Meet Maria Ly, Co-founder & CEO of wellness app Skimble (maker of Workout Trainer for Samsung). To celebrate International Women’s Day, we interviewed this top female developer and entrepreneur. She shared her journey to become a leader in a male-dominated industry and her passion for supporting women in tech. Read on for some great tips on how you can help women make big moves in the tech industry.
How did you get your start in the tech industry?
Growing up in Canada, I was part of KidsAreIT, a tech-focused program founded by Vicki Saunders (who now heads up SheEO). I stayed in touch with this group to help foster the youth entrepreneurial culture in Canada and even had a mobile-modification business with a few high school friends. I chose to take all the tech and programming classes available at my high school, which continued to spark my joy in tech.
Eventually, I went on to study Computer Engineering at the University of Waterloo. During my studies, I had 6 different co-op internships around the world, which exposed me to different tech verticals (CAD software, aerospace, automotive, HVAC, semiconductors, etc.) and some wonderful bosses/mentors. All these early life experiences helped solidify the idea that I could have fun doing meaningful work within the tech industry, and I’m forever grateful.
What inspired you to start Skimble and what makes Workout Trainer different from other fitness apps?
As a youngster, I dabbled in figure skating and gymnastics, got the chance to represent Canada at the World Cheerleading Championships, and more. Then I fell in love with rock climbing. I was all about living an active life and dreamed of the day I could combine tech and fitness in a creative way. With the advent of the smartphone, Skimble came to life. Our flagship app, Workout Trainer, was among the first multimedia-focused workout apps on the market, offering the largest open exercise databases for community members and trainers. That means you can quickly find a workout that meets your needs or simply create a specific workout of your choosing, complete with your own media. We also showcase a ton of real-life and celebrity trainers on a regular basis so you can follow these folks to help keep you motivated.
What major hurdles did you face when developing Skimble?
We’ve been bootstrapped and self-funded since day one. When we got into the Rock Health accelerator program, we received a grant to build out our app. In those early days, my co-founder and I did most of the heavy lifting. I went through a UI/UX bootcamp course to help us design our initial user experience and ran about 30 of our first photoshoots. This was a great experience because we got immediate feedback from our community and were able to collaborate first-hand with so many amazing personal trainers.
How has Samsung supported Skimble and the developing process?
Samsung provides developers with a range of developer tools as well as stellar developer-focused learning/networking events like the Samsung Developer Conference. As part of the Made for Samsung app suite, we’ve had the opportunity to work closely with in-house developers on select partner projects, too. We were also stoked to receive the 2021 Best Wellness App award.
What are some unique challenges you’ve faced as a woman in the tech industry and how did you overcome them?
Many moons ago, there were only a handful of women computer engineering/science grads coming out of most universities. There were plenty of skeptics in a predominantly male-centric world and I have my (un)fair share of stories. You may be aware of an unconscious bias where men are judged by their potential and women are judged by their past performance. Women are additionally judged on their friendliness and morality.
Despite all this, there was still this resounding sense of can-do in the air and it did not stop our early crew of tech ladies from being the change we wanted to see.
As I started Skimble, I felt in many ways less pressure to fit a certain mold. We were creating our own company culture, which was pretty liberating!
How has the tech industry changed to encourage more females to pursue a career in tech?
One thing is that there’s more transparency in recruiting/hiring including how much pay an average person in a certain role should receive. This kind of info wasn’t available in the past. Now, it’s openly available and informs us of the gender pay gap, especially at the higher levels. That kind of information can be used by women to negotiate. Anita Borg suggests some companies that are pro-women in the workforce.
Why is it important to encourage other women in tech?
In the tech industry, less than 30% of the jobs are held by women. Broadly speaking, most technology is for everyone. It makes perfect sense that women should be right there at the forefront. Visibility also matters. Girls and boys need to see tech leaders of all genders, ethnicities, shapes, and sizes. This way, we can create the most inclusive solutions for the near and far future.
What advice do you have for young women who are interested in a career in tech?
Go for it! More than ever before, women are breaking barriers, having their voices heard, gaining the support of their male counterparts, and narrowing the pay/position gaps.
I would further encourage parents of young children to expose them equally to different career options. Have them participate in a STEM program over the summer. Teach them how to type and code. You know the hashtag #TYMED (teaching young minds every day)? We need to start educating them early so when they look around and ask themselves, “Where is the inspiration?”, it will hopefully be all around us.
What are your favorite resources or organizations that support women in tech?
Nowadays, I have been investing alongside some incredible women. One in five angel investors are women!
On the early/angel stage side, I’ve had the opportunity to invest with Tess Hau of Tess Ventures. On the later stage / pre-IPO side, I’ve invested with Kristin McDonnell of Menlo Group. I’m lucky to able to advise women-led companies and collab on side projects with women. This is to say that if you can, let’s pay it forward in women-centric investing and mentorship. Let’s help each other chase down our biggest dreams.
Moreover, I have always had respect for my alma mater, the University of Waterloo. And I can’t forget to give a shout out to all the greater Toronto area entrepreneurial tech communities(PDF). Many of these groups didn’t exist in the early 2000s.
Thanks to Maria Ly for sharing her experiences in tech and helpful advice on supporting the next generation of women in tech. Be sure to follow us on @samsung_dev to keep up-to-date on the latest developer news. Keep an eye on our blog for some helpful resources on how you can support women in tech, and make sure to sign up for the Samsung Developer Program to take advantage of exclusive benefits and access helpful developer resources.