App users come from all walks of life, but when it comes to app developers, the industry still looks pretty homogenous.
Increasingly, women have come to the forefront as consumers of mobile technology. A recent VentureBeat article showed that women install 40% more apps than men do. Not only are they heavier mobile app users, but they’ll pay more for them too: women buy 17% more paid apps, and pay 87% more for those apps.
You would think that recruiting more women to help develop apps that will hit home for the lucrative female audience would be a no-brainer for mobile shops, but that has not been the case so far. In 2012, 96% of app developers were men, according to Appcelerator’s Q3 2012 Mobile Developer Report.
This trend is unlikely to adjust on its own. Mother Jones reports that according to the Association for Computing Machinery, female students of every race still track far behind their male counterparts in believing that a career in computers is a “good choice for them”. This means that not only is it important to address this apparent disinterest in one of the most rapidly growing and profitable career option, but we need to make an extra effort to support those women and minorities who do choose to pursue it.
Fortunately, the tide is slowly starting to change, in part due to the efforts of organizations committed to creating initiatives that encourage women and minorities to enter or to participate more fully in the world of app development. These incentives range from targeted scholarships and programs focused on skill development to mentorship and networking initiatives.
- Mobile Makers Academy, a bootcamp aimed at helping people become mobile developers by teaching new developers how to create iOS apps, is offering $2,500 in tuition assistance for women and minority app developers to attend one of its bootcamps in an effort to include groups that are underrepresented in mobile development.
- Black Girls CODE was founded in 2011 to introduce girls in underrepresented communities to computer programming with workshops and after-school programs, teaching them mobile app development as well as Web and game development, robotics, and more. Some recent and upcoming events hosted by Black Girls CODE include a Summer of CODE 2014 Day in Miami. It has also produced a short documentary that was featured in the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.
- Girl Develop It is a group with chapters in 25 U.S. cities so far, with more to come in 2014. The group offers classes (some paid, many free) teaching women how to code, build apps, and other related topics, as well as hosting “coffee & code” nights, hackathons, and mentoring events.
- iUrban Teen Tech reaches out to black, Latino, and Native American young men (groups at the highest risk for dropping out of high school) and teaching them the technology skills they need to begin a career in the tech sector. The group hosts hands-on, interactive tech summits across the Pacific Northwest.
Mentoring and networking
Training that gives women and minorities the skills they need to succeed in the mobile tech industry is important, but it’s not enough on its own. Mentoring and networking are critical when it comes to helping people actually land those jobs, but are less accessible to those who have no connections or traditional representation in the industry.
Though this is a great reason for minority tech workers to engage in outreach to their own communities, there are also plenty of organizations looking to fill the gap.
In November 2013, Mobile Maker Academy, along with Dev Bootcamp, Ms. Tech and Girl Develop It Chicago created DiversiTech312, a speed mentoring and networking event aimed at women, people of color, members of the LGBTQIA community and people with disabilities interested in starting or growing careers in the tech industry.
At Philly Tech Week 2014, part of the festivities included Tech Mix It Up: A Diversity Networking Affair. The event offered underrepresented groups the opportunity to network with “some of the best and brightest diverse people the Philly Tech Scene has to offer”. (American Sign Language interpreters were provided by the event organizers.)
Girl Develop It Detroit recently teamed up with Grand Circus to create a Women’s Tech Mentoring Group that they kicked off in Detroit. The initiative hosts an entire series of events aimed at giving women in the Detroit tech community a chance to discuss issues, listen to speakers, and find mentors and mentees in the community.
These programs all seem to be thriving, and if these efforts continue to scale we may see a shift in app developer demographics over the next several years. Also important is the participation of mainstream companies and organizations using their influence to reach out to women and minorities interested in pursuing a degree or career in computer science, as has already begun to happen.
If this shift does occur, it will be interesting to track how the influx of diverse perspectives and experiences affect the app development industry’s workplaces and products.