The dream of starting a company in your dorm room to solve the world’s problems and make billions in the process is still thriving on campus. But a competing dream, perhaps just as old, appears to be growing in fervor now, too: to use technical skills as an insurance policy against dystopia. Students have not failed to notice the unflattering headlines that have dogged Silicon Valley over the past several years—the seemingly unending scandals in which the biggest technology companies in the world have mishandled user data, facilitated the spread of misinformation, and sold software to the agencies enforcing the Trump administration’s harsh immigration agenda. All of this has sparked new conversations inside and outside the classroom, and there are signs that the once-reliable pipeline between Stanford and Silicon Valley is narrowing—at least a tiny bit.
This can be seen across universities: Recruiters at Facebook have reportedly clocked a dramatic decrease in the acceptance of job offers among top-ranked schools for tech talent. In May, CNBC found that the acceptance rate for full-time positions at Facebook from recent graduates of top-tier schools had fallen between 35 and 55 percent as of last December, down from an 85 percent acceptance rate for the 2017–18 school year. “Students don’t feel that [working at Facebook] has the same cachet,” a San Francisco–based tech recruiter with 15 years of experience (who asked not to be named because Facebook is currently one of his clients) told me in an interview. “It doesn’t seem like the kind of name that students want to have on their résumé for their first go, and because they have optionality, there becomes very few reasons to go to Facebook, especially feeling like that brand is a little tarnished right now.” After all, he added, students are getting very attractive compensation packages elsewhere from other multibillion-dollar tech firms that aren’t courting such negative headlines.