Snap Academies: Accelerating Skills-Based Career Readiness for Underrepresented Talent in Tech

Partnering with Snap Inc. to connect with the undeniable talent of diverse and untapped tech candidates through upskilling, mentorship, and professional development.

Project Overview

The Global Philanthropy team at Snap Inc., the makers of Snapchat, sought to use its leadership and expertise — in ephemeral communication, social media, and pioneering feature development of filters, Lenses, and augmented reality effects — to nurture the potential of emerging and underrepresented talent into tech. Additionally, Snap sought to provide global team members meaningful ways to support the mission through active skills-based learning within an employer context. 

At Next Shift Learning (NSL), we share Snap’s commitment to upskilling nontraditional talent to create a more equitable tech industry. We are proud to have partnered with Snap to develop four academies to provide domain education, work-based learning, and professional development opportunities in UX/UI design, software engineering, marketing/communications/branding, and augmented reality. 

These Snap Academies target often overlooked sources of tech talent: community college students, recent transfers, and Opportunity Youth (current or formerly unhoused, foster or incarcerated talent). We use our expertise in curriculum development, learning design and program operations — and Snap's expertise in cutting-edge technology — to equip emerging talent with the skills needed to land internships, part-time work, or high-paying jobs in the industry.

To date, our academies have graduated over 250 Snap Scholars and engaged thousands of Snap team members as volunteers and mentors. We are proud to work alongside the Snap Global Philanthropy team to build a more inclusive and equitable future.

Defining the Problem

The Snap Global Philanthropy team had a vision to provide an academy-style summer educational training for diverse talent hosted at their campus. Through LA-based volunteer experiences in local schools and community colleges, the team noticed a growing need to provide deeper industry-driven learning experiences to demystify career pathways into tech.

They wanted to equip these scholars with the technical, professional, and social-emotional behavioral skills necessary to navigate uncharted pathways into the tech industry. Snap partnered with NSL in 2018 to design a curriculum that distilled domain knowledge, skills, and tasks, and the ways of working at Snap, into applicable work-based experience. Between 2018 and 2021, NSL worked with junior, mid-career, senior, and C-suite level teammates at Snap Inc. to co-design four domain-specific curricula. Each learning experience provides roughly 80 hours of instructor-led content that prepares each cohort for a two-week, cross-functional final project sprint. Snap team members support the Scholars through hands-on learning over the course of nine-weeks through real-world project experiences, professional development workshops, guest speakers, product presentations, mentorship, and a special ERG Kaleidoscope series.

In 2020, Covid-19 made it essential to care for and help Scholars grow holistically. NSL designed and introduced a new professional development curriculum, customized to the Snap Academies context, to guide Scholars’ long-term career growth with social-emotional skills and behaviors. Over the last two years, NSL supported the increased visibility of the Academies as it stepped into managing the full scope of the program. The NSL team developed a digital campaign in partnership with Snap Marketing to expand its reach and attract new applicants. By leveraging an applicant tracking system, e-marketing, and project-based assessments, the program received a 90% increase in applications since 2021.

Our Impact

The collaboration between Snap and NSL for the Academies has impacted the lives and careers of hundreds of Scholars, grown in size and reach, and become a centerpiece of Snap’s culture and its social impact and leadership. Over the span of six years, we’ve grown from one Snap Academy to four with 15 Scholars each (60 per year) and graduated over 250 scholars.

667 applications from 26 states in 2023

88% of Scholars identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color

500+ Snap Volunteers engaged in 2023

700+ hours of Snap team member’s coaching and mentoring to support Snap Academies scholars along their journey in 2023

15 Instructors and Coaches annually from academic and industry backgrounds

Building a Solution

Snap Design Academy

The Snap Design Academy was the first of the Academies to launch in 2018. It was created to inspire future visual and user experience designers to boldly take visual expressions where no other designs have been before.  

These projects involve building visually stunning graphics, developing expressive designs that tell a persuasive data-driven story, and having fun designing with Snap features, like Geofilters.

Snap Engineering Academy

The Snap Software Engineering Academy launched in 2020 to help engineers kickstart their professional journey from coders to confident technologists.

This academy involves building technical projects such as painting with Javascript, building a chat app from scratch with React Native, and engineering the Final Showcase prototype via a mobile app.

Snap Storytelling Academy

The Snap Storytelling Academy launched in 2021 to humanize the people who interact with products daily from their phones.

This academy’s projects enhance marketing, communications and brand experiences through stories that influence people’s way of thinking through customer experience journeys, data-driven insights about ways people act, and how to amplify voices via pitches.

