What’s a Columbia School of Social Work Graduate Doing at Google?

April 13, 2016 @ 4:30 pm

The use of technology in social work practice is steadily growing, as is the use of technology in the social work classroom–as evidenced by the Columbia School of Social Work’s thriving online campus.

But what about the use of social workers in the technology industry? As far as alumna Amy Schapiro (MSW’12) is concerned, social workers have important roles to play in high-tech companies.

To find out more about Amy’s views on this nontraditional area of social work, we asked if she could spare a few moments to tell us about her innovative career path—culminating in her current position at Google, leading an important social initiative.

Hi, Amy, and thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions. First, can you tell us what led you to studying for your MSW at Columbia?
I started my career as an educator and community organizer, leading programs that aim to develop the educational and career potential of marginalized youth across the United States and around the world. Social work has always appealed to me because of my interest in the inclusion of under-resourced groups. I decided to move to New York and pursue my MSW at Columbia because I wanted to develop my leadership skills and have even more of an impact. I was a Management Fellow in the Social Enterprise Administration method, with a focus on organizational management.

You are a strong believer in the use of technology to empower marginalized communities. When did you develop this passion?
The first time I used technology for community building was in 2008, when working for a San Francisco-based youth development organization. I was a community manager, partnering with Nike to implement their corporate responsibility campaign in support of youth using sport to create social change, part of which involved managing a national blogging and on-the-ground campaign, organizing hundreds of volunteers. Since earning my MSW, I’ve found some thrilling opportunities in the tech field that have changed my life and inspired me to help others change theirs. Immediately after graduating from CSSW, I consulted for Bard College in human resources, developing a new employee performance review system for one of its graduate schools—but then I received an offer I couldn’t refuse from a startup nonprofit based in my hometown of San Francisco. Called CODE2040, the organization was founded with the mission of increasing representation of Blacks and Latino/as in the innovation economy. CODE2040 recruited me as their first full-time hire, and I was put in charge of developing their flagship Fellows Program, which places top-performing Black and Latino/a college level computer science students from around the country in an intensive summer career accelerator. I led strategic partnerships, student recruitment and management, technical recruiting, fundraising strategies, thought leadership, and organizational operations (among many other things). In the process I became fascinated with the need to find ways to address the lack of diversity and inclusion in the tech industry.

And now you are working with Google?
A couple of years ago, I left CODE2040 to contract at Google and learn how to support another demographic that is very underrepresented in the tech field: women.

What kind of work do you do at Google?
I am currently co-leading the Women Techmakers initiative, Google’s global program for industry-level women in technology. It provides visibility, community, and resources to empower women in tech. I focus on strategic initiatives and partnerships, including the launch of a brand new global initiative, Women Techmakers Membership. My work involves supporting both existing resources for the community as well as developing new strategies to best serve the thousands of women in our network—and the thousands more we hope to serve and empower. The Membership program empowers women in their careers by providing access to curated resources and events, as well as information and tools form Google, our partners, and the global tech system.

People don’t automatically associate social work with Silicon Valley, but since arriving at Google, you’ve brought a couple of other CSSW alumni into the fold: Jenni Choi (MSW’12) and Nadine Rose Carole (MSW’13). How can an education in social work prepare you for a career in tech?
People frequently ask me “So you’re a social worker—what are you doing in tech?!” I have observed that success in the fast-paced world of high-tech innovation requires effective communication, a strong sense of teamwork, negotiation, dedication to working towards a unified mission despite ambiguity or a possible lack of sufficient resources, and the ability to iterate quickly in response to possible high-stakes contingencies—all skills that are strongly emphasized in the social work curriculum. Jenni, Nadine and I use our background in social work every day at Google. In fact, I think our non-traditional background for the tech industry complements the often more technical or corporate-oriented training and experience of our peers.

Finally, can you offer any advice to other women who may be contemplating careers in tech?
Working in the tech industry can feel like you’re on a roller coaster, so get ready for a wild ride that’s exhilarating, inspiring, occasionally terrifying, and unlike any other field you’ve ever experienced…and if people try to make you feel you don’t belong, remember you are more powerful than any imposter syndrome you’re experiencing. Seek out the people, opportunities, and strategies that maintain your sense of holistic well-being and help connect you to your inner motivation and drive.

Thank you, Amy. We are always hearing about social work opening doors to a wide range of career paths. It’s great to learn that these paths may now include jobs in the high-tech sector. What a powerful way to help others!