What Makes a Good Mobile App Developer – One That’ll Get Hired?

It’s not news that the mobile app market is growing, and so is the need for developers. So, what do you need to get hired as one? One quick answer: more than technology chops.

“For me, it’s always about attitude,” says Tony Sandoval, CTO of Angry Villagers, a mobile media and app development company. “I like finding people who would be doing this even if they weren’t being paid. That’s why I think a lot of people look to hire app developers who have successfully published an app in Apple’s App Store. I also like gamers because it feels like they know a little bit about how to entertain people.”

Having said that, Sandoval adds that certain language skills are required. “At the base, we need people who know Objective-C. It’s even better if they’re great with OpenGL ES since that means we can go and develop richer game experiences with them. And a few shops will probably want to get Java people to develop natively for the Android OS.”

Contracting is Lucrative

Mobile app developers are as likely to be freelance as full-time. Sandoval has hired developers recently for the iPhone/iPad platform, but has found few who want to go full-time. “It seems the market is pretty lucrative for them right now,” he observes, predicting Angry Villagers will probably hire mostly contractors for the foreseeable future.

Harsha Raghavan, a recruiter at Sapphire Technologies, confirms the surge of demand and contract work. “A lot of it has been for Apple but some of it has been for Android as well,” she says. “App development by startups has been going on for two to three years now, but more established companies seem to be catching on now, so there’s lots of contract-based work out there. As long as developers have shown some level of interest in app development, they should be able to find projects.”

What Companies Look For

Eric Chamberlain, founder of RF.com, which develops mobile applications in the VoIP space, looks for efficient developers with good coding skills. He doesn’t focus on experience levels, choosing instead to pair up experienced developers with eager juniors. He needs developers with Objective-C, Java, JavaScript, HTML, and/or Python experience,” and like Sandoval he seeks passion in his hires. “We want developers who live and breathe coding, those that code as a lifestyle, not just a job, and are also creative,” he says.

At Kuliza Technologies – a rapidly growing firm building social software and mobile apps, games for the Android and iPhone/iPad markets – Chief Evangelist Kaushal Sarda looks for programmers with skills in Objective-C, C#, SQL Server, XML, Java, or JavaScript. Interface skills are also high on his list: “I need people with excellent graphic design skills, Photoshop and Flash talents, and people with a good understanding of Web and interactive design fundamentals.”

Chamberlain echoes the idea that smart mobile app design is a particular challenge. “Good developers realize that coding for mobile devices isn’t like developing for the desktop. Mobile devices have screen, performance, bandwidth and power limitations,” he says. “Coding for mobile devices today is like coding for desktops 15 years ago. Some new developers weren’t working 15 years ago and just don’t get it.”

All this competition for talent is resulting in some good salaries. In a survey of both employers and recruiters by Dice and Bloomberg, 41 percent said the most common salary range for full-time mobile engineers and designers was $75,001 to $100,000. Another 28 percent said average pay was even higher: $100,001 to $125,000. About a third said they paid “higher than normal” salaries for mobile developers because of demand for talent.

Today, Dice has more than 2,000 job postings for “mobile applications.” The race to fill those slots is just getting underway. “Pay rates are very attractive, which is typical for a new market,” says Sapphire’s Raghavan. So, it’s worth any developer’s time to considering
switching into mobile app development.”

— Don Willmott

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