Pathways to Programming: A Career Guide for Aspiring Women Developers


Kelly Wilson
Written by Kelly Wilson

Strategist and entrepreneur, with experience in hiring developers across various industries. Kelly has established herself as a trusted expert in identifying and recruiting top tech talent. She shares advanced tips on how to identify the right talent, create hiring strategies, develop your tech teams and much more.

Expertise: IT Recruiting, Tech, Marketing

Even though women make up 58% of the U.S. workforce, this ratio doesn’t exist in every industry, especially in STEM and tech fields. In computing fields, women only make up 28% of the workforce, and women of color hold even fewer positions in the field — only 12%, according to Zippia.

Despite these setbacks, diversity and equality are vastly crucial for innovation. Without a diverse workforce, ideas in the software development field will exist in an echo chamber. A diverse workforce, especially with women on staff, can bring contrasting ideas and opinions to optimize processes.


Do I Need a Computer Science Degree to Have a Career in Tech?

Many women in programming seek formal education as the first step in their careers. Earning a bachelor’s degree can open you up to many jobs, and the connections you make during college can lead to more networking opportunities ... But it’s not for everybody.

Pros of Formal Programming Education

Any formal education in development — whether an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree in computer science — will connect students with experienced instructors who will help them build a broad range of foundational skills.

In these classes and other events on campus, students can connect with other students and faculty to provide the camaraderie they’ll desperately need throughout their education and careers. This is essential for women in the tech industry.

In addition, many employers require a bachelor’s degree for their roles. This is especially true if you plan to go into any kind of government work or high-level development.

Cons of Going to School For Programming

Despite its advantages, formal education isn’t always accessible for everyone. Many computer science students look to student loans to fund their education if they can’t pay for it outright. The average computer science student has an average of $19,834 in loans, a figure that continues to rise.

Formal education also takes more time, as most students take two to four years to complete a degree, depending on the number of credits they take per semester. These semesters are also more rigid compared to self-taught courses. You must complete a certain amount of credits per semester and complete courses on a pre-determined schedule. If you fail to do so, you could affect your accreditation.

Can I Teach Myself To Code?

Due to the democratization of online education, many women turn to online courses and boot camps to boost their software development skills. Ultimately, your decision depends on your lifestyle, how long you’d like to complete your education, and where you want your software development career to grow.

Pros of Being a Self-Taught Developer

Completing an online boot camp is often faster than earning a two-year associate’s degree. Many courses also allow you to complete at your own pace, meaning women who are busy providing for their families can advance their development careers with minimal stress.

Self-taught courses are also cheaper than accredited universities and colleges. Some, such as those provided by Coursera or Udemy, are free or low-cost for anyone to afford. Self-taught camps also don’t necessarily limit your career potential, either. According to a HackerRank survey, 67% of developers used online courses and boot camps to earn their development education. Many went on to start their businesses or earn just as much as, if not more, than their college-educated peers.

The Downsides of Teaching Yourself To Code

Although boot camps are more accessible, these classes have less structure than formal education, and not all have accredited professors and teachers guiding lessons. Both factors can lead to gaps in knowledge that may be essential later in your career. Since most boot camps happen online, you’ll have fewer opportunities to build a network that will be essential to furthering your skills. In addition, employers may prefer specific education experiences over others. Even if an employer is open to self-taught courses, they may only hire those with education in coding languages like JavaScript and Python, which not all coding camps teach.

Choosing a Specialization

Although keeping your eye on the horizon and maintaining a variety of up-to-date programming skills is essential, specializing in a coding language or a growing niche can keep you competitive. As certain technologies advance beyond the means of basic programmers, research current specializations and technologies and identify where the industry is growing.

Emerging Tech Trends You Could Specialize In

Although most programmers will have a broad knowledge of most technologies, you can meet increased demand by advancing your knowledge on these topics:

  • Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) : AI and ML specialists can break down and create complex algorithms on which AI operates. They have a deep knowledge of data processing techniques and neural networks they use to train AI. This technology is highly sought after in a variety of fields, from healthcare to finance.

