Google CEO un­veils tech train­ing pro­grams at Pitts­burgh cam­pus

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Business - By Courtney Lin­der

In an ef­fort to nar­row the ev­er­grow­ing dig­i­tal gap so that more peo­ple can ben­e­fit from a tech-first econ­omy, Google an­nounced a new ini­tia­tive — a $1 bil­lion in­vest­ment in non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions over the next five years.

The an­nounce­ment, made at Google’s Bak­ery Square cam­pus on Thurs­day, in­cludes the In­ter­net giant’s largest sin­gle gift to date, a $10 mil­lion do­na­tion to Good­will In­dus­tries to launch a “dig­i­tal ca­reer ac­cel­er­a­tor” that will help peo­ple to learn dig­i­tal skills at all of the non­profit’s lo­ca­tions.

Un­der the “Grow With Google” ini­tia­tive, the com­pany also will pro­vide free train­ing, tools and events to help in­di­vid­u­als cul­ti­vate their skills, ca­reers or their busi­nesses. On the plat­form, Google hosts a myr­iad of quick videos and lessons to teach small busi­nesses how to im­prove their dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing, to help job-seek­ers gain in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy cer­ti­fi­ca­tion and to teach any­one ba­sic cod­ing skills.

At a lo­cal level, the com­pany said it will launch a com­pe­ti­tion for non­prof­its called the “ Im­pact Chal­lenge Pitts­burgh,” gift­ing five $50,000 grants for pro­pos­als that could change Pitts­burgh’s neigh­bor­hoods for the bet­ter, ac­cord­ing to Laura Dickey, pro­gram man­ager for Google Shop­ping at the of­fice in Larimer.

Google CEO Sun­dar Pichai said such pro­grams are im­por­tant. By 2020, one in three jobs “will re­quire skills that aren’t com­mon to­day,” he said, cit­ing a World Eco­nomic Fo­rum re­port.

Long be­fore the lux­ury high­rise apart­ment boom and be­fore the city could have made a bid for a cor­po­rate head­quar­ters for the likes of Ama­zon; and decades be­fore Pitts­burgh started pop­ping up on the best foodie lists, there were uni­ver­si­ties churn­ing out top tal­ent — but with less to show for it.

Mr. Pichai has vis­ited the city at least four times since he made his first trip 24 years ago from his home­town of Chen­nai, In­dia. It was the first time he had vis­ited the United States, he told a crowd

of at least 200.

“I re­mem­ber 20 years ago,” Mr. Pichai told the Post-Gazette. “I wouldn’t be­lieve it, com­ing back and see­ing Pitts­burgh like this.”

And yet, there is con­cern that Pitts­burgh’s tech­nol­ogy sec­tor­will see slowed growth.

Between 2011 and 2015, 17,795peo­ple grad­u­ated from a univer­sity in Pitts­burgh with ade­gree re­lated to tech­nol­ogy, but just 8,140 jobs in the sec­tor were added between 2012 and 2016, ac­cord­ing to a study by Los An­ge­les, Calif.-based com­mer­cial real es­tate com­pany CBREGroup Inc.

To com­bat this phe­nom­e­non, the city needs to pro­vide more re­gional ven­ture cap­i­tal to lo­cal star­tups. Beyond that, Mr. Pichai said cities must cre­ate a “crit­i­cal mass” of not only uni­ver­si­ties and star­tups, but of large cor­po­ra­tions.

“I think the best thing that cities can do is to cre­ate the right cli­mate, get that cap­stone first com­pany or ini­tia­tive to hap­pen, which I think leads to more things,” Mr. Pichai said.

Pitts­burgh has been try­ing to rein­vent it­self since the city’s steel com­plex be­gan to fade. In the early 1980s, 415 tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies em­ployed al­most 34,000 peo­ple, in­clud­ing 180 com­pa­nies hir­ing in the elec­tron­ics sec­tor, ac­cord­ing to “Twen­ti­eth-cen­tury Pitts­burgh: The Post-Steel Era.”

At the helm of one of the most pow­er­ful com­pa­nies in the world, Mr. Pichai said he be­lieves that clos­ing the dig­i­tal di­vide through free pro­gram­ming is es­sen­tial to en­sur­ing not only fu­ture eco­nomic growth, but suc­cess for in­di­vid­u­als.

“Even a lit­tle bit helps peo­ple in the right di­rec­tion. There’s no magic an­swer,” he said. “I think all th­ese lit­tle things, what all of th­ese or­ga­ni­za­tions do, mat­ter. We want to see how we can scale them up or ac­cel­er­ate their work or make them bet­ter through tech­nol­ogy.”

Still, he lamented that in­dus­try and the pri­vate sec­tor can only do so much.

“I think the govern­ment has to do it, ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams have to do it, and all the com­pa­nies sort of play a part. It’s a long game,” Mr. Pichai said.

“I think tech­nol­ogy is go­ing to be im­por­tant both in busi­ness and so­ci­ety, and so figuring out how to slightly trans­form, even if it takes 20 years, is vi­tal. I think Pitts­burgh is a good story.”

Antonella Crescimbeni/Post-Gazette

Google CEO Sun­dar Pichai be­lieves that clos­ing the dig­i­tal di­vide through free pro­gram­ming is es­sen­tial to en­sur­ing not only fu­ture eco­nomic growth, but suc­cess for in­di­vid­u­als.

Antonella Crescimbeni/Post-Gazette

Gov. Tom Wolf gives a thumbs up to Scott Baker, owner of 5 Gen­er­a­tions Bak­ers, Thurs­day at Bak­ery Square in East Lib­erty.

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