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The Macksey Journal

Abstract

Recent sociological literature has identified the career funneling effect as a cultural and institutional social process which constructs certain career pathways as “prestigious” and leads a disproportionate number of students from top universities to pursue these pathways. Yet, if these social forces are so strong, why do some students with the means to pursue these pathways consciously reject them in pursuit of alternative, less prestigious pathways? My analysis focuses on computer science students and the pathway into prestigious Big Tech companies, a relatively recent and understudied pathway for top students. Using a combination of formal in-depth interviews and informal discussions, I study the thoughts, experiences, aspirations, and understandings of computer science students at Tech University, a college with a nationally ranked top tier computer science department in order to understand why some students choose not to pursue careers in Big Tech. I identify countervailing institutional forces which play a role in mediating or shifting the trajectory of students away from these jobs widely considered to be “prestigious” among their peers. My findings indicate that a complex interplay of factors take place in which discourses beyond the walls of the university are translated and refracted within the university. Students interact with these discourses in a variety of ways based on their social positionality within the university as a multi-layered institution with a multitude of social groups and fields. A key contribution of this research is uncovering how legitimacy challenges against Big Tech in the public sphere play a key role in affecting the career decision-making processes of some computer science students, dissuading them from the Big Tech pathway and leading them to pursue alternative opportunities. The interaction between the delegitimation of Big Tech and the legitimation of alternatives is a critical countervailing force to the career funneling effect.

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