You’ve probably heard it a thousand times—the tech industry has a diversity problem. Here’s something you haven’t heard enough about—there are programs and initiatives working to fix that problem by breaking down barriers that have kept people from historically underrepresented groups from pursuing a tech career.

Figuring out how to break into the tech industry can be daunting. Traditional four-year institutions can be expensive places to learn computer science and lack of information on alternative routes to gain those needed skills can derail a career before it even gets started. Other barriers, including the lack of visible role models, contribute to tech’s diversity problem.

Software Engineering is an In-Demand Career

The tech industry encompasses a lot of careers and millions of jobs. And there are lots of unfilled jobs and unmet opportunities. For example, the demand for software engineers is already high and growing. Right now, there are about 687,000 people working in the field, earning an average salary of more than $86,000. Many junior engineers already make six figures. The need for software programmers and developers is expected to grow 35% over the next five years, according to Emsi Burning Glass, and they will be needed in all industries from manufacturing to retail to finance and more.

Like other parts of the industry, they have some pretty big diversity gaps. Sixty-seven percent of software engineers are men and 25% are women. The most common ethnicity is white at 53.9%, according to Zippia, with just 7.2% identifying as Hispanic or Latino.

Taking Advantage of an Opportunity Requires Access to Information

Before you can act on something, you need to know about it. Given that the tech industry is one of the highest paying occupations in the country and the demand for workers is exploding, it is astonishing that it isn’t higher on the list of potential careers for high school students.

Lack of information is part of the problem. According to the Diversity in Tech 2021 U.S. Report released in August by academic publisher Wiley, 39% of 18-28 year olds were never given any information about tech careers at high school or in college. That number jumps to 44% among the women surveyed.

Of those who were actually encouraged in high school to think about a career in tech, between 45% and 50% who learned early about the opportunities decided to pursue the skills needed to land a job in the field. The interesting thing is those numbers were fairly evenly distributed by ethnicity—with whites slightly more likely to go after the career (50%) compared to Hispanic (48%) or Black (45%) students. Those numbers also support the idea that early exposure to the financial and career potential can help to diversify the tech industry.

You Don’t Have to Go to College to be a Software Engineer

That same Wiley report indicates that nearly half (47%) of the young adults they talked to didn’t think they had the right qualifications to work in tech and 31% didn’t believe they had the right educational background. Many thought that they needed a four-year degree and for low-income students that was not an option without going into massive debt, not a great start to a young career.

So, if you can’t afford to go to college, how do you get the skills and how do you get noticed by employers?

In our new Expanding Opportunities in Tech podcast series produced in partnership with Cognizant Foundation, we examine short, free software engineering training programs, each offering a foot in the door to teens and young adults from historically underrepresented groups in the tech industry, including women, BIPOC, and people from low-income backgrounds.

We share the stories of these four young women and men who broke down those barriers with the help of these innovative training programs. It is not just their stories that we share, but the knowledge that there ARE opportunities out there and some practical ways you can find them.

The first podcast drops on Tuesday, November 9, and there will be a new podcast each of the next three weeks. You’ll be able to find them here on www.workingnation.com, and you can also find them wherever you find your podcasts.