Snap Lens Academy

The Snap Lens Academy launched in 2021 as a nine-week bootcamp that takes beginner developers to the intermediate level. 

This academy highlights the intersection of art and technology and the limitless possibilities on how AR can be integrated into our daily lives.

Scholars practice creating memorable and complex interactions with the real world through 2D and 3D art they design, leveraging the AR effects and advanced features of Lens Studio.

Making the Invisible, Visible in Tech: Unlocking Tech Careers for Non-Traditional Candidates

Discover how Next Shift Learning developed a curriculum for a single Academy to help community college talent showcase their transferable skills and succeed in entry level tech roles at Snap, Inc. This journey demonstrates NSL’s capabilities to distill skills, mindsets, and tools needed for roles, create compelling curriculum to prepare candidates, and leverage real-world expertise and learner feedback to perfect it. 

Started Here

Candidates without a network or four-year degree face challenges in identifying long-term career paths in a rapidly evolving tech industry. They also question how to advance their skills for job readiness. NSL asked: How can we shift from short-term engagements with community college talent to providing more sustained opportunities for growth and development?

Learned This

Through qualitative research and mock interviews, we found that many candidates had relevant experiences, such as part-time jobs or hobbies, that were not showcased on their resumes. We needed to help candidates identify and translate transferable skills from one context into another context.

Discovered This

As we uncovered the learner context, we conducted interviews to unpack how to succeed in a junior tech role at Snap. We identified the necessary skills, tasks, mindsets, and tech stack tools and workflows needed to showcase talent. We also found that having a growth mindset culture is crucial for successful tech career transitions.

Built This

We used a feedback loop to identify and iterate on fundamental skills needed to get hired and succeed in tech pathways. We created a curriculum wireframe outlining the topics, projects, and desired results for the learning experience. Internal and external stakeholders provided feedback taking into account the learners' backgrounds, motivations, and goals. 

Measured This

We piloted the curriculum and used surveys to gauge effectiveness. Through these methods, we identified learning gaps and rapidly refined the curriculum. We used the discovery, iteration, and measurement process for one academy to replicate and scale for three other Academies. 


Snap Academies are thoughtfully designed

We designed the Snap Academies using learning science, with real-world, project-based learning to create lasting skills that prepare participants for Day One readiness.

Meeting Scholars Where They Are

At Next Shift Learning, we believe in building knowledge from previous experiences. Honoring the lived experiences of our Scholars is key to creating deep and meaningful learning opportunities. 

For example, we provide Scholars with relevant, hands-on projects that allow them to apply their knowledge in a way that resonates with their personal experiences. Our approach helps Scholars acquire new skills while using their rich, unique perspectives and creativity.

Emphasizing Project Based Learning

We structure the Academies to emphasize project-based learning to ensure our Scholars gain relevant skills. Our team of experts designed activities to teach the required technical and social-emotional skills to succeed at Snap. Scholars deliver projects throughout the program, such as creating mobile apps, completing code challenges, fixing code, building geo-filters, and distilling customer journeys.

These projects provide tangible evidence of the Scholars' competence and abilities, creating a portfolio to showcase their work to future employers. Lasty, the Academies culminate in a cross-functional group project, the Final Showcase, where Scholars prototype and pitch new products to Snap teammates, who play a critical role as coaches and mentors.

Providing Support for Professional Development

In addition to hands-on content training, NSL curriculum developers and Leadership Development coaches designed and introduced professional development (PD) curriculum to fill gaps around networking and job readiness. Our PD curriculum helps Scholars apply newly gained skills in a real-world context.

We bridge the gap between content knowledge and applied skills by increasing students' hireability and confidence in navigating their career journey. Objectives include identifying transferable skills and lived experiences, positioning career artifacts like resumes and portfolios, and exploring passions through storytelling. Snap teammates serve as coaches to provide feedback on final projects and resumes to support the professional development goals of Scholars.

Customer testimonials

We partner closely with our customers, acting as an extension of their team. Here's what they have to say about NSL.

“The Snap Academies have provided a learning environment for our Scholars and Snap team members alike to gain invaluable skills and insights. It has been incredible to witness the journey of our Snap Academy Scholars turn into interns, then turned into full-time team members over the years. With the Next Shift Learning partnership, we have only begun to scratch the surface of getting more skilled talent into tech jobs!"

Lindsey Heisser

Manager, Global Philanthropy

“I've always felt a glass ceiling above my head being a community college student in tech, but initiatives like the Snap Academies have really opened my eyes on what is to come in the future.”

Snap Academies Applicant, 2023

Our partnership with Snap Inc. continues with NSL as the end-to-end operator for both in-person and online academies, running everything from recruitment, selection, and curriculum design of the program.

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