  • Cybersecurity: With more people storing data and sensitive information online, cyber criminals can take advantage of more entry points. As a result, nearly everyone — from large organizations to small businesses — needs specialists to protect or eliminate these entry points. To specialize in this field, you can become an ethical hacker by testing systems and pointing to any entry points or a cybersecurity compliance officer to uphold business standards and handle emergencies.

It’s also essential to have plenty of time and training in a variety of coding languages that most sites and systems use, including:

This is not an exhaustive list. There are dozens of other programming languages you can learn and master. Although specializing in one or two programming languages is advisable, training yourself in as many coding languages as possible may be best to become a knowledgeable programming expert.

Ultimately, choosing what to specialize in depends on your preferences and market demand. On one hand, you don’t want to specialize in something that you don’t find interesting. On the other hand, it should be something that employers need and will continue to look for in the foreseeable future. Look for common pain points in the current technological landscape and ask yourself how you can solve them.

Finding Your First Job In Software Development

Finding a job in any field is always challenging, especially in software development. However, finding a job with an organization that values and respects your skills is possible. You can increase your chances of getting these jobs by tailoring your resume to each position. Many organizations will use applicant tracking systems to help sift through countless resumes and choose qualified applicants. However, these systems typically filter resumes by tracing for specific keywords and descriptions. If you fail to list these descriptions or use these keywords, the software may reject your application, even if you’re qualified for the role. To avoid this, find the essential skills mentioned in the job description and include them in your resume.

Depending on the role, you may also need a developer portfolio. In this portfolio, you’ll showcase an app you created, code you’ve written, or other examples of your programming abilities. Update your portfolio regularly and adjust it depending on the job you’re applying to.

Once you receive an interview request, prepare. Research the organization beforehand and practice key talking points about your coding and programming history. Be prepared to discuss each organization's programming challenges and what you would do in each situation.

Freelance vs. Traditional Work

Many women in development start with freelance work. Taking on freelance gigs helps you build your portfolio, which may impress future employers. Freelancing comes with a more flexible schedule, so you have time to travel and balance other responsibilities. You also can earn more money with the more gigs you take on. However, many freelance developers have to be masters of time management. Taking on too many gigs can lead to burnout, and you’ll have to be responsible for paying for taxes and insurance.

A traditional job may be more rigid but has various other benefits. Most employers provide comprehensive benefits packages that include life insurance, health insurance, and a 401(k). In addition, an in-office environment can connect you more to other developers, which can be essential for any woman aiming to build their network or find mentors.

How To Network Early In Your Career

Even if you have all the right experience and skills, you’re unlikely to advance your career without building your professional network. Networking can be as simple as creating a LinkedIn profile and posting about your recent professional activities and achievements now and then. You can also attend various software and developer conferences that can help advance your knowledge and connect you with experts in the industry. Many professional associations, such as Women Who CodeGirls Who Code, and, host women-centric events to connect and advance the careers of professional programmers. Here, you can gain tips from other women about navigating the professional software development space. By joining these communities, you can also gain access to job boards and leadership opportunities, which connect you to other leaders in the space.

You can also make yourself more official by investing more in your personal brand. Consider activities like blogging, participating in coding challenges, or contributing to open-source projects to get your name out there.

Advancing In Your Programming Career

You can stay competitive by constantly searching for ways to improve yourself — whether in online communities or within your company. For example, you may seek leadership opportunities or ask for uptraining courses. The most important thing to do at work is speak up for yourself and show your motivation to learn.

With that in mind, let’s look at ways to enhance your programming career.

Take On Learning Opportunities

Continuous upskilling is essential in the programming community — the more coding languages you learn or specialties you gain, the more you can predict where the winds of tech change will blow. Taking online workshops and webinars can help keep you updated with industry trends. If you want more official certification, you can also take online courses in specializations you’re interested in. The more certifications you have and the more up-to-date your portfolio is, the more likely you are to stay competitive in the development community.

Play Up Your Soft Skills

Many people in the development industry hone in on their hard skills — certifications or education they need — and push their soft skills to the side. However, soft skills separate a decent coder from a shoo-in programmer. Soft skills greatly needed in the development community include:

  • Multi-tasking
  • Problem-solving
  • Teamwork
  • Effective communication
  • Empathy

The more you improve your soft skills, the easier it will be to work with others and navigate difficult situations you may experience as a woman in tech. You can showcase these skills in your interviews by discussing circumstances when you successfully navigated a difficult situation. You can also showcase your communication and analytical skills by observing the interviewer and continuously asking questions. These actions show them that you’re an active listener and know how to interact with anyone in high-stress situations.

