“I had done a few internships at Big Tech in the past, at Microsoft, and that was technically interesting,” he says. “And it was fun. But it’s not really sustainable—you don’t wake up every day thinking, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to increase shareholder value.'”
Thomas is one of 11 recent grads in a unique associate product manager (or APM) program run by Schmidt Futures, the philanthropic organization started by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his wife Wendy Schmidt. Google pioneered an APM program in 2002 to train new project leaders; other tech companies followed. Five years ago, Schmidt Futures decided to launch a similar program focused on training new leaders to use tech for public good—and to offer a salary that can compete with what someone might earn if they were starting a career at Google.
The program lasts two years, with each APM rotating through six-month or year-long assignments at nonprofits, government departments, or social-impact businesses aligned with their own interests. Cassie Crockett, who leads the talent programs at Schmidt Futures, says the program has two major goals: to use technology to help scale up the impact of organizations that do socially beneficial work, and to create a cohort of technologists that are excited to use their skills for public benefit. One of Thomas’s projects, at a nonprofit called Uptrust, involved building new technology to help people navigate the criminal justice system. Previously, when someone had to go to court, they’d get a letter in the mail.