The Northeastern University Silicon Valley campus recently held two separate “Hack into Tech” events in the San Francisco Bay Area as the institution tries to introduce more people into the realm of computer science.
The events, which are held two to three times a month, was the brainchild of dean of the university’s College of Computer and Information Science Carla Brodley, and pushed forward with the help of Northeastern Silicon Valley chief executive officer and regional dean P.K. Agarwal.
The two recent events — one at the Silicon Valley campus and another in San Francisco — drew a total of about 120 people, Agarwal told India-West.
The Indian American educator, prior to settling into his role at Northeastern, where he has been since June 2015, built a strong resume of career stops in technology and leadership positions, which warranted his hiring.
Agarwal moved to the U.S. after earning his bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from IIT Delhi to pursue his master’s, which he earned in mechanical engineering from California State University-Sacramento. He also earned a master’s in operations research from U.C. Berkeley.
Agarwal would go on to spend many years working in technology-related positions, working as the chief information officer for the California Franchise Tax Board, executive vice president and CIO at NIC Inc., and vice president of what is now Xerox.
In 2005, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger asked him to join the state of California as its chief technology officer, where he remained through 2010.
“The IT systems were pretty broken and they wanted someone with a blend of public sector as well as private sector experience,” Agarwal told India-West. “That was quite a treat. I was the first Indian political appointment in the state of California.”
Following his five-year stint working for the state in Sacramento, Agarwal moved to the Bay Area to serve as the CEO of TiE Global and helped build it into a “true global organization,” he said.
Agarwal felt he made his mark with TiE, launching chapters in various countries, and took six months off to serve on the advisory board at Sierra Ventures and adjunct faculty at the University of Southern California until he “fell into this job at Northeastern.”
Northeastern, a Boston, Mass.-based university, wanted to build a campus in the heart of Silicon Valley to cater to the technology industry.
“They thought this is a very important place to be, and not as an extension program, but as a standalone campus that’s going to really take care of the local community,” Agarwal noted. “Interestingly enough, they didn’t want to treat this as a university, they wanted to treat it as a startup.”
Agarwal, with his startup and technology experience, and with his connections from his time at TiE, built the Northeastern Silicon Valley campus brand as the startup the university had hoped it to be, he said.
Part of building the brand is putting together these Hackathon events, such as the two recent ones in the Bay Area.
“(Brodley’s) passion is diversity, bringing a lot more women into STEM,” Agarwal told India-West. “The challenge is that, all the stuff to bring more diversity, there is a huge gap. There is a lot going on at the high school and pre-high school level, but that’s going to take more than a decade before they get into the workforce.”
The Hack into Tech events are a two-fold effort to either introduce or reintroduce people into computer science. The program allows people to get introduced to the field and generate interest for the master’s program at the Silicon Valley campus.
The one-day program gives attendees simple programming languages, and allows them to program some devices, among other practices.
“By the end of the day, they all said, ‘It’s not that hard. I think I can do this,’” Agarwal said. “That’s the whole idea, it’s a promotional event to get people into computer science.”
Outside of the newbies into the field, Agarwal believes the program can scratch the itch of some former computer science employees to “help bridge the gap.”
“It gives them the ability to come back to the workforce,” Agarwal noted.
According to Agarwal, there is a 400,000 person gap between demand and supply, with that gap growing. He added that roughly 15,000 jobs require a master’s in computer science.
Brodley designed the program to take people who are not into computer science and in three years, they can get a master’s in computer science, Agarwal said. Part of the three years’ factors in an internship-type coop with a government organization.