Piazza Bets Silicon Valley Will Pay to Find Female Programmers

Sep 04, 2014 9:00 am ET

Sept. 4 (Bloomberg) -- Apple Inc., Facebook Inc. and Google Inc. have criticized themselves this year for not having diverse enough workforces. Piazza Technologies Inc. is betting the hunt for a wider range of talent will boost its business.

Piazza makes software that college students use to communicate with their professors. The Palo Alto, California- based Web company is introducing a product that lets technology companies find and contact women taking computer-science classes. Recruiters can search for candidates based on courses, specific schools and awards they’ve won.

Women are in the minority at Apple, Facebook and Google, making up about 30 percent of the workforce. Executives at those and other Silicon Valley companies have pointed to the lack of a strong pipeline of female graduates with computing degrees applying for jobs. Piazza’s product, which isn’t yet widely available, would let hiring managers target 65,000 women in science, technology, engineering and math classes, so that they can encourage them to explore computer science or invite them to recruiting events.

“Companies are dying to engage with these women,” said Pooja Sankar, chief executive officer of Piazza. “Executives see this as a problem that they’re willing to pay well over a quarter of a million dollars a year to address.”

The majority of top computer-science schools already use Piazza for their students, according to Sankar. Palantir Technologies Inc., a data-mining company, was the first customer for the product, which also lets users directly contact women in school, she said. Piazza’s customers pay $50,000 or more annually to access its Web-based services.

Technology Degrees

Piazza, founded in 2009, has raised $15.5 million from Bessemer Venture Partners, Felicis Ventures, Kapor Capital, Khosla Ventures, Sequoia Capital and SV Angel.

Laszlo Bock, Google’s senior vice president of people operations, cited the lack of women and minorities with technology degrees in a blog post in May. He cited a U.S. Department of Education study that found women earn just 18 percent of computer-science degrees in the U.S., and that blacks and Hispanics each collect less than 10 percent of computer- science degrees.

Typically, companies looking to recruit women go to conferences centered around diversity in technology, such as the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. Airbnb Inc. recruited there, and more than half of its recent technical interns were female, Bern Coh, Airbnb’s head of intern recruiting, said earlier this year.

“Palantir could run a search on Piazza Careers and say, ‘show me all the women who have taken an algorithms and data structures class,’” Sankar said.

Sankar said after growing up in India, she recognizes how it can be intimidating for women to complete computer-science degrees if they don’t have someone to look up to. She’s aiming to connect more students with potential mentors with Piazza. If successful, Sankar said she’ll expand Piazza’s lineup to target minority students as well.