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What You Should Know About The “Inspiration-Excellence” Gap, According To The Industry’s Leading Engineers

Technology and tech stacks are changing all the time, and leading engineers must constantly push themselves to learn new skills across platforms and disciplines to stay at the cutting edge or risk falling behind on industry best practices.

Reaching this level of proficiency is impossible after only a few weeks or months-long computer science courses currently being offered by most high schools, colleges, and online programs. 

This means that there is a gap–one I like to call the “inspiration-excellence gap”–between university CS curriculum and industry demands, between the skills students are graduating with and the mastery that will be expected of them when they reach the professional level.

Defining the inspiration-excellence gap

CodePath’s vision is that our Black, Latinx, Indigenous students from low-income and first-gen backgrounds become the next generation of tech leaders. Getting there requires us to clearly define the industry standard for engineering excellence and measure and guide their progress in order to ultimately close the gap.

To accomplish that aim, we’ve convened an amazing group of engineering leaders that we call the Engineering Brain Trust. The initial group includes Dwana Franklin-Davis (CEO of Reboot Representation, fmr. Mastercard), Vivek Vaidya (GP, CTO of super{set}), Steve Newman (CTO of SentinelOne, fmr. Google Docs), Sona Venkat (VP Engineering at Comcast, fmr. Microsoft), and Mike Curtis (Board of Directors at Zendesk, fmr. Head of Engineering at Airbnb). 

In our first meeting, we reviewed engineering performance, standards, and essential skills based on personal experience and compared to published career ladders across the industry. Then, we discussed how we can apply these insights to CodePath’s curriculum pathways.

One of my biggest takeaways from the meeting was listening to the EBT members describe, from their experiences, the specific gaps they have seen between existing computer science curriculum and industry needs. Mike spoke to the difficulty of replicating an industry environment in a classroom setting–from large codebases, to multiple services, to complex toolchains. Dwana added that the gap can exist because classroom material is often not relatable–especially to underrepresented minority students.

While the gap certainly exists across the board, it is often the largest for underrepresented minority talent who might lack access to the proper, robust training and work experience we’re talking about that is so essential. This is what makes the work CodePath does so critical because everyone should have access–at no cost, no matter their background–to the training, real-world experience, and connections that prepare them for a career of tech excellence.

Designing CodePath courses that close the gap

On the one hand, there are courses that “inspire” students to begin their path in computer science. According to a 2020 College Board study, overall participation in AP computer science went up 184% over 4 years, and in that time, participation by underrepresented students outpaced overall growth. In 2021, the number of women-identified students who took an AP computer science exam grew 10x in 10 years (according to 

But unfortunately, many of these students do not go on to pursue computer science in college let alone graduate with a degree, job, or internship. In fact, computer science is known to be a field that causes many students to switch majors or even drop out of college entirely. For underrepresented minorities, the percentage of those who start a CS degree but leave their program before graduating can be as high as 80%.

The problem is that most courses out there–even at the university level–simply do not have the depth of resources or support needed to practically set students up for career success. They promise proficiency after only a short period of time with no exposure to real-world developer environments.

This is what we mean when we say that CodePath courses go “beyond inspiration.” As Mike alluded to, technical excellence requires thousands (not hundreds) of hours of hands-on, full stack coding experience learning multiple languages and wrapped around a supportive community of fellow students, talented instructors, and professional mentors.

These key ingredients are needed to adequately prepare young engineers, especially underrepresented minorities, low income and first-gen students, for a rewarding and fulfilling lifelong technology career.

Now don’t get me wrong, inspiration is certainly the first step. But it is important for students, as well as philanthropists supporting the field, to start reaching beyond inspiration and look for more rigorous, holistic programming.

The view from the top: achieving excellence

Now imagine you are Sisyphus rolling the boulder up the hill. Proficiency in software engineering requires persistent time and energy. It means seeing the same thing from multiple different contexts and angles, building projects and code across multiple languages and tech stacks done over multiple separate periods of time to maximize retention. 

To land a top tech job–on top of all the technical training–you also need a great resume and LinkedIn profile, 100+ hours of studying for technical interviews, and experience building real apps in each relevant tech stack. 

There are no easy ways out. Trying to cram as much as possible in a short amount of time without sufficient spaced, repetition causes cognitive overload, low retention, and can lead to burnout and program ineffectiveness. The only way to successfully get the boulder up the hill is to constantly be applying your skills, keeping momentum, and building your strength so that you do not fall behind and have to start again. 

As challenging as it is, striving for excellence for our underrepresented minority students is worth it. While a job in IT today might pay a yearly salary of around $50K, top software engineering jobs pay $100-200K+. For many Black, Indigenous, Latinx, or first-gen students, the opportunity to have this kind of career has not always been available. This is about more than just learning to code–it is about economic mobility, more diversity in leadership, and ultimately gender and racial equity in tech.

We are thrilled that more students are inspired to want to learn computer science, and CodePath is here to ensure that someone is there to support them all along the way on their path to excellence.