3 Steps to Help Young Women Get into Computer Programming Careers

Computer programming can be a rewarding career, with workers in the field enjoying a median annual salary of $82,240 in 2017, Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows. But women are underrepresented in the programming industry, holding just 24 percent of the jobs in the computing industry, a number expected to drop to 22 percent by 2025 if no new efforts are made to recruit girls to computing, according to Girls Who Code.

Despite the advance of women in other areas of the economy, the proportion of women computer science majors actually fell from 34 percent in 1984 to 18 percent in 2016. Lack of female mentors, insufficient hands-on experience with STEM subjects, and discrimination are some of the major factors accounting of these trends, says the Girl Scouts Research Institute.

Fortunately, women who want to get into programming can buck these trends by taking some proactive steps to advance their careers. Here are three ways young women can lay a foundation for a successful programming career.

Learn Tech Skills
Technology skills are essential for a programming career, and the best way to go about acquiring these is to earn a computer science degree. A computer science degree will teach you the essential math, science and engineering skills you need to succeed in programming.

Topics typically covered include computer systems, programming languages, programming techniques, programming languages, data structures, algorithms, calculus, probability and electronics. You can earn a computer science degree at a traditional college or through distance learning. The Best Schools provides a guide to some of today’s top universities offering online bachelor’s degrees in computer science, which include the University of Florida, Oregon State University, Florida State University and the University of Illinois Springfield.

Learning hardware skills is also an essential part of developing a tech skill set. For instance, in today’s mobile economy, it’s vital for programmers to be familiar with the basics of smartphone hardware. Today’s best mobile processors include features such as multi-core CPU architecture, hardware-based malware detection and image signal processors that programmers should be familiar with.

Develop Job Hunting Skills
One reason women don’t advance in programming careers is because they’re often too intimidated to apply for positions they don’t feel 100 percent qualified for, says BlazeMeter front-end developer Lior Shub. This reflects a broader lack of job hunting skills that can be a barrier to career advancement. Knowing how to find and apply for programming jobs can be as critical for career success as having programming skills.

Earning a computer science degree can be a gateway to job opportunities by providing internship experiences that connect students with potential employers. Most schools also have career counseling centers that can provide job-hunting training and resources. Online resources such as the Society for Human Resource Management also post tips on how to increase your chances of getting a job.

In addition to learning the basics of job hunting, you can also improve your odds of getting a programming job by taking steps on your own to gain job experience, suggests Linux Academy chief product officer Chistophe Limpalair. These include taking on freelancing work, pursuing side programming projects that get your name out in public, contributing to open source projects, and posting blog reviews of books related to the programming field you’re interested in.

Seek Social Support
Lack of social support is a major reason women don’t advance in programming careers. The proportionately small number of women in tech field leaves aspiring female programmers with fewer mentorship and networking opportunities than their male counterparts.

One way you can start building a social support network in the industry is by finding a mentor. A growing number of organizations and events promote mentors for women in tech fields, including Million Women Mentors, Rewriting the Code, and Black Girls Code.

A great way to find mentors and build your social network is to participate in coding bootcamps. Course Report provides a comprehensive directory of available bootcamp programs, including programs such as the Grace Hopper Program that are geared toward women.

Learning tech skills, developing job hunting skills, and building a support network are three key ways to lay a foundation for a programming career. By taking these steps, you will be positioning yourself to get your first programming job and get your career moving in the right direction.

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