company has its international headquarters in Limerick, where it added 110 new jobs in 2020.
Last July, Transact Campus joined other Limerick tech employers like Dell to develop a cybersecurity apprenticeship program at UL to close the skills gap in that sector.
Applications for both the Intercom EDI grant and the Transact Campus grant will open in September. Applicants must complete a written submission and participate in an interview to be considered.
Students who are successful in their application will receive €5,000 to be awarded in the first semester of their first year and another €5,000 at the start of their second year.
The ISE course aims to change the way computer scientists are trained by helping them learn through hands-on experience, building and collaborating with people in industry through residencies.
To understand why it’s important to fund EDI technology initiatives, SiliconRepublic.com spoke with Karen Church, Intercom’s vice president of data science and research.
‘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 to our collective future, so the opportunity to train and work in this space and drive change in the world should be open to everyone, regardless of their background.
“Diverse teams drive better problem solving and innovation from new perspectives and insights, opening up a world of possibilities when it comes to new ideas.
“It is important for all of ISE’s industry partners to create an inclusive learning environment,” said Church. “This allows us all to take advantage of more diverse graduates joining the workforce and contributing to the broader tech ecosystem.”
Church pointed out that Intercom serves a wide range of customers around the world, and that “building products for diverse companies starts with building a diverse team”.
Intercom is headquartered in San Francisco and has offices around the world. The 25,000 customers include Atlassian, Amazon and Lyft Business.
Prior to her current role at Intercom, Church was 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 behaviour.
Intercom was co-founded in 2011 by four Irishmen, one of whom, Des Traynor, recently spoke at Future Human 2022 about the future of entrepreneurship. Like Church, Traynor has spoken at Inspirefest before.
As a data analyst, Church has a unique understanding of what happens when 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 fostering diversity in your workforce and leadership teams are limitless. Diverse teams have been repeatedly proven to be more innovative, productive and happier.
“This has a knock-on effect on bottom line, increases retention and helps improve the overall company culture. Not investing in or advocating for greater diversity and inclusion in your company and the wider tech community will waste potential talent, hinder innovation, widen diversity and inclusion gaps and hinder prosperity.”
The way to avoid wasting talent is to invest in education, she said, adding that she would like to see more companies invest in EDI education initiatives as well.
‘Students have the opportunity to rotate as interns at multiple companies’
– KAREN CHURCH
As part of the show, Intercom will also provide other, more holistic support to program participants. Church described it as a “partnership between industry and the UB, bringing together the best of both to prepare students for the real workforce.”
“This partnership means students will gain both a combination of deep academic theory and tangible industry experience, giving them the opportunity to solve real-world problems, and gain invaluable experience working in teams with impactful professionals.”
“The exciting thing about this program is that students have the opportunity to rotate as an intern at multiple companies. They will be exposed to different industries, different problems and different people, giving them a well-rounded experience and a greater ability to learn and adapt quickly when they graduate.
“Our goal is for them to leave the program as confident engineers with new skills in their toolkit and new insights about themselves, their passions and their strengths.”
So, what kind of student does the program hope to attract? “I would 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 replied.
And for those thinking about applying and concerned that they don’t have the required skills, Tiziana Margaria, co-director of the ISE degree at UL, said there was “no prerequisite” to be able to program.
“We would also like to see applications from students who until now hadn’t thought of software or technology as a possible avenue for themselves,” said Margaria, adding that Intercom and UL looked forward to combining students’ aspirations with inspiration.
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