Coding Resources for Women at Every Stage of Their Career

Women make up 47 percent of today’s tech workforce. If you compare that with the numbers from 2016, when women made up just 25 percent of all technical roles, you would likely assume that women have finally broken through the silicon ceiling and are on their way to total equity in the workforce. But, it’s not that simple.

Up until 1985, women made up 50 percent of all computer programmers. But then, something changed. What led to women’s steep decline in tech representation in 1985? And, 35 years later, how can we ensure better gender equity in the field so the world can benefit from innovations developed from diverse perspectives?

In this article, we’ll introduce you to some of history’s most influential women in computer science, then offer technical coding and community-based resources to foster lifelong learning opportunities for girls and women at every age and stage of their lives and careers. 

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The History of Women in Tech

Before we dive into women’s historical contributions to the world of computer science, here’s a quick pop quiz: Can you name three present-day women in tech? What about three men?

If you had trouble answering the first question, you’re not alone. After all, as we noted above, there are currently far fewer women in computer science and technology than men, and this single, simple challenge illustrates the tech gender gap for both insiders and individuals taking stock of the industry as a whole.

In order to understand just how we landed at the current gender disparity, we must look into the history of programming before modern personal computers became the go-to hardware for computer techs. From the 1800s and well into the mid-twentieth century, women were pioneering forces of computer science. 

Take Ada Lovelace, often credited as the “first computer programmer,” who wrote theoretical programming language notations using numerical codes and purported the idea of looping, processes that are still used in computer programs today. 

Or Edith Clarke, the “human computer,” and first woman to graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who invented a calculator that enabled engineers to do calculations ten times faster than existing methods. 

And what about engineers Christine Darden, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Dorothy Vaughan, whose complex calculations made American space travel possible? Not only were they overlooked because of their gender, they also faced discrimination as African Americans, who, during their time at NASA, were forced to use separate facilities because of segregation laws. These trailblazing women inspired the book and subsequent film Hidden Figures and were awarded Congressional Gold Medals in 2019.

Despite mounting obstacles of race and gender, all of these women remained fierce engineers and mathematicians who helped lay the foundations of modern computer science.

But then, a shift occurred.

The 1970s and the following decades experienced major growth for women in the fields of medicine, law, and the physical sciences. But while these previously male-dominated industries were filling more roles with female candidates, the percentage of women in computer science took a sharp decline in 1985. 

So, what exactly changed that year? 

Toys Are for Boys: Advertising and the Decline of Women in Tech

Although it’s difficult to pinpoint one specific catalyst that led to the decline of women pursuing computer science from the mid 80s onward, several researchers suggest a perfect storm of several social and economic factors that led to this unprecedented inaccessibility and invisibility for women in tech.

In 1985, two inventions changed the world and technology as we would come to know it: personal computers and the Internet. With the introduction of these new products came new marketing opportunities that covertly — and sometimes, overtly — suggested that computer science was a male-dominated field, ultimately pushing women out. As Hollywood released blockbusters like Weird Science and Star Trek, television commercials advertised computers and computer-based games geared almost exclusively toward boys and men, as seen in these Apple advertisements from the 70s and 80s.

Without any mainstream representation to lean on, women were literally seeing less of themselves in technology positions. As a result, the effects of media and advertising quickly made computers the cool new toys for boys, effectively closing the door on women and changing the landscape for decades to come. 

The Impact on Women in Tech

In the 1990s, Jane Margolis, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, conducted a study during which she interviewed hundreds of families about their use of personal computers. Her findings concluded that families were much more likely to purchase computers for their sons than their daughters, even if their daughters showed a strong interest in the technology. 

With families more likely to promote computer literacy in boys than girls, girls and young women who did major in computer science in college were at a severe disadvantage because they had little to no prior experience working on physical computers. 

Patricia Ordóñez is just one of many women who dropped out of a computer science major in the 1980s.  A high school mathematics wiz and current doctor of computer science at the University of Puerto Rico, Ordóñez had switched her college major from computer science to foreign language because of several negative experiences in introductory-level computer courses. 

“I remember this one time I asked a question and the professor stopped and looked at me and said, ‘You should know that by now,’”she recalls. “And I thought ‘I am never going to excel.’” 

Ordóñez’s unrealistic perception that all students were coming to universities at the same experience level created an even greater divide for her and for women entering tech as a whole, who had similarly internalized the belief that they were not welcome in the field based on their experiences trying to enter it.

Closing the Gaps

According to studies conducted by Harvard Business Review, the key to getting more women into tech comes down to visibility. If girls and women are able to see positive representations of themselves in computer science roles and in the media, they’re much more likely to pursue a career and succeed in the field.

