Gild says its algorithms could be used to lift people out of poverty

Gild says its algorithms could be used to lift people out of poverty

Summary: Poor communities have undiscovered talent that can be nurtured and channeled into well paying jobs such as software engineering.

Vivienne Ming


I had a fascinating conversation recently with Vivienne Ming, Chief Scientist at Gild, a San Francisco-based company that scans the Internet to identify potentially great software engineers for their clients.

Finding good talent — especially software engineers — is incredibly hard, but Gild says its algorithms can identify people with the right fit, in qualifications and also in cultural fit, sometimes in places where companies wouldn’t think of looking.

Gild weighs many factors: where a person went to school; their online contributions to Github and other online sites; where they are currently employed; and subtle factors such as the words they use to list and describe their skills.

One of the top software engineers at Gild was discovered when he was running a T-shirt business in Southern California, and teaching himself to write his own content management system on the side.

Ming has a doctorate in Psychology and Computational Neuroscience from Carnegie Mellon University. She’s convinced that given the right data, it's possible to find people with the right attributes to make a great employee, not just in software engineering, but also in a many other professions.

Gild has discovered some interesting factors in hiring engineers. One of the biggest is that where someone went to school matters very little about three years after graduation. (This is something that Google recently revealed despite its long-standing policy of hiring heavily from Stanford and MIT.)

Social climbing by algorithm…

Ming is super excited by something else that she has discovered. She believes the same approach can help lift people out of poverty and impact communities suffering from social and economic disadvantages. By focusing on kids early in their education, she believes her algorithms can greatly improve their chances of going to college, and landing a well-paying job.

For example, she says that it’s not enough to identify bright kids. The problems with a lot of scholarships offered to economically disadvantaged kids is that they don’t take them.  

However, data shows that kids will accept scholarships if they know someone who has done the same. Thus pairing bright kids with older mentors in their communities who have successfully finished college helps to dramatically increase college attendance.

The data around kids and their education has tremendous utility, she says. It can help guide kids through their educational needs from an early age. It can also be used to help increase the number of women in software engineering and other professions, by starting early in the educational process.

While it might seem cold and cynical to trust an algorithm to judge kids so early in their lives, if the result is they lead productive and fulfilling lives, and their example influences others in their communities, then that’s a very good thing.

Gild is potentially on the brink of a much more important story than helping Silicon Valley companies discover more Rails coders.

- - -

Here’s a description from an article by Katie Arnold-Ratliff on how Gild works: 

Ostensibly, the company is an HR consultancy, doing recruiting legwork for outfits in need of fresh blood. But at its core, Gild is a matchmaker, uniting programmers with the jobs that best fit their skills — and, by extension, that best allow them to fulfill their potential. To find these people, Gild deploys sophisticated software to scour the Internet's open-source Web sites, like GitHub and SourceForge, where software engineers share computer code that's visible to anyone who cares to read it. In seconds, Gild's program makes thousands of observations about that code, evaluating its idiosyncrasies to divine insights about its author. It also searches for ancillary information about each programmer — via his LinkedIn page or Twitter account.

These data are plugged into the Gild algorithms; each tidbit, however small, is a valuable clue. If a software engineer tweets "I love celery," it's possible, if unlikely, that he's referring to the vegetable — it's much more probable, Ming says, "that he's talking about Celery, the multiprocessing framework for Python, a popular programming language. And if he uses Celery, he almost certainly uses RabbitMQ or Lettuce, and if he uses those he's probably making Web apps using Flask or Django, and if he uses Django, he knows all about templating languages like Jinja... and that single tweet suddenly paints a rich picture of this person, in a way that listing 'Python' on a résumé would not."


