Of all the reasons for women to be interested in a programming career, the satisfaction that comes from being a trailblazer is definitely on the list. Women in coding can benefit beyond measure from the immense range of opportunities open to female IT professionals. They can also help reset a gender imbalance that, ironically, wasn’t even part of computer science’s origin story.
If a programming career sounds appealing but you aren't sure where to start, rest assured! Many women have successfully embarked on this journey, and you can too. In this guide, we’ll discuss:
- What programming is all about and where you might fit
- Why it’s a great career choice
- Women in tech—reversing a trend
- Kickstarting your programming career—top 20 online learning resources
- Tips for success as a woman in coding
Setting your sights as a female programmer
Learn as much as you can about all the career paths you might pursue with coding knowledge and experience. Whether you're passionate about web development, data analysis, or mobile app creation, there's a niche for you in the tech world. Explore unfamiliar occupations so nothing is off the table. By first identifying your interests in programming, clearer career goals will start to emerge.
Why choose a programming career?
As IT breakthroughs constantly emerge in our increasingly digital world, coding knowledge opens ever-wider doors to fulfillment. With global job growth continuing for tech professionals across all sectors, competitive salaries, and job security are assured. Moreover, technology has the innovative power to transform industries and make a positive impact on society. And like women in any STEM career (science, technology, engineering, math), female programmers are positive role models for young girls
Practically speaking, the programming career training route is exceptionally accessible and affordable for anyone. No degree is required and there are infinite ways to learn on your own at home.
Women are underrepresented in STEM fields—just under 29% of U.S. software programmers specifically.
Understanding the importance of diversity and the positive impact it has on creativity and problem-solving can inspire you to pursue a career in programming. Otherwise, the lack of female involvement overlooks the interests and needs of tech consumers accounting for half the population.
The impact of missed opportunities for businesses is not trivial. According to a Catalyst study, Fortune 500 companies with at least three women on their board of directors increased sales by 42% and ROI by 66%.
The gender gap in computing is getting worse
In 1995, 37 percent of computer scientists were women. Today, it’s only 24 percent. It will continue to decline if we do nothing. We know that the biggest drop off of girls in computer science is between the ages of 13 and 17.
The source of this data is Girls Who Code, a nonprofit whose mission is “to close the gender gap in technology and to change the image of what a programmer looks like and does.”
Why the gender gap?
Historical and societal factors have contributed to the gender gap in coding jobs. Challenging some of the persistent biases and barriers is essential to encourage more girls to embrace STEM from an early age.
The absence of role models can deter women from pursuing and succeeding in a programming career. In turn, this perpetuates stereotypes of what a tech career looks like and who fits.
“With this in mind,” says Reddico.co.uk author Holly Yelland, “it’s not difficult to see why the tech space can be interpreted as a male space with a ‘brogrammer’ work culture in which women do not belong.”
An unequal work culture—real or perceived—can manifest in differences women face concerning pay raises and promotions. They may feel overlooked or lack confidence in their own abilities. Various business and nonprofit initiatives to address these concerns are making progress, but more work needs to be done.
It wasn’t always this way
Today’s disproportionate prevalence of male programmers is in stark contrast to the computer’s early decades when women ruled, ironically reflecting gender discrimination norms of the day in their favor. The notion that coding was “women’s work,” in a menial sense, was reinforced in the 1940s when an all-female team of technicians was hired to write instructions for one of the world’s first programmable digital computers, known as ENIAC.
After World War II, as programming jobs spread from the military into the private sector, women remained at the forefront of explosive growth and innovation in the use of software. One of the most famous and influential female computer scientists of her generation was Grace Hopper, known for developing the COBOL programming language. The stage had been set more than a century earlier by the iconic English mathematician Ada Loveless, whose programming notes for Charles Babbage’s “analytical engine” design were published in 1843.
Having gained momentum in the initial post-war decades, women’s interest in coding as a career grew steadily and rapidly during the 1970s. The female participation rate more than doubled in the decade preceding the 1983-84 academic year, when 37.1 percent of all graduates in computer and information sciences were women. A marked reversal ensued, and by 2010, females represented just 17.6 percent of the computer and information science grads.
The dramatic downtrend of women relative to men in computer science is tied to the advent and mass marketing of personal computers, starting around 1984. The game-playing appeal saw boys gaining significantly more exposure than girls from a young age. Over time, their heightened interest and confidence translated to male overrepresentation in computer science class enrollment.
Ready, set, code—getting started
Take a deep breath and prepare to feel overwhelmed at times by lingo and concepts that may be unfamiliar. Also expect to feel encouraged, inspired, and elated by what you learn and accomplish on your own by belonging to a global community of peers. Be prepared to have fun too!
To help kickstart your coding journey, here's a list of 20 online resources for women interested in programming.
- Girls Who Code
- Khan Academy
- Rithm School Free Courses
- Django Girls
- Girls in Tech
- Podcasts for Women Who Code
- Girls in Tech Podcasts
- Books to Read for Women in Tech
Tips for programming success
Embrace lifelong learning
As noted above, online courses and programs are readily available to help you build technical skills and attain certifications. Building a strong portfolio of projects can also boost your confidence and resume credibility.
Soft skills count
Coding isn't just about programming languages, nor is it a strictly solitary occupation. The importance of interpersonal and other soft skills should never be overshadowed by your computer skills. Just to name a few, these strengths are invaluable: communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, adaptability, teamwork, and resilience.
Connect with role models
Seek advice from women in coding who have navigated similar paths — including those who are 100% self-taught with no computer science background. Mentoring and networking opportunities can provide guidance and support as you progress in your career.
- Programming can be a mutually rewarding career choice for women, offering exceptional opportunities for professional growth and income potential while bringing fresh insights and innovation to the tech industry.
- Easy and affordable access to self-taught coding skills and professional development is an added incentive for women interested in a programming career.
- Today’s shortage of role models for women in STEM fields takes nothing away from the remarkable legacy of female coding pioneers who set a shining example to forge modern tech paths.