Where are all of the female mobile developers?

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Guest post from Vui Nguyen. Vui is an active Titanium developer and Titan in the Denver, Colorado area with nearly 15 years of experience as a software developer. She helps organize a successful Titanium meetup in the Denver/Boulder area as well.

According to Appcelerator’s Q3 2012 Mobile Developer Report, the average mobile developer profile is a male between the ages of 20-29. Also, 96% of all mobile developers are male, and only 4% are female. As a woman among the 4%, and as one who has been a software developer for almost 15 years who also doesn’t fit into the “20-29” age bracket, I care deeply about the questions raised by these statistics. I write this piece to begin asking an important question: where are all of the female mobile developers?

Among the factors worth considering when confronted with the dearth of female developers is the assignment, whether intentional or not, of gender-specific roles in design and development. Anecdotally, there is a general sense in the design and development world that females make software look pretty while men make software work. In my own experience at IT meet-ups in the Boulder and Denver areas, I know of only one other female mobile developer. At these gatherings, I rarely see other women at all; and, when I do, she is often a recruiter, designer, or, if a programmer, a web developer.

To give another example, at the recent Women Who Code meet-up in the Denver area, women of all abilities attended – yet, of the few who are developers, they are web developers and not in mobile; the rest were newbie web programmers and designers. At the same time, both the fields of design and development remain dominated by men, but a higher percentage of women work in design than in development; and many women working in development are working in web development, not in mobile.

Design jobs tend to require more aesthetic skill than technical innovation and are usually not as remunerative as code-slinging. And that, in part, is why my overarching question of why there is a dearth of women in mobile development is so very important: it all comes down to money. At the end of the day, mobile developers are compensated at a higher rate than designers and web developers. Click here to view a salary guide from the Creative Group. View page twenty of this guide to see the salary ranges between mobile designer and mobile developer and also for web developer and web designer. Mobile developers have the highest salary range out of those roles.

With those statistics in mind, I must ask: why aren’t there more females involved in all aspects of creating a mobile app? There is no reason for women to be relegated to a supporting design role while men do all of the “hard” design work. As much as men, women are problem solvers, think logically and critically, and have the ability to apply these skills in the building of complex software systems. Why aren’t we doing it?

As a side note, it is important to state that I do not highlight these factors to disparage designers or web developers. Those are important roles, as consumers of media will be browsing websites and using the internet for a very long time. Writing as someone who has very little talent for design, I know that our industry needs talented designers. Part of a positive user experience is good design and not just making software functional.

Yet for reasons including both career growth and improved financial prospects, more of my female counterparts ought to consider seizing opportunities in all aspects of mobile development, as these roles are expanding exponentially. Opportunity is knocking for a meaningful rise of women in the mobile development field; the playing field is wide open for both women and men to succeed. These opportunities are ready to be seized right now, and they’re not just beneficial for women: growth in the number of women in the mobile development field also stands to help companies grow through the production of more creative products that will be more inclusive and more attractive to customers.

It makes sense that diversity, including that of gender, on teams will yield higher creativity because of different perspectives and skills brought to the table — and more creativity often results in the development of better products. Having gender diversity on mobile teams helps produce apps with content and features that are more inclusive. In return, this attracts more diverse customers to products.

Besides simply being the right thing to do, promoting gender diversity in the mobile development workplace may help to increase the bottom line for mobile development companies. Studies show that more successful IT companies often have more females on their board and working within their organizations. And it’s no secret that women use mobile devices and mobile apps as much as men do, and sometimes, even more: for example, the majority of the NOOK color’s consumer base is female. How can businesses be certain that they are maximizing their outreach to female consumers if there aren’t female developers creating the apps?

The questions I raised in this article are important for not only females but also males in IT to consider, as what is good for women’s career prospects may also be also good for companies, for their bottom line, and for the end consumers of their products. In future articles, I will continue to discuss why I think there are very few women in the mobile development field, the factors that have helped contribute to my own success as a woman in the field, as well as suggestions for things that we can all do to remedy the situation. I welcome your comments, hoping that, collectively, we can effect positive change not only for women but for all of us who stand to benefit from an increase in women’s representation in this field.

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