I spent a sizable fraction of my time in 2021 reviewing about 10,000 applicants for software engineering positions at my company, 7Factor, in order to eventually hire about 30. I came to this process with a reaffirmed commitment to hiring, retaining, and giving growth opportunities to engineers from diverse backgrounds \u2014 a principle codified as one of the seven core values embedded in 7Factor\u2019s name. Along the way, I had to confront and attempt to solve for some of the most persistent systemic impediments to greater diversity in software engineering.\n\nThis is not a \u201cGreat Resignation\u201d story. Very few engineers left my company last year. Very few ever do. Talented technologists who care about developing their craft and creating quality solutions for our clients tend to stay with us long-term, appreciating our commitment to continuous improvement, personal growth, and mutual support.\n\nThe new hires were mostly to cover our rapid expansion. Last year was, in many ways, a very good year for my company. Demand surged for our high-performing teams of software engineers, with new and existing customers coming to us with projects that would more than double our gross revenue.\n\nThere was only one problem: I didn\u2019t have nearly enough engineers to staff all these opportunities. I know this is the right kind of problem to have, but it was a problem just the same.\n\nThis is very much a \u201cGlobal Talent Shortage\u201d story.\n\nAt 7Factor, our interview process is rigorous and our technical standards are extremely high. But there\u2019s currently a critical global shortage of the talent we need to maintain those standards. This leads to two consequences:\n\nSo as I responded to our critical need to hire more software engineers, I was determined to use this as an opportunity to increase the diversity of our teams. That\u2019s why I told my recruitment agency that I wanted them to send me a very diverse applicant pool. They tried, I believe they really tried. And yet out of those 10,000 applicants I received, only about 100 (1%) were women or people of color. I hired two of those applicants, or 2% of the available pool, compared to 0.3% of the 10,000 as a whole. But that still left me hiring mostly white men to fill the 30 open positions.\n\nThis was profoundly frustrating to me. What\u2019s going on here?\n\nWidespread disparities\n\nIt probably goes without saying, but this challenge is not new or unique to my company. While women dominated the field of computer science in its early decades, starting in the 1970s women were systematically phased out of the field to be replaced by men. Today, somewhere between 19% and 25% of software engineers are women.\n\nMeanwhile, American Black and Hispanic engineers have always been underrepresented in the field. A 2020 CNBC article reported little improvement in representation at major tech companies over the previous six years. For example, Black people made up only 3.8% of Facebook\u2019s technical workforce, despite comprising 13.4% of the U.S. population. And a 2021 Pew Research Center report found that Hispanic people held only 8% of computer jobs, while accounting for 18.7% of the U.S. population.\n\nThe disparities, however, start before people enter the job market. According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, while women earn about 57% of all bachelor\u2019s degrees in the United States, they earn only 18% of computer science degrees. ComputerScience.org notes that women earned 37% of computer science degrees in 1984, so this disparity has actually gotten worse over the last few decades.\n\nSimilarly, the same Pew Research Center report found that \u201cBlack and Hispanic adults are underrepresented among STEM college graduates compared with their share in the population.\u201d For example, Pew found that Black students earn only 7% of STEM undergraduate degrees. \u201cIn computer science,\u201d the report continues, \u201cHispanic students earned 8% of master\u2019s degrees and 6% of research doctorates.\u201d\n\nAnd the systemic inequities of course begin long before college. They include:\n\nSuch disparities can be found in any group of people, but they disproportionately impact women, people of color, and other marginalized communities. The whole system is broken in ways that limit the access of underrepresented groups to opportunities that would lead them down the path of a career in computer science.\n\nSmall wonder that fast-growing software-engineering companies like mine struggle to hire a diverse workforce. Even the big dogs of the computer science world, with their lucrative pay packages and perks, are struggling to hire a diverse workforce from a candidate pool severely lacking in diversity. How can the rest of us compete for the most qualified engineers from underrepresented communities?\n\nWhy it matters to me\n\nI\u2019m not looking for excuses for why we haven\u2019t yet hired a software engineering team that reflects the full diversity of America. I\u2019m looking for solutions.\n\nOurs is a culture that encourages everyone to bring their whole selves to work. We understand diversity broadly, to include factors like neurodivergence, personality, and gender identity. We are guided by a spirit of harmonious autonomy that encourages our engineers to solve problems in their own ways, within the guardrails of our best practices and standards of quality.\n\nI care about this, in part, because it\u2019s the right thing to do, but I also know it\u2019s the smart thing to do for my business. There are a few key reasons for this.\n\nAt the heart of it all though, this is personal to me. One of the rewards of running my own company is the leverage it gives me to lift people up and give them opportunities to grow, to succeed, if they show me they have the talent and drive our field requires.\n\nBut what do I do about that 1% problem? How do I hire more women when so few apply? How do I hire more technologists of color when so few resumes make it to my screen?\n\nI don\u2019t have all the answers, but here\u2019s what we\u2019re trying.\n\nDeepening our reach\n\nSome of the inequities in software engineering are beyond the limits of my current impact. I don\u2019t, for example, have a solution for the underrepresentation of women and people of color getting degrees in computer science. It\u2019s clearly a critical problem that, as a field, we must address, but it\u2019s not one I can solve myself.\n\nHowever, wherever 7Factor can reach deeper to lift people up, that\u2019s what we\u2019re going to do.\n\nBy the time someone applies for a junior developer position at my company, I\u2019m looking to see that they\u2019ve had relevant experience outside their computer science degree or coding bootcamp. Opportunities to get that experience, however, are not evenly distributed.\n\nIn order to offset some of these inequities, we\u2019re presently reconfiguring and will soon relaunch our Apprenticeship Program, which gives inexperienced new developers an opportunity to gain experience as working members of one of our teams.\n\nWe\u2019re also going to fatten our hiring pipeline. 10,000 applicants for 30 positions was already a lot, but now I want more. If only 1% of applicants will be women or people of color, then maybe we need 100,000 applicants. We\u2019ll see.\n\nContinuous improvement\n\nOur software development process is based heavily on the idea of continuous improvement. Last year\u2019s hiring revealed some challenges that our existing processes didn\u2019t solve. But we\u2019re iterating on last year\u2019s approach, trying to do better in the year ahead. I\u2019m certain that our present solutions won\u2019t be perfect, but we\u2019re going to keep trying, learning, then using what we learn to try something better.\n\nAnd as we succeed in finding and hiring a more diverse team of engineers, I know we\u2019ll be able to keep them. I\u2019ll hold 7Factor\u2019s culture up against any competitor in the field. We respect people in the fullness of who they are. We help our people grow. We support them in having balanced lives.\n\nI have no ambitions of 7Factor ever becoming the biggest software engineering company around. I\u2019m more than content with working toward being the best, and diverse teams of engineers will help us get there. I don\u2019t need to hire thousands of people to do that. I need only the right dozens of smart people.\n\nWe\u2019re going to find them, or help them find us. And once they\u2019re part of our team, our culture will convince them to stay and grow with us.\n\nTogether, we\u2019ll build good things.