One of the technical sessions I saw at ONCWIC was by Susan Ibach from Microsoft. She highlighted how easy it is to start making mobile apps, and how influential apps can be. This was probably one of the sessions that provided the most pragmatic advice, but also the least directly related to issues around women specifically in computing.
Susan went through the steps of app development, starting from a simple idea, understanding what already exists, and defining what your app will do better, what it will be best at. She noted some great tools (admittedly Microsoft-centric products) such as:
- MS Dreamspark (for students)
- Zip App
- Touch Develop
- Unity (for games)
- Icenium (publishes to different mobile platforms)
- Phone Gap
- Azure Mobile Services (for logins, and data storage)
All of this was great, and shows that the barriers to entry for app development are lower and lower all the time. But it left me wondering – why aren’t more women making apps? From what I remember, when Susan asked who had made an app before, there were only half a dozen people in the (very crowded) room who raised their hands.
Personally, I have tried and started and given up in making an app. I gave up because I got to the point where I downloaded the Android SDK and it wouldn’t install properly. So I went online and couldn’t find an answer about my specific error. And I didn’t know anyone who I could ask. So I stopped. Now, it’s easy to say in retrospect that I should have persisted (and I probably will keep trying at some point) but I think the more important question is what stopped me? I like to think that I’m not the kind of person who gives up easily, yet after putting in a number of hours of troubleshooting with no progress, I didn’t see many other options. Was I unconsciously influenced against joining an app developer community, or against asking for help, or to feel like I might not belong, specifically because I’m a woman? Or because of other particular factors of my own social group, characteristics or personality? I don’t know. But I do think that even as technical barriers to entry are disappearing, social barriers are still significant. And it’s in everybody’s best interest to figure out different ways address them.