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Google program plants software expert at Houston-area university

Thanks to Google, Donnell Debnam Jr. is helping train future software engineers at Prairie View A&M. Photo via LinkedIn

Computer science students at Prairie View A&M University are gaining firsthand knowledge this semester from a Google software engineer.

As an instructor in the Google in Residence program, Donnell Debnam Jr. is helping train future software engineers — and other potential tech professionals — who are enrolled this fall in Prairie View A&M’s introductory computer science course. Fifty-four students are taking the class.

“I participated in the Google in Residence program as a student, and I am honored to return as an instructor,” says Debnam. “This innovative program was created to support greater diversity in the tech industry, and as an instructor, I have the privilege of helping the next generation of software engineers create a more inclusive culture within the STEM fields.”

Prairie View A&M is one of 14 historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-serving schools that are benefiting this fall from the Google residency program. Since being founded in 2013, the program has enabled more than 8,000 college students across the country to absorb knowledge from Google tech professionals.

The Google program addresses a nationwide gap in tech diversity.

A 2023 report from CompTIA, a trade group for the tech industry, shows Black professionals make up 12 percent of the U.S. workforce but eight percent of tech occupations, while Hispanic professionals represent 17 percent of the U.S. workforce but eight percent of tech occupations.

Prairie View A&M, an HBUC, is one of two Texas universities in this fall’s program. The other is the University of Texas at El Paso, a Hispanic-serving school. The main campus of Prairie View A&M is roughly 45 miles northwest of Houston.

Google says Debnam is equipping students at Prairie View A&M “with the skills needed to enter the workforce, such as fundamental coding concepts, how to debug, and how to prepare for technical interviews.”

As a student in 2017, Debnam participated in the Google residency program at Hampton University, an HBCU in Hampton, Virginia. In a LinkedIn post, Debnam wrote that since then, “I always said to myself and others that if I could figure out a way to get into Google someday, I would make it a priority to try to be part of this program.”

After completing two Google internships and earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Hampton, Debnam joined the tech giant as a full-time software engineer in 2021.

“If you know me, you know I have a passion for tech, but an even deeper passion for working with students and being a resource in any way possible,” he wrote on LinkedIn.

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