How She Got There: Julia Schwarz, Windows Phone and Windows 8 Developer

Name: Julia Schwarz
Job Title and Description: Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon University studying Human Computer Interaction and Windows 8/Windows Phone developer for Electric Squash Studios
College/Major: College of Washington (Undergraduate); Currently studying Human Computer Interaction as a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon University
Websites:  and
Twitter Handle: @julenka

Meet Julia Schwarz, a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon University studying Human Computer Interaction and a Windows 8/Windows Phone developer. As a female in the male-dominated world of engineering and technology, she’s proving that gender shouldn’t be a limitation to success or the kind of endeavors you take on. Together with her boyfriend, she has already developed and published two Windows 8 apps and six Windows phone apps under the name Electric Squash Studios. Having a knack for versatility, Julia has created game apps, trivia apps, a deal-finder app, and even an app that helps you take pictures of yourself without a front-facing camera using face detection in the rear camera and audio guidance. Users can now take those “selfies” with 8x higher resolution than if they used their front-facing cameras!

Although the Windows app ecosystem is relatively new compared to that of iOS and Android, it has opened up more opportunities for young and talented developers like Julia. The Windows Phone 8 store now boasts a selection of more than 120,000 apps and games, and app downloads have increased 100% since Windows Phone 8 launched in November. With creative developers like Julia contributing to and improving its app market, Windows is quickly becoming a platform with an app ecosystem iOS and Android will need to watch out for as competition.

Read all about How She Got There in our interview with Julia below to learn more about her and her work on Windows 8 and Windows Phone apps, and what to expect from her in the future:

How did you get started as a developer (e.g., education, etc.)?
Julia Schwarz: I had actually never written more than a few lines of code until I was a sophomore in college at the University of Washington. In fact, the only thing I was certain of when I entered college was that I would not major in Computer Science. However, a few weeks into my Introduction to Programming class it became evident to my then instructor Stuart Reges that I had caught the programming bug. Stuart worked hard to recruit me away from Physics and into the Computer Science major, and I began working on my own side projects as a senior in college.

What is it like being a female developer?
JS: I think being a female developer is a lot like being a male developer. If anything I feel like most male developers wished there were more female developers around. In fact, one of my developer friends specifically asked me to stay in the engineering track because he would like to see more female developers. I’ve found that almost all developers judge people’s ability to work by what they produce, not their gender, and haven’t noticed any serious discrimination against myself or any other woman.

What initially sparked your interest to develop for Windows Phone?
JS: As graduate students at Carnegie Mellon my boyfriend and I were looking for a side project to work on over winter break.  The Windows Phone 7 had just been released and my boyfriend and I had Windows Phone 7s from our internships at Microsoft the previous summer. Both of us felt like we had missed big opportunities in developing apps for iPhone and Android, but the Windows Phone market was wide open. So, we decided to give Windows Phone a shot and began developing games in our spare time.

What were some challenges and successes you faced as an app developer?
JS: The biggest challenge we face as app developers is creating artwork for our apps and promoting our apps. The value of excellent artwork and promotion cannot be emphasized enough in the mobile world. Apps must have really compelling logos to grab people’s attention, and then must have a very well designed, aesthetically pleasing user interface to keep people coming back. There are a few exceptions to this but I’ve learned that by and large this is the rule. My boyfriend and I are much more talented at software development than illustration and design, and we have struggled to create good artwork. We are currently looking for an artist/designer to round out our team and help us create compelling applications.

Not surprisingly, the greatest successes we’ve had are with our best-designed apps. Our most successful app is Name My Tune, a song guessing games which uses music from your own library. Our second most successful app is actually the one I am most proud of, Headshot. Headshot is an app that helps people who do not have front-facing cameras take pictures of themselves by providing audio cues. An early version of the application actually won an internal “Hawaii Xapfest” contest run by Microsoft Research, which inspired me to finish the application and release it publicly.