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By Stuart Soffer

Leveling the Playing Field in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics)

Uploaded: Oct 31, 2013

Our software company, searching for programmers, once advertised an Open House. Thirty prospective employees came to graze on pizza and make the rounds. Afterward, my staff created a list of people to invite back for formal interviews. As part of the process, interviewees were asked to bring in their own sample source code for us to discuss.

One candidate arrived with the requested sample, a disappointing effort that had required only minimal technical knowledge. I spoke with him and realized that he lacked the technical skills for our development needs, but I was impressed with his unassuming candor. An important consideration for me was that he was a young man of color, and I wanted to increase the diversity of our staff.

I asked our developers whether we had the capacity to include a candidate who would need coaching in the real world of software development but their response was not enthusiastic. I checked with peer VPs of other companies for their feedback, and was discouraged from proceeding. I decided not to make the young man an offer for these and other reasons.

This decision conflicted with my instinctive moral compass, which conflicted with what was ethically and legally right for the company. Which brings me to The Level Playing Field Institute, an organization that attempts to remedy the problems I encountered:

"Level Playing Field Institute is committed to eliminating the barriers faced by underrepresented people of color in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and fostering their untapped talent for the advancement of our nation."

Level Playing Field Institute (LPFI) board member Harry Bims invited me to their Fairness Matters Forum on November 7th at Google, San Francisco. And I invite you to join us. For more information see

In hindsight I would have conducted the search differently 22 years ago. This required securing buy-in from the company to fill two types of positions: an internship program of fixed duration in addition to the experienced programmer slots.