Why did the app developer move back home with his mom?
Sure, that sounds like the setup for a joke—but for many developers, it’s also reality: despite the much-publicized stories of app-builders and startup founders making millions (or even billions) off the software they’ve built, the substantial majority earn only just enough to get by, according to a new column in the Harvard Business Review.
“Encouraging kids to blow off schoolwork to write apps, or skip college to become entrepreneurs, is like advising them to take their college money and invest it in PowerBall,” Jerry Davis, Wilbur K. Pierpont professor of management at the Ross School of Business and the editor of Administrative Science Quarterly, wrote in that column. “A few may win big; many or most will end up living with their moms.”
Davis cited a recent article in The New York Times that followed a handful of teenagers who’d created popular apps for Apple’s App Store; while their attempts at entrepreneurship were laudable, their efforts didn’t exactly make them millionaires—Ryan Orbuch, a 16-year-old programmer who helped develop an anti-procrastination app called Finish, ended up splitting $30,000 in revenues with a business partner. And with millions of apps available for Apple’s iOS, Google Android, and BlackBerry (many of them for free), it’s increasingly difficult for an independent developer to even make that much.
Compounding the problem is the fact that some of the hottest companies out there for developers and programmers don’t have nearly enough job openings to absorb the flood of graduates from the world’s universities. Whereas a major corporation of yesteryear might need tens of thousands (or even hundreds of thousands) of employees to fill positions from the factory floor to the corporate boardrooms, even Facebook can get by with a couple thousand, and many hot startups employ only a few dozen.
However, the prospect of becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs is just too tantalizing for many people to pass up, even if the chances of wild success are smaller than anyone rational would like to admit. And so developers will continue to toil away at their apps—even if, in order to save costs, it means they need to move home again.
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