A Guide for Students

We are currently in an unprecedented moment for tech workers. From refusing to build AI-enabled weapons, to pushing back against providing tech to ICE, to mass protests against harassment and discrimination, tech worker organizing around ethical issues has become one of today’s defining movements for justice. For those who want to work in technical industries and are concerned about harmful, biased, or exploitative tech, it can be challenging to navigate the recruitment and employment process. It is especially challenging for students, who often have significant financial obligations and less experience assessing the cultures within many tech environments.

To help students better understand and investigate their options with future tech employers, AI Now is publishing How To Interview A Tech Company: A Guide for Students. This guide offers students going through the tech recruiting and interviewing process 10 research-driven questions, helping them address issues of ethics and equity in tech with potential employers before they accept the job. Our hope is that by creating this space for conversation, students will be able to gain the knowledge they need to better understand their employment choices, and if they feel safe enough to do so, express their own opinions and preferences to employers as part of a larger movement for justice within tech companies.

Tech companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year competing to recruit and hire students, particularly those with math and engineering backgrounds. This means that they’re listening to the people they recruit and will take your questions and concerns seriously. As the future workers that tech companies compete to hire, students have significant leverage to shape how these companies operate.

Most tech interviews include a section where the candidate is encouraged to ask questions about the company, the culture, and the job. In the spirit of helping students “interview tech companies” and receive meaningful answers about the values and ethics that drive these companies, we’ve compiled a list of 10 questions to ask recruiters and interviewers.

As researchers at the AI Now Institute, where we focus on the social implications of AI and related technology, we took care to ground each question in the existing literature and reports from investigative journalism, providing references that double as a reading list for those who want to learn more. We have also worked to shape these questions to ensure that they are appropriate for an interview environment, and that they speak clearly to the systemic issues in the tech industry.

An important note about power and privilege: We recognize that not all students have the same background or privilege, and that asking these questions may not be safe, comfortable or desirable for everyone. We present these with the understanding that those with STEM training from elite institutions may have more independence than others when it comes to issues such as securing employment for visas or paying off student debt and as a result may have more power within the tech ecosystem. We also recognize that this power is often distributed along socioeconomic axes, and that in particular women, people of color, and gender minorities often face greater discrimination in tech during the hiring process and beyond, whether or not they speak up.

Varoon Mathur, Tech Fellow, AI Now
Meredith Whittaker, Co-Director and Co-Founder, AI Now

Update: We got some requests from students and professors about printing and distributing a one-page version of the Questions doc: here it is!