One of Google’s Top Programmers Has Made STEM Diversity a Philanthropic Cause

Jeffrey Dean is one of the unsung heroes of Google’s success, and kind of a living legend in the tech community. He and his wife’s nascent philanthropy is targeting the stark lack of diversity in his field.

At Google’s headquarters, whispers follow software engineer Jeff Dean’s path. His title is the unassuming Senior Fellow in the Research Group, but Dean’s been with the company since there were only about 20 employees, and he’s been credited with programming advances that made Google’s search so fast and even defined a lot of the modern web. These days he works on the company’s leading edge development in deep machine learning and artificial intelligence

Dean has developed such a reputation as one of Google’s most valued software engineers, in fact, that there was once a series of Jeff Dean Facts, in the tradition of Chuck Norris Facts, that Googlers and ex-Googlers swapped online.

“Jeff Dean writes directly in binary. He then writes the source code as documentation for other developers.” (That’s one of the few I didn’t need to look up.) 

The tall tales also surround his pay grade, with unsubstantiated speculation that he makes $3 million a year. True or not, anyone who’s been with Google since 1999, much less someone with his record, is doing alright.

As such, we’re starting to see Dean and his wife Heidi Hopper’s names appear in philanthropic news. And considering Dean’s just in his late 40s, we’re probably going to see a lot more of them. One of the couple’s causes is diversity in STEM, and just this year, their Hopper-Dean Foundation has given two $1 million grants for programs at top schools. 

At MIT, funding will go toward a series of programs to diversify electrical engineering and computer science, including the school’s Society of Women Engineers chapter, and enrichment and career exploration programs for middle and high school students in the area. At UC Berkeley, the same amount is backing diversity initiatives in computer science, supporting high school education and attracting CS majors from diverse and disadvantaged backgrounds. 

The couple’s foundation is just getting started, first making grants in 2011 and growing to $650,000 in 2014 giving, supporting various alma maters, fellowships, and educational programs like Khan Academy. But if these two 2016 grants are any indication, not to mention the trend we’re seeing of young tech moguls jumping right into philanthropy young, things are going to pick up. 

Diversity in STEM is a fitting cause for the couple, as lack of diversity is one of the biggest failures of tech giants like Google.  


In 2014, Google first released its diversity statistics, along with a commitment to improve the numbers that confirmed what everyone already knew about the sea of white dudes in Silicon Valley. That year, men made up 70 percent of Googlers, 83 percent of its tech positions, and 91 percent of the staff were white or Asian. The company committed $150 million to the problem in 2015, and has made slight gains so far.

Dean has used his programming wizardry to solve a lot of Google’s problems over the years. Now he’s using some of the windfall he’s made in the process to work on one big one.