Shopify’s internship program attempts to address shortage of tech talent in Canada

Shopify has joined forces with York University, expanding its hands-on computer science degree program, which hopes to better prepare students for jobs in the technology industry.

The program, entitled Dev Degree, operates similarly to an internship or co-op program and places computer science students within the development teams at Shopify, its a paid position and according to a Monday press release Shopify will even pay tuition a full, four-year program for students involved in the program.

“This all started because we have an insane talent gap and shortage in the tech industry in Canada,” Jean-Michel Lemieux, senior vice president of engineering at Shopify told ITBusiness.ca, “If Shopify is going to build itself as an anchor tenant in Canada, our biggest challenge right now is brains, not money, so we want to really invest in the brains we have in Canada.”

Beginning this fall computer science students at York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering will be able to take part in the four year internship program, which will see them splitting their time equally between school courses and working at one of Shopify’s downtown offices. Students who participate in the program will receive a Bachelor of Computer Science degree and hundreds of hours of paid work experience that also counts towards school credits, stated the release.

“We’re dealing with a lack, in Canada, of any computer science education in primary school, a lack of education about what this career looks like, and a lack of diversity.”

Lemieux said in a recent blog post that the talent gap starts back in primary school where there is a lack of education around software in the K-12 school system and Shopify “wanted to turbo-boost students to be able to write and deploy production software, solving real problems, before they even graduate.” He notes that one of the most important parts of the program is the focus on giving young people the tools to help Canadian tech companies grow.

“[There] is this untapped talent that is stuck in the education system and in Canada we don’t have a great track record of actually scaling and commercializing companies. So I think it’s great to have some kids actually understanding what it’s like to build a company, and help us do that here in Canada,” says Lemieux.

While this will be the first year Shopify can offer the program to Toronto-based students, Dev Degree is already in its third year. The program started from a partnership with Carleton University and Lemieux says Shopify has already seen positive results.

“We can take a 17-year-old and after nine months [in Dev Degree] they’re basically at the same level as either a third or fourth year co-op student. We’re basically getting 200 to 300 per cent improvement in just software development skill acquisition.”

The program has also seen higher retention numbers than a typical Canadian university program, stated the release. According to a report by the Globe and Mail, typically 20 to 50 per cent of students drop out of the program they have initially chosen. However, in Shopify’s program the retention rate is 95 per cent, stated the release.

Diversity has also been a big part of Shopify’s strategy for the program, Lemieux told ITBusiness.ca. Statistics show that women represent only 19 per cent of graduates from computer and information science degrees but Lemieux says that while “we have an insanely biased pipeline all the way through,” Shopify is focused on creating an equal and diverse workplace and women account for 51 per cent of the students in the Dev Degree.

He says the main goal of the program is to extract a blueprint and make it the standard in the rest of Canada.

This week Manulife also announced partnership with a Canadian university focused on developing technology within Canada. In a Tuesday press release Manulife announced that it is investing $400,000 towards artificial intelligence (AI) research at the University of Waterloo and will also fund two AI prizes for each year of the partnership and award them to undergraduate students excelling in AI research.

The funding is meant to support AI research that is focused on predicting disability insurance claims, fraud detection and natural language comprehension in customer service, stated the release.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Meagan Simpson
Meagan Simpson
Meagan Simpson is a staff writer for IT World Canada. A graduate of Carleton University’s journalism program, she loves sports, travelling, reading and photography, and when not covering tech news she can be found cuddled up on the couch with her cat and a good book.

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