When it comes to mobile app development, men outnumber women at a startling pace despite the fact that women are significant consumers of mobile apps. According to a report released by EEDAR Video Research, about 60 percent of app purchases in the 15 to 64 age group were made by women.
But the gender gap in mobile app development is significant, and there are few signs of it changing, at least in the short-term. Demographics on the mobile app developer ecosystem are hard to come by but the market likely mimics the broader software/IT developer industry where recent surveys indicates that men outnumber women by about 10 to 1. According to Forbes, research from Los Angeles-based IT recruiter Q found that for every 100 software developers, only 10 to 12 are women.
The reasons for the lack of women in this field are varied. Some say that the gender gap starts in universities where men dramatically outnumber women in computer sciences. Others say women who do get hired as developers are often less visible, rarely speaking at conferences or attending events, making role models hard to come by.
Developer groups are beginning to specifically recruit women to attend their events--a recent espnW hack day held at Stanford University spotlighted women who were making sports-related apps for women.
FierceDeveloper tracked down five enterprising women who are making a difference in mobile app development–-from working on enterprises apps as a member of a Chicago-based development team to heading up a firm devoted to augmented reality, these women are tackling the mobile development world first-hand and hoping that their efforts will help prompt others to follow their lead.
Female developers are particularly rare in the gaming industry where it is estimated that only 10 percent of gaming industry employees are women, according to Game Developer Magazine. Michelle Abraham, who started in educational software and then transitioned to console gaming, found the move appealing because console game development is much more lucrative than making educational apps.
Abraham then transitioned from console gaming to mobile gaming because it allowed her a chance to become an independent developer. "When Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) released its SDK I saw that this was a big opportunity for going out on my own," Abrahams said.
Eventually Abraham partnered with a friend and created a shuffle board game called 10 Pin Shuffle for iOS and recently finished the Android version of the game. The game, which has been very successful, has allowed Digital Smoke to attract a dedicated customer base, and the company is now working on other games to add to its portfolio.
Abraham said that it's fairly rare for her to encounter other female mobile game developers. She believes women are intimidated by the field and would like to see more companies provide outreach to women so they see mobile app development as a viable career option.
Of all the women on this list, Claire Boonstra is clearly the most high-profile. Her company, Layar, is makes an augmented reality platform with open APIs that are used by many companies to create their own layers of information. Layar initially was a Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android app, but the company also has an Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS version. Boonstra has said that Layar will develop to other platforms, including Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and even Symbian.
Layar's app has been downloaded to 25 million phones in 209 countries. Layar has more than 50 partners and most recently joined forces with Dwell magazine and AHALife.com to create a digital shopping app that lets readers scan an item with their smartphone and then links them directly to the AHAlife.com site where they can purchase the item. The app is also being used by educational firms to help bring augmented reality to schools.
In 2010 Boonstra was named one of the top female founders to watch by Women 2.0, and she also was named one of the most influential women in technology. Boonstra often speaks at industry events about her company and the role of women in tech. She also was a featured speaker at the TEDxAmsterdamED conference where to she talked about how she wants to change the way we define success--and how the education system needs to be value-based instead of status-based.
Chui-Ki Chan started as a software engineer at Google but was lured to startups because she wanted to grow beyond just writing code. She worked for a series of startups but didn't find her niche until she went to an AT&T (NYSE:T) hackathon in San Francisco and came up with an app that helps people learn Chinese writing. That hackathon was the start of a viable business and the basis of Monkey Write, Chan's Android app that launched earlier this year on Google Play.
Chan is still improving her app and also working on developing her next mobile app. She often speaks at app development conferences and believes this is a good forum for encouraging more women to work in app development, and in particular, start their own app development businesses.
At Solstice Mobile, Curry specializes in business apps for the company's enterprise customers that either offer the apps to their clients or use them internally. Like many app developers, Curry comes from a computer science background. While at the University of Illinois at Chicago, she started developing Android apps on the side as a hobby.
Curry enjoys app development because it gives her a chance to use her problem-solving skills to create solutions for clients. She is the only female in her department and says that at times that can be overwhelming. Her advice to women that work in app development is to speak up and make sure your voice is heard. "I would definitely say it's important to be vocal," Curry said. "You still have to say what you want to say."
Liron Fishman Sabbah
Liron Fishman Sabbah, one of the creators of Friendthem, a location-based connectivity app, thinks that women play a critical role in app development because they can bring a different perspective to app development that is often overlooked by men. For example, in creating the Friendthem app, Sabbah and her team were particularly concerned about privacy issues and were diligent about minimizing a woman's exposure to their connections via the Frendthem app. "We had to take the creepiness factor out of it," Sabbah said. With Friendthem, if someone sends you a friend request, the user has the option to be visible or invisible to those requesting to connect with you.
Similar to Curry, Sabbah was an computer science major in college. She said that many of her female classmates that started out in that field did not finish the program, and she speculates that women just don't like the solitary nature of working with computers. Instead, she finds more women are migrating to the marketing and management side of app development. "Women want to be above the code," Sabbah said.