It’s no secret that women and many ethnic minorities are underrepresented in technical jobs. In fact, according to a recent report by Intel and Dalberg, women are underrepresented by 19 percentage points and Hispanics, African Americans and Native Americans by 16 to 18 percentage points. While research points to work environment and harassment as significant reasons for this gap, another is the frequently-mentioned “pipeline problem.” While in the 1960s and 1970s, programming was considered “women’s work,” the rise of computer games, which were marketed toward boys, caused a decline in women studying computer science. Today, only 14 percent of computer science graduates are female.

The rise in demand for qualified IT professionals has led leaders to broaden their idea of the typical programmer. Additionally, research is demonstrating that diversifying the tech talent pool is correlated with increased revenue. Couple these trends with the rise of the coding bootcamp, and we’re seeing a new way to add more members of underrepresented groups to the talent pool.

Coding Bootcamps for Underrepresented Groups

The College of Charleston and ETR Associates recently launched a two-year research project called “Boot Camp or University Classroom? Preparing Women and Underrepresented Minorities for the Software Development Workforce.” Their goal is to learn more about why and how bootcamps “have had better success at attracting women to their programs” than computer science and engineering degree programs have.

Many coding bootcamps were developed specifically for underrepresented groups or have scholarships or tuition plans “that are more welcoming to low-income students,” according to the International Business Times. Such programs not only benefit less financially privileged students, but they also may be more appealing to women across economic statuses, since “men tend to be less risk-averse and more willing” to bet their high tuition on getting a high-paying job later,  Grace Hopper Academy dean Shanna Gregory said in a PC Magazine article.

Grace Hopper Academy doesn’t require its students to pay until they are hired as a developer in their field; then, they pay 22.5 percent of their first-year salary over nine months. Ada Developers Academy, another women’s coding bootcamp, provides six months of full-time classroom training, tuition-free, and a five-month paid internship. It’s paid for by corporate partners; for example, Google paid the school for research on recruiting women to technical teams.

A nonprofit called YWeb Career Academy, led by YWCA Madison and Adorable (a Madison, WI web development company) and funded by a state grant, provides 400 hours of technical training and soft skills training for women and people of color to help “address two problems in Madison: a growing demand for tech talent and troubling economic disparities between whites and blacks,” according to YWCA Madison CEO Rachel Krinsky.

Other bootcamps work to break international barriers. Andela pays Nigerian programmers to work for its clients while continuing their education; Reactor Core partners with ReBootKamp to train Syrian refugees; Laboratoria is an immersive five-month code academy for women in Peru, Mexico, and Chile; and Code to Inspire teaches women to code in Afghanistan.

According to the World Bank, “improved access to technology is a true game changer for women,” and coding bootcamps are an opportunity for “girls around the world to embrace technology and digital innovation.”

Breaking Coding Bootcamp Barriers

President Obama has said that coding bootcamps should be a “road to the middle class,” but Paul Bilodeau, chief strategy officer for Colaberry, wrote in Forbes that without effort by the bootcamps, they could easily be “a roadblock to the middle class.” He recommended several tips to ensure that coding bootcamps are accessible to everyone, including underrepresented groups:

  • Lower tuition by charging corporate partners for hiring, access to students and/or class sponsorships.
  • Before the bootcamp begins, identify “high-risk” students, including parents or caregivers (who are more likely to be women). Help the student determine if the timing is right for her, or help bootcamp employees provide the right guidance before the student begins.
  • Offer part-time programs.
  • Provide online and offline access to course materials.
  • Provide one-on-one mentoring to all students; scale it using technology.
  • Speaking of technology, use it to measure outcomes.
  • Provide 24/7 access to technology.
  • “Focus on the entire process. The program isn’t complete until after six months on the job.”

In an article earlier this month, David Delmar, founder of Resilient Coders (which enrolls mostly black and/or Latino students), said, “I have a personal belief that technology should go hand in glove with social progress … I believe technology exists for the task of advancing the standard of living for all.” With this foundational belief at the core of many coding bootcamps, they can be an excellent tool to do just that.

Training Industry, Inc. recently closed the application period for its first annual Top 20 Coding Bootcamp Companies List. The insights gained from this list will prove beneficial not only to potential bootcamp students, but also to employers of technical professionals and anyone interested in how alternate education is changing the face of the training industry. Stay tuned….