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The Social Network Employers Love to Raid

Some of America’s smartest college students spend hours a day on Piazza.
Illustration: 731

Piazza Technologies Inc. is a stealth company—largely unknown by the general public but familiar to almost anyone who’s studied computer science in the past few years. Some 2.5 million students use its free website to ask and answer one another’s questions about computers, engineering, math, and science, all under the supervision of their professors. Seven years in, Piazza says 98 percent of computer science students at the top 50 universities access its site; students report using it on average for at least three hours a day. (Or, more likely, per night.) Piazza fans abound in Silicon Valley: “I have used Piazza extensively throughout my education,” Vickram Gidwani, a Stanford grad student in electrical engineering, writes in an email. “It provides a great forum for any topic in the course.”

Now the Palo Alto company is doing the obvious thing—monetizing all those eyeballs. Founder and Chief Executive Officer Pooja Nath Sankar says it gradually dawned on her that Piazza was an ideal space for tech employers and students to meet. In late 2016 the company launched Piazza Careers. Companies pay for access to students who opt in; they can see if a student was ranked a top participant in a class on the site, and they can narrow searches to, say, teaching assistants for artificial intelligence classes who are graduating in 2018. In April, Piazza lured Apple Inc.’s director of global recruiting projects, Sean Celli, to head client partnerships.