Topics: Education, Emerging Tech

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  • hope its as real

    As It sounds
    • look at existing precedents

      Claim one thing and when the opposite happens...
  • More Utopia liberal talk

    I am not saying that there is not real talent being wasted out there. But its not as prevalent as many liberals think. Opportunity comes to those who seek it out. It won't find you.
    • Easy to say

      There are millions of children born into circumstances beyond their control. Unless you've lived through that, you have no right to comment.
      Becoming a software engineer was easy for me. My parents gave me a computer and bought me all of the books I wanted. They sent me to a good school and bought me a car. In reality, I never worked hard a day in my life.
      I wouldn't be so arrogant to judge those who have never had it as easy as I did. Humanity is found in the hand you extend to lift someone who can't lift themselves.
    • try "corporatist" - not all who are liberal support what

      You are against.
      • Yes, but...

        ...the "life is a meritocracy" line is something that not many liberals have supported since the 1890s. In reality, everybody gets different opportunities and while people will generally be better off if they work hard and take advantage of the opportunities that do come than if they don't (and they'll generally be happier no matter what the economic outcome); socio-economic status is still determined at least as much by circumstance as by merit.

        But if someone thinks he can recruit talent from outside the usual class filters, then by all means. Were it not for similar opportunities offered my father by the US Marine Corps, I'd likely be a highly intelligent warehouse worker instead of a programmer.
        John L. Ries
  • Here's an easy way

    Lower the $ poverty threshold.

    There I've just lifted millions of people out of poverty with some simple maths that governments use all the time
    Alan Smithie
  • interesting

    As we have seen in a free market,

    More supply = less cost

    More programmers = lower wages

    In developed countries where college education is mandatory, colleges know this and have raised tuition well beyond inflation levels, and students suffer with more debt and smaller wages.

    Doesn't sound like a "liberal utopia" to anyone...
    • agree!

      "Finding good talent — especially software engineers — is incredibly hard"... this is BS.
      Raise the wages and they will come!
      do you think people want to go on wall street because is geeky or cool?
      Nope, it's all about $$$!
      LlNUX Geek
    • You are using a one-sided economic equation...

      where you talk about supply, but fail to mention "demand".

      Supply of anything depends upon the demand.

      If the demand for programmers isn't there, an overabundance of programmers will result, and we'd end up with a lot of disgruntled and unemployed "highly trained" people.
      • "disgruntled highly trained people"...

        ...who will go do something else for a living.

        I'm not in favor of artificially inflating supply of workers in a given profession any more than Adam Smith was, but I'm not in favor of artificially restraining it either. And making people spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to get the paper credentials they need for employers to take them seriously doesn't strike me as a good use of anyone's resources.
        John L. Ries
        • That said...

          ...I'm all in favor giving people every reasonable opportunity to further their educations without breaking either them or governments financially. A highly educated citizenry is a positive good in and of itself even we end up with a lot of citizens whose educations outstrip their career prospects. Part of the problem, however, is that post-secondary education has increasingly come to be seen as professional training instead of mind training; which has the effect of inflating the demand.

          Those who want to improve their minds and who can do the work should go to college. Those who want to further their careers, but don't care so much about intellectual pursuits should have other and cheaper avenues for professional training.
          John L. Ries
          • Improving one's mind is equivalent to creating an "intellectual" who

            might be ill-equipped to join the practical work-force.

            People do need to use their minds, but that is a given, and there is no need to get a high-end education in order to make a good living and be happy while doing it.

            Fact remains that, training, just to give them a set of skills, is foolish. To become a programmer requires just "average" intelligence, and most people fall into that area. But, no matter how intelligent, not everybody will be happy in programming or IT, and perhaps most of them wont be able to cope with the demands of being a programmer, or will just be plain bored out of their minds.

            The most important factor to consider, is still the demand in the economy for certain types of jobs. Supplying more than are needed, will always result in people going unemployed a long time, or just retraining for something else, or just giving up. And oversupply of a product results in lower prices for products, and oversupply of a skill set, will also result in a lower wage for those people.

            The law of supply and demand works in all facets of an economy, be it people, or products, or services, or management, or even number of companies.