So how do we increase the visibility of women in tech? 

For one thing, tech accessibility must begin early. 

In recent years, public schools across the U.S. have enacted curriculum reforms that recenters STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects as a focal point of instruction. With one million more openings than experts to fill these technical roles, the United States government recognizes the demand for initiatives that bring diverse teachers and content to classrooms across the country, according to ACT.org.

While legislative initiatives can help fill in the gaps of technical literacy, there remains a plethora of resources where girls and women can gain an in-depth supplemental education at their own pace, regardless of their current age or stage in their careers.

From toys and programming games to intensive courses and community networks, we’ve put together an extensive list of coding and data science resources that can help girls and women of all ages dive into tech.

The Future Starts Here: Coding Resources for Girls and Women at Every Age and Stage

Like any individual group, women are a vital part of our society and world whose perspectives are crucial to an inclusive tech landscape and workforce. Whether you’re the parent of an aspiring young female coder, on your way to obtaining a degree or certificate in web development, or a seasoned computer science professional, it’s never too late to learn about, grow into, or enter the world of tech and programming.

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Activities for Very Young Learners

“Don’t learn to code because it teaches you about computers. Learn to code because it teaches you how to think.” — Steve Jobs

No matter the topic, the best way to teach kids at an early age is through games and play. These activities are a fun way to help toddlers develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills at a young age.

Coding Games and Activities for Young Learners

For young children ages 4–12 who are comfortable using a computer, here are a few places to find fun games and learning activities that explore the world of programming. 

  • Mommy PoppinsWritten for parents by parents, you’ll find free and low-priced online coding programs for kids, as well as local events where kids can get hands-on with technology.
  • SciGirls: PBS LearningDive into the experiences and adventures of young women in tech with 30-minute Science Girls episodes, following groups of middle schoolers as they engineer and invent alongside professional scientists.
  • ScratchTailored toward young coders, Scratch makes it easy to create digital animated stories with MIT’s fun coding platform, where learners gain skills in problem-solving, collaboration, and reasoning.
  • Code.orgA one-stop shop for all things computer science education, with completely free courses broken down by age group as well as one-hour tutorials for learners of all ages.

Early Coding Skills for Young Adults

Today’s teens are tech-savvy and independent. In the early coding stages, these tutorials, online courses, and community connections will foster hands-on learning, peer relationships, and the confidence to further explore computer science topics.

  • PBS LearningOffering over 35 videos and tutorials, you can learn the history of computer science and get a better understanding of the opportunities it presents across a variety of industries. 
  • Techbridge GirlsExplore an award-winning STEM curriculum through digital coding challenges, each of which comes with an instructional handout,  learning video, and tips for sharing projects with the Tech Bridge Girls community.
  • NCWIT Aspirations in Computing’s Young Women in TechFollow the brightest young women in tech and keep up with their latest innovations on AIC’s Instagram. 
  • Khan AcademyFrom coding basics (think HTML and CSS) to learning how to make webpages interactive, dig into essential computer science skills with tons of hands-on lessons.

Coding Foundations for Young Professionals

When you begin your professional coding career, it’s important to explore the different areas and roles within the world of computer science and technology. The resources below provide the basis for foundational learning, expanding your network, securing scholarships, and fostering mentorships.  

  • Learn to Code With.MeWhether you’re looking for a boot camp, a workshop, or want to brush up on your current skills, this list shares 21 organizations that specialize in teaching girls and women how to code.
  • 10+ Resources for Young Female CodersNot sure where to get started? Explore online communities, tech blogs, and learning tools in this resource guide.
  • Built By GirlsDon’t just survive as a programmer — these resources were made for you to thrive. Connect with fellow coders and mentors in the tech community through virtual meetups and events.
  • She’s CodingFrom coding basics and best practices to interview tricks and tips to overcome impostor syndrome, read, learn, and connect with this mega-list of computer science resources.
  • 50 Tech Influencers to Follow via SkillcrushA list of today’s 50 influential women in tech fields like development, design, UX, content design, and more to follow online. 
  • Code2040Attend virtual events, workshops, and early career courses through the largest racial equity group in tech aimed at supporting Black and Latinx individuals and providing them with technical opportunities in their communities.
  • Women Love TechStay up-to-date on the latest apps, product reviews, news, and more with articles curated for women in tech.

