How A Female App Developer Navigates The Largely Male-dominated World Of iOS Programming

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It’s been a while since we’ve conducted an interview with an app developer, and today we’ve got something a little more unusual in store. App development has traditionally been dominated by men (when was the last time you met a female software engineer?) so it’s quite a treat to be able to speak to one of the few ladies I’ve come to know in the business. 

Today, we speak with Kristy Lee Gogolen, founder of Lady Bits App Development, on being a female iOS programmer, the challenges she’s faced as a woman in this largely male-dominated industry, and developing iOS apps.

Don’t waste a single second. Just move forward as fast as you can, and go for it.”

- Rebecca Woodcock, co-founder and CEO, Cake Healt h

Q: Could you please tell us a little about your background and how you got into iPhone app development?

A: I’ve been building traditional websites for about 10 years. I have a good friend who works in the iOS  and Mac industry that talked me into making the switch. I had to take out a loan and cut down on my workload in order to study and develop the first app but it was totally worth it.

Q: Can you tell us more about your experience launching your first app?

A: In short, it was nerve-wracking and frustrating. So much of what you need to know is learned through experience alone so there was a lot of trial and error, even up to the final moment. I remember counting the hours to when the app went live so I could double check that the graphics came out the way I wanted and the text was laid out appropriately.

Q: Can you describe how the idea for your app came about? What were your goals for its launch and do you feel that you achieved them?

A: I live in a high altitude climate, with the Rockies out my backdoor so altitude is something of which I’m very aware of. Because it was relevant to me, I decided to make an altimeter.

I never actually meant the app to be submitted to apple; it was meant to be an experience for me to learn Objective C and the process of developing an app. I feel like the app and I grew together. As I progressed, so did the app and eventually it took on a theme that I never saw beforehand but far exceeded my expectations.

Q: What were some of the hurdles you faced in developing your app?

A: I think the most difficult part of the process is isolation. Being an independent developer, you work alone, all the time with nothing more than a few online communities to bounce ideas off of and ask questions. Particularly because I was learning, there were many times where I could have saved hours of time just by asking an experienced developer.

Secondly, with anything that requires this much time and effort, you stop being able to see it objectively after a while. It becomes so familiar to you that you miss things – obvious flaws or complications. This makes beta testing crucial and as a developer, you need to learn to be open and flexible.

Q: What is like to be a female iOS programmer in a mainly male-dominated field?

A: Up until a few months ago, I didn’t realize that the programming world was so male-dominated and I still don’t understand why. I went to a conference a few months back and I felt like a circus animal. Everyone was staring at me like they just saw a unicorn! That being said, most people get used to it. There are a few people who aren’t quite sure what to do with you and don’t really know how to talk to you…but I think they get over it. Or maybe I just stop talking to those people.

Q: Do you have a process for going from app idea to full-blown development? If so, how do you ensure that there’s demand for your idea?

A: I think this is difficult for a lot of developers. You could have the most innovative idea in the world but if no one else wants it, it’s useless. Before I start developing an idea, I will spend several hours studying the market. Is the market flooded with similar apps? Can I provide something new or do something better? Is there enough of a market for this idea? How will I market it and how have others marketed it?

Q: Do you think there’s a formula for success in the App Store? If so, what do you think that formula is?

A: I don’t think I have been around enough to answer this definitively but if I had to guess the formula would be something like this: 1 part quality app, 1 part marketing and 1 part luck.

Q: How do you juggle iOS development with a separate career?

A: It’s often difficult to have my focus divided. I would love to just be building apps but at the moment, that’s not possible. It forces me to move in a lot of different directions and keep a lot of things going at the same time.

Q: How important do you think getting featured by Apple is to an independent developer?

A: It’s very important. There is little better publicity.

Q: Now that there are about 700,000 apps on the app store, do you think that the market has matured to the extent that the odds of doing well have diminished significantly?

A: It’s definitely not what it used to be. Making money off apps takes time and skill. It’s difficult but it’s not impossible. Perhaps it will help weed out the lesser apps in the future.

Q: How do you think indie iPhone developers can succeed going forward?

A: I know I learn a bit more with each project I do, especially the failures. Just keep learning, keep progressing and do what you love.  

Q: Why do you think most indie developers seem to have such a hard time making a living from selling their own apps?

A: The most difficult part of being an indie developer is that you have to be a jack-of-all-trades. You are the programming department, the marketing department and the graphic design department. It takes a lot of experience to excel in so many different areas, some of which are probably not your strengths. But this is just par for course for an indie.

Q: What words of advice would you have for someone just starting out in iPhone development?

A: Find some good online resources as well as a few experienced developers to help you progress faster. As they say, no man is an island.

Q: Do you think there is currently more opportunity in developing apps for the iPad? What do you think are the advantages/disadvantages of focusing on the iPad?

A: I think the iPad is a growing market for sure. More and more people are switching to tablet browsing and apps add a lot to that experience.

Q: What’s currently your favorite iOS app, and why?

A: I just downloaded Pocket about a week ago and I’m hooked. If I run across an article while working, I can file it for later which helps keep me focused. I can also maximize my spare time by reading things that are relevant and stay away from all the internet crap!

Q: What is your development setup like and how large is your development team? Do you outsource any work at all?

A: Right now, the iOS department is just me. I think in the future I would like to have some teammates to help with some of the areas that I don’t enjoy quite as much as the programming, but for now, it was a great experience for me to learn each step of the process.

Q: What marketing do you do for your apps?

A: I have a website of course. I also use press releases and social media to get the word out. I’ve done a few local promotions to gain exposure in my area and I hope  that will eventually generate business in some form.

Q: Do you do any paid advertising, and if so, have you seen any ROI on it?

A: So far I have not done any paid advertising, mostly because I don’t have the budget for it. I’m open to it in the future.

Q: What is your opinion on the ‘race to the bottom of the app store’? Do you think that the low pricing provides more of an incentive for developers to produce shoddier apps?

A: Unfortunately, there are a lot of shoddy apps on the App Store, and it can be quite disheartening to see. I suppose that is all part of the game and you can’t do anything other than maintaining your own quality and standards. I’d like to hope that a quality product with the right marketing will eventually pay off in some form or another.

Q: What’s the best thing about being an independent developer?

A:  I’d have to say the creative freedom and flexible hours.