Women In Technology with Haiyan Ma

What's it like to be a woman in the industry? How can we do better?
Francesco Deliro
Francesco Deliro
August 24, 2018

In such a male-dominated industry, it’s important that we elevate the voices of women in order to not only support our existing peers but to also encourage others to follow suit and consider a career in technology. In the interests of sharing the experiences of others, I interviewed my friend Haiyan Ma about how we could get more women in the technology industry.

Haiyan is a senior iOS Software Engineer at Letgo and Founder of Yanstar Studio. She also happens to be one of the developers behind the Android version of the Undercover app, a pocket-sized social game that helps to break the ice at dinner parties, outings and reunions. It has consistently held a top place in the ‘Word Game’ chart in both Singapore and Indonesia and it has, so far, reached 54 countries with an average 4.7 star review from its users! Pretty impressive, no?!

From her unintentional beginnings in the industry to the projects that have been the most rewarding so far, our interview with Haiyan proved to be really interesting. If you’d like to see more interview-style posts in the future, let us know!

Hello, Haiyan! Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I grew up in Sichuan, China, the land of spicy food and giant pandas! I studied and lived in France, Holland and Denmark, before finally moving to the wonderful city of Barcelona 3 years ago. During this journey, I gradually shifted my focus from physics to mobile development and I love everything about it! I am also a fan of spontaneous trips, good food, human languages and good design.

Firstly, we want to find out a little more about your iOS beginnings. How did you get started with your career?

I started a career in iOS development without any real intention of doing so. I’d just finished my PhD in Physics and I had a stable job working for a multinational company. It all seemed perfect on paper but I found that I was feeling more and more puzzled by my trajectory. I was only in my mid-twenties but it was as if I could already see how my life would pan out for the next 15 years or so!

I started thinking about new skills that I wanted to acquire in order to spice up my life a bit more and that was when I signed up for some courses on Coursera to try and get some inspiration. The real driving force of inspiration, however, came about in the summer of 2014 in the form of a family trip to Peru. I was so excited about the trip that I wanted to contribute something in return.

I remembered a social game that I’d played with my friends during another trip some time before. It was so much fun and I was sure that my family would love it too! The only problem was that the app only existed in Chinese and there were only 10 days left before we embarked on the trip!

In the end, with an abundance of enthusiasm, I decided to devote those 10 days to learning the basics of iOS development so that I could share a French version of the app with my loved ones. It was a painful yet extremely rewarding journey, with lots of hours spent in front of the computer. I had very little sleep and the sleep that I did manage to have was filled with programme-related dreams! It was all worth it, however, as I soon had my very first working MVP ready for the trip. Upon returning home, full of positive feedback, I worked on improving the app before finally submitting it to the App Store.

My career in iOS development, whilst born from humble beginnings, blossomed from there…

What does a typical day at work look like for you?

In all honesty, it depends!

I work as a full-time iOS Developer at Letgo. Since we organize our teams into squads, I start each day with a morning standup with my squad where we update one another on our progress in various areas, from backend to frontend, from data to iOS and Android. After the standup, we have a coffee together and then start working. We maintain a good system that prevents us from having too many meetings so, in an average day, I usually have my morning free to focus on my work.  

During the day, alongside my iOS team members, I write code, review the work of my peers, discuss any issues or doubts anyone may have and, for the most part, have fun whilst I get on with the aforementioned activities. We also check updates from other squads in the company, chat with our colleagues, try out our own apps, and, after work, we play board games and do various sports together.

Do you have any female influences in the industry? If so, who?

Yes, absolutely! I follow many women in the technology industry on Twitter and they’re all awesome. In the iOS development world, I really admire Natasha (@NatashaTheRobot), Sommer Panage (@Sommer) and Ayaka Nonaka (@ayanonagon). They’re definitely women that I consider to be role models as they contribute a lot to the community and they’re also supportive, thoughtful and funny!

I also admire many women in other fields, such as Fei-Fei Li (@drfeifei) in AI, Carol E. Reiley (@robot_MD) in self-driving cars and Sheryl Sandberg (@sherylsandberg) for her ‘Lean In’ philosophy.

How do you think we could encourage more girls and women to consider a career in the technology industry?

Many women study Technology or STEM at university and yet some don’t stay within the tech world upon graduating. Emily Chang’s novel, ‘Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley’, partially explores the answer when she looks at the role of positive company culture. If you build a company where everyone is everyone else’s ‘bro’ and the activities on offer are heavily male-centric, you’re more than likely going to be alienating female talent.

From my point of view, building and embracing an inclusive, diverse, open, transparent and meritocratic culture is important for attracting said talent as well as helping to create a safe collaborative environment for any employee to grow.

What moments are you most proud of in your career?

Honestly, I hope my proudest moment hasn’t come yet!

What has been the most rewarding or most interesting project you’ve worked on so far?

It is really difficult to pick the most rewarding or interesting project because each project has rewarded me in a different way.

The Letgo app is the most complex, amazing and ambitious project that I have worked on. I am learning so much from it, and the amazing team around it, on a daily basis and it consistently challenges me which is just one of the reasons as to why I love going to work each day.

My first and most popular personal project to date was Undercover – the social game mentioned at the beginning of this interview. It has a very unique place in my heart. It was a project that turned me into someone who could write code, design UX, talk to customers, organise events, write emails, manage social media, etc. It has given me a wealth of responsibility, sure, but also a great amount of joy. My family, friends, customers and I have all had so much fun with it too.

How could the technology industry be more inclusive for women?

Most of the companies I know of are actively searching for female engineers and building a more diverse and inclusive culture. That’s a great sign!

As for women who already work in the technology industry, we could perhaps try even harder to inspire, lead and become better role models.

What advice would you give to women considering a career in technology?

Don’t be scared to try!

Have you experienced any discrimination or challenges in the workplace because of your gender?

I, thankfully, haven’t ever experienced discrimination or challenges in the workplace because of my gender or ethics. After living in Europe for 10 years, I don’t see the world as them vs. us or you vs. I anymore.

We are all unique human beings with our own special values that we can bring to projects and that’s something to celebrate. I think one of the most important things to remember, especially in the workplace, is to treat others the way you want to be treated.

What are your goals going forward?

2018 has been a beautiful and fulfilling year so far! I’ve been able to build upon my existing iOS knowledge and skills by working on some great apps and I’ve worked with some amazing teams.

I want to continue to expand upon my existing software development and AI knowledge going forward. I also want to give more back to the community through sharing and empowerment.

Thanks for talking to us, Haiyan!


I have worked with Haiyan on several projects over the years so I’m well aware of just how talented she is when it comes to iOS development. She stays up-to-date with all of the latest programming techniques and is also a supporter of clean code.

I’ve improved a lot of my skills thanks to her excellent example so it was a pleasure to interview her. If you’d like to keep up with Haiyan, you can find her on Twitter: @haiyan_nest.


What women in technology do you look up to? How do you think we could make the industry more inclusive? Tweet us at @WeAreMobile1st and we’ll retweet your responses.

We Are Mobile First is a digital product agency based in Barcelona. Follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn or Medium to be notified of our future posts and company updates. We share weekly posts on everything from the things that inspire us to hackathon retrospectives.

(Image credit: Corrine Kutz via Unsplash)