The evolving economy requires more women enter the industry, and there’s plenty of room at the table.

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Industry insiders point to several, potential benefits of more gender diversity in technology-focused occupations, such as increased innovation, decreased discrimination, and a stronger workforce. Still, research by Accenture and Girls Who Code found women currently fill fewer than 25 percent of computing jobs – and that number is getting smaller.

Theories abound as to why so few females choose tech jobs. Some researchers say it started in the mid-1980s when male-targeted marketing made personal computers a boy thing. Then, movies like “Weird Science,” “War Games” and “Revenge of the Nerds” reinforced that peculiar perception.

Well c’mon, Poindexter! In 2017, leading the way in tech-focused fields isn’t just for the fellas. The evolving economy requires more women enter the industry, and there’s plenty of room at the table.

Across Washington, there’s significant opportunity for women looking for great jobs or to change careers. According to the Employment Security Department’s latest labor market supply-demand data, the number of computer and mathematical occupations statewide far exceeds the number of individuals actively pursuing those jobs. And salaries for those open positions are typically higher than the state average. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the mean salary for those jobs upwards of a $100 thousand per year.

So, what does it take to get in the door? The barrier of entry can be high: experience is valuable and credentials are often required. Luckily, resources exist specifically to smooth the pathway into tech and increase diversity – and many can be accessed on the cheap.

Coding boot camps at a discount

To get a crash course in computer science, some pay over $20,000. The experience at higher-end boot camps may be top-notch, but the price-point is too rich for a lot of prospective programmers. Great camps that don’t break the bank include:

Seattle’s Ada Developers Academy is all about training up coders and developers – and increasing diversity in tech. It puts women and people of nonbinary genders through a year-long program combining classroom training and a paid, learning internship. Thanks to corporate partners, and public and private funding, tuition is totally free.

Code Fellows, located in the shadow of the Space Needle, was the first coding boot camp in the state to accept GI Bill benefits to pay for tuition and living expenses. Code Fellows is fast-paced and immersive – and boasts 95 percent of its grads are hired within 180 days of graduation.

Low-cost college degrees

For many tech-focused occupations, a college degree remains the coin of the realm. A bachelor’s or master’s is often the ticket to promotions and raises, but skyrocketing tuition on many campuses has made a college education more challenging for many. Luckily, high-quality, low-cost options include:

Green River College offers bachelor’s and associates degree programs in IT, as well as three IT certificate programs. Its bachelor’s in software development is a four-year program that prepares graduates for a wide-variety of in-demand jobs, including software developer, systems analyst, and mobile application developer. Tuition and fees for in-state residents is about $7,000 per year.

The nonprofit, online WGU Washington is a university designed for busy, working adults. Its College of IT features a dozen, accredited bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. To encourage diversity and inclusion, WGU Washington offers the Women in Tech Scholarship. With the university’s surprisingly low tuition of about $6,000 per year for IT degree programs, that scholarship cuts recipients’ tuition by more than 15 percent.

Network for next to nothing

It’s an often-repeated concept in business: career advancement hinges on who you know more than what you know. For those planning a move into a tech-focused job, meeting and establishing relationships with the right people might be the most important career move possible. Networking groups to consider joining include:

AWAKE stands for the Alliance of Women Achieving Knowledge and Excellence.  Locally based, it’s a group dedicated to bringing women together to share knowledge and skills and network. AWAKE hosts events and workshops year-round for members and non-members.

The Seattle chapter of Girl Geek Dinners is an informal platform where women of all ages can network and learn. Or to put in a different way: embrace being girly and geeky. A recent event for that group provided a behind-the-scenes look at Amazon’s Alexa operation.

WGU Washington is an online, competency-based university designed to expand access to higher education for Washington residents.