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Diversity in coding bootcamps

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It’s no secret that the tech industry has a poor track record when it comes to access, diversity, and inclusion based on race, ethnicity, gender, and class.

A February 2019 study by Kaspersky Lab found that 34% of female IT professionals in Europe were uncomfortable with the gender imbalance in the industry, with 29% of male IT professionals saying the same.

IT services company Ivanti conducted similar research in December 2019, which found that 31% of women believe the tech industry has a glass ceiling holding them back, up from 24% in 2018.

A separate November 2018 study by Inclusive advice also found a “worrying” lack of diversity among senior management in the UK tech sector. Specifically, he revealed that only 8.5% of top tech executives are from a minority background, while women make up just 12.6% of board members in the sector.

On top of that, he revealed that over a third (35%) of board members and over a quarter (26%) of senior executives at top tech companies have attended Oxford or Cambridge, compared to only 1% of the total population.

While some postulate that coding bootcamps are a way to overcome these issues – mainly due to their relatively affordable price compared to traditional computer science degreeswhich opens them up to a larger part of the population – the training courses can end up reproducing the same problems if the operators are not actively involved.

Although bootcamps can have many different ways of doing things – for example, they can be entirely online or only teach particular coding languages ​​– they are essentially technical training courses that teach people programming skills. or coding that employers are looking for.

However, to ensure that bootcamps really contribute to diversifying the talent pool, they must adapt their courses to people’s material needs, taking into account that many people simply cannot afford a retraining which forces them to take months or weeks off at a time.

Entry barriers

With the growing skills gap and the bottlenecks used by many to develop their skills, more and more people are looking for alternative paths in industry outside of the traditional IT curriculum.

Adele Barlow, content and communications manager at Makers Academy, a London-based coding camp, said computer science degrees usually come with much higher barriers to entry.

She added that some bootcamps, including Makers, run free apprenticeships to address the issue of high barriers, with the only entry requirement being completion of certain coding exercises that test the skills of prospective students.

“We don’t care where you went to school…all we care about is if you can do the coding exercises. We’ve had lawyers and bankers who are fed up with the city, we’ve had painters and flooring contractors who want to earn more, we’ve had musicians who just want better pay,” she said, adding that building for diversity beyond the “surface levels” takes time.

Makers itself recently called for a change in the narrative around women in tech, launching the Women in Software Powerlist and Changemakers list to highlight people who are making a positive difference to diversity and inclusion. in the technology sector in the UK.

However, the majority of bootcamp graduates will have to pay for the courses, which can cost thousands of dollars depending on which ones they choose to use.

According to Rik Lomas, a New York-based startup consultant who founded and runs online coding bootcamp SuperHi, many bootcamps can only afford to pay half their fees when they offer scholarships, which means that high-cost barriers to entry remain for potential coders from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“When we talk about the most expensive bootcamps [charging] by the thousands, it causes many of the same problems. Really, if it’s a three-month program, you need some sort of privilege to even be able to take three months off in the first place,” Lomas said.

“You also don’t get paid for it, so the reality is you’re wasting money, wasting time and paying for the privilege of doing it,” he said, adding that this dynamic leads to “same type of people” getting involved.

“I’m not saying it’s just a ‘white tech guy’ approach, there are more people coming in from different angles now, but bootcamps kind of keep that system in place. I see some of the prices of these things and I think it’s impressive how much it is.

For prospective bootcamp students, Lomas recommends finding a job “with as few distractions as possible” so students can start teaching themselves using free online tools in their spare time while getting paid through their daily work. .

Tailor-made courses for diversity

Rachid Hourizi, director of the Institute of Coding, a consortium of universities, businesses and industry experts set up in 2018 by the UK government to shut down the digital skills gap by creating diploma courses, these courses must be adapted to people’s current working hours.

“For people in economic difficulty, you need to be able to learn that skill and apply it immediately, and then learn another skill and apply it immediately rather than withdrawing from the workplace,” said he declared.

“Right now the rising tide is lifting all boats – we’re all seeing great success in terms of people signing up and engaging as the role of digital becomes clearer. But then the next step is we all have to working on that element of inclusion to make sure it’s really for everyone, really life-long, and really doable in a modular way.

“It’s up to bootcamps to design courses that actively address these issues,” he added. are to blame – the change must be within us, and we know it because we did it [these changes] that it is perfectly possible to run courses with a gender balance, for example,” he said.

“The thing is, we have an education system and an industry that doesn’t have a lot of diversity, and so if you don’t think carefully about these kinds of things, of course the same people come in, the same bias gets reflected, and the same confirmation of the problems that exist.