Seek Mentorship

A mentor can be your buoy in uncertain waters, especially as a woman in tech. Navigating difficult situations in your professional career can be challenging if you’ve never encountered them. A mentor can advise or provide anecdotes about similar experiences. More than that, a mentor can be a connection in your networking community, pointing you toward professional development opportunities.

Extending The Ladder: How To Help Other Women In Tech

The only way to make software development less of a male-dominated field is to open up the path to other women once you make it. You don’t have to commit all your time to this cause. Even simply participating in online forums dedicated to women in tech helps others seeking a similar career path.

You can mentor new women employees at your workplace or others online. You can also volunteer at women-focused tech events in your area to reach prospective participants.

No matter what you do, anything is better than nothing. Soon enough, you can look at the tech industry and see a more diverse workforce than when you first started.

However, helping other women move forward shouldn’t be an individual effort. It should also be communal. By working together, women can feel empowered to seek any STEM job they desire.

Resources For Women In Software Development

If you need more help starting or advancing your career as a software developer, take a look at some of the resources listed below:

Educational Platforms and Tutorials

  • Coursera: Provides courses collected from various institutions to help with certification and accreditation in coding, programming, machine learning, web development, and other concepts.

  • Udemy: Offers programming and coding courses ranging from beginner to advanced for a low-cost rate.

  • edX: Offers free courses on coding, programming, data science, and other topics necessary for web development.

  • Grace Hopper Program: Coding boot camp made by women for women and non-binary students in tech. It also provides tailored coaching plans and collaboration with other students to facilitate a similar experience to in-person learning.

  • Ada Developers Academy: Non-profit that provides free coding courses for women and gender-fluid students. It also connects students to internships and six months of courses to help marginalized communities start a tech career.

  • Khan Academy: Coding lessons with an interactive “talk-through,” challenges, and final practice to hone your coding skills.

  • freeCodeCamp: Free coding camp with highly qualified instructors covering various certifications, including JavaScript, back-end and front-end development, and Python certification. You can also gain education on how to advance your development interview skills.

  • Codecademy: Another free coding boot camp that offers lessons on C-programming, JavaScript, Ruby, Swift, SQL, and more. It also discusses subjects ranging from AI to web development.


Professional Networks and Communities

  • Girls Who Code: Non-profit that provides clubs and programs for students and programmer professionals connections to advance their careers. Teachers can host clubs for school-aged students or participate in a program to get involved.

  • Women Who Code: Offers resources such as tutorials, webinars, and boot camps to advance your knowledge. It also provides a community space — both digital and in-person — to build your network and mentorship connections. It also posts leadership and job opportunities to advance your career.

  • Hosts events for women technologists and connects attendees with mentors and necessary resources.

  • Stack Overflow: Online forum where you can seek advice, ask questions, and find support from other women programmers.

  • GitHub Discussions: Discussion board for programmers to find support and learn more about software development.

Career Development and Job Searching

  • Posts job listings from top tech companies, including Discord, Disney, and SpaceX. It also offers career resources and advice on upskilling, updating your resume, and conducting interviews.

  • Toptal: By applying, you can join a freelancing network for clients to hire for contract programming and coding services.

  • TechCareers: Collects job postings for any career in the tech industry, with thousands of options available.

  • FCC Career Guide: A government resource that provides advice on how to start and advance your career.

Mentorship and Coaching Services

  • Built By Girls: Organization that provides resources and advisors and hosts events for women and non-binary STEM professionals to advance their careers.

  • PowerToFly: Online community that hosts virtual job fairs, posts job postings for programmers, and posts career advice.

  • MentorCruise: A database of professionals open to mentorship. This search filter includes women in tech who hope to mentor other women wanting to enter the field.

  • WeAreTechWomen : Posts regular webinars on industry insights and career advice for programmers, coders, and other STEM professionals.

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