Learning and Connections for Mid-Career and Beyond

Contrary to popular belief, learning as an adult isn’t harder, it’s just different. Adult learners are able to ask deeper questions, use metacognition to reflect on their own knowledge gaps, and are often more motivated than their younger counterparts. Rather than viewing your current position as a disadvantage, use your experiences for continued learning, new opportunities, and giving back through networks and mentorship. 

  • FairygodbossFind open positions, company reviews, and transparent salary guides for IT and computer science jobs.
  • Ladies Get PaidJoin this tech community of 70,000+ women for actionable resources and community empowerment.
  • Solodev BlogSharpen your skills and perfect your portfolio with these web development and design guides. 
  • SkillshareExpand your skills with thousands of online technology classes.
  • Women Who CodeBecome a member and get access to job boards, community connections, and coding resources.
  • Tech Savvy Women: LinkedInConnect with professionals for field updates, job openings, news, and more. 
  • Podcasts for Women Who CodeListen and learn from women in tech with these podcasts on tech, work-life balance, and more.
  • 6 Books by Women in Tech via Book RiotGet lost in fictional tech worlds with these six books written by women in tech.
  • Women in Tech Column (Wired)Stay up-to-date with the latest tech industry news. 

Whether you want to sharpen your programming skills, connect with mentors, give back, or break into the computer science field, these resources can help you hone your goals and thrive at any stage of your career. 

Resources for Women Already in Tech

Charting Your Own Path 

If you’re a woman who’s already working in the technology space, increasing visibility often comes down to carving your individual path forward. 

These senior leaders have a few suggestions about how to get there. 

  • Disrupt the status quo: Jessica Matthews, founder of the award-winning power and data infrastructure company Uncharted Power, inspires women through industry disruption. At just 22 years old she raised $10 million in her Series A offering and broke the record for the most funding for a Black female founder. She has 10 patents and pending patents of her own inventions and holds three degrees from Harvard University.
  • Dive into different areas of the field: Ying Guo, Director of Database Administration of Vail Systems Inc., a technology company that streamlines communication between companies and their customers, became a technologist after starting a career in marketing. “I originally earned my bachelor’s degree in English and worked for a few years at a marketing job in China, but I took a chance and came to the United States to earn my master’s degree in computer science. I began in web development and switched to database administration before moving into various database administration management positions up until my current role.”
  • Speak up: Cindy Taibi, the first Chief Innovation Officer at the New York Times, suggests the simple practice of speaking up. “Everyone deserves a voice,” she says. Taibi encourages women to be confident and not let themselves be interrupted — advice that might seem simple, but for many women trying to break into tech, is easier said than done. 

Increasing Your Visibility

For more actionable takeaways, here are the National Center for Women and Technology’s top 10 ways successful technical women increase their visibility:

Work on projects with direct impact. Strategically choose roles that will benefit the company’s goals as well as your own and help get your contributions noticed.

Step outside your comfort zone. Challenge yourself with opportunities that help you grow professionally. Research shows women are harsher critics of their work than men, so be conscious of any internal biases that may arise.

Ask for assignments that demonstrate your technical abilities. Seek inter-department opportunities that use your technical strengths, enabling you to add value across teams.

Seek mentors with organizational clout. Find work sponsors to advise you on your career and role within the company. Good mentors not only teach you, but advocate for you and make sure your work is visible to influential people.

Develop diverse networks. Networks are invaluable, but too often limited to one group. See what’s missing in your existing network, then expand it through new connections.

Demonstrate your leadership. Volunteer to lead meetings and seek opportunities to speak publicly. This will increase your chances of leading future internal and outside events.

Mentor and advocate for others. Junior employees benefit from Senior mentors, and vice versa. Make mentoring others a part of your performance goals so you receive recognition for this contribution during evaluations. 

Find your strength, and promote it. Consult with mentors and managers you trust about ways to “pitch” your talents to leverage across multiple projects.

Find your management style. Your immediate manager has a big impact on your daily life. Learn how other teams operate to get a sense of your preferred management style and use this to inform future employment decisions.

Keep up with emerging trends. Stay in the know about emerging technology and see if your company offers flexible time or reimbursement options to explore those opportunities.

Ways Companies Can Jumpstart Change

For companies that haven’t yet taken a proactive approach to a more equitable workplace, here are a few steps to help you move forward:

  1. Evaluate internal demographics. Commit to diversifying workforces through mindful hiring initiatives.
  2. Grant access to young people. Create direct paths to tech through apprenticeships and scholarships.
  3. Create mentorships from within. Connect employees in the company with senior leaders for mentorship opportunities.
  4. Listen to employees. Start internal events centered around hearing employees’ concerns and how to address them.