iOS Developer: Necessary Skills, Education, Training, Résumé

When Apple’s iOS App Store opened in 2008, people expected it to be huge. After all, the iPhone—released the year before—was well on its way to becoming a massive hit, and developers around the world were salivating at the chance to build apps and services for it. Eleven years later, becoming an iOS developer is a mature career path, and the App Store is larger than many of those early optimists dreamed.  

The App Store debuted with 500 applications; now there are roughly 2 million (although to be fair, not all of these apps are maintained and updated on a regular basis). Whether you’re a full-time iOS developer who builds massive enterprise apps, or a weekend hobbyist who’s interested in building a simple iOS game, the App Store has a place for you. 

If you’re new to the iOS ecosystem, how can you land a job as an iOS developer? What does it take to build a career? Fortunately, there’s lots of advice out there on how to get started—and prosper.

Typical iOS Developer Job Posting

A company on the hunt for an iOS developer might bullet-point out the following requirements, in terms of skills:

  • iOS development knowledge (Swift, Objective-C, XCode, etc.).
  • Developing an app according to requirements and specs.
  • Collaborating with development resources (both internal and external).
  • Implementing new technologies and methodologies to maximize development efficiency.
  • Communicating to stakeholders, including executives, about app-development progress.
  • Excellent communication and decision-making skills.
  • A track record of releasing high-quality apps and services.

In addition, many companies want folks with the following types of experience:

  • BA/BS in computer science or related field (although the years required can vary, especially if the candidate has a ton of practical experience).
  • 5+ years of software development experience.
  • 3+ years of iOS development.

As Apple pushes further into new realms, including augmented reality, iOS developers will no doubt have to master a deeper knowledge of ARKit 3 and Reality Kit, which will allow them to deliver next-generation experiences. However, not all companies will necessarily want or need an AR-based experience; time will tell whether AR can emerge from its tight niche.

Also, there’s a theory that the time of year you apply for an iOS developer job matters. Based off data pulled from the Dice database, for example, we’ve determined that the first and third quarters of the year is when many iOS developer jobs are posted, which correlates with Apple events such as WWDC, when new features and iOS updates are introduced. (Then again, given companies’ general hunger for iOS skills, there’s never a bad time to apply, especially if a job posting just went up.)

iOS Developer Education and Training

If you’re very new to the iOS developer life, start off by checking out Swift Playgrounds, which is designed as a fun way to teach people the fundamentals of the language. From there, Apple offers an “App Development with Swift” course via iBooks. Plus, there are lots of online learning materials devoted to Swift and Objective-C; at the very least, you can read Apple’s extensive documentation on Objective-C, which is dry but pretty comprehensive.

As with many developer jobs, many companies are putting more emphasis on practical skills than educational background. That’s fantastic news for those developers who haven’t gone through formal lessons in iOS app building—but it also means that anyone applying for a job really needs to know their stuff.

Typical iOS Developer Job Interview

A typical iOS developer interview can quickly get into the weeds. If you can’t explain the right context for using a third-party library, or give your opinion on the Grand Central Dispatch (GCD) framework, you’re going to have a problem. 

For starters, an interviewer is probably going to want to delve into your experience with Objective-C and Kotlin. At companies that maintain a lot of older apps, Objective-C is particularly key, as any iOS developer on staff will likely have to maintain that legacy code (or rewrite everything in Swift). Knowing Swift is also important, especially as it continues to take center-stage in iOS development.

From there, an interviewer will no doubt ask about your experience building iOS apps and services. This is your moment to talk about what you’ve done in the past—make sure to not only highlight your successes, but also point out any innovative ways that you’ve solved challenges during the app-building process. Interviewers are often looking for creativity and suppleness of thought on the part of developers; they want to see how you think around corners. If you managed to get an iOS app into the App Store against all reasonable odds, now’s the time to tell that story in a concise, engaging way.

On top of that, the interviewer might hit you with some trickier questions. Get ready to solve some problems (perhaps even on a whiteboard) and answer from esoteric “gotcha” questions. It’s difficult to prepare for this kind of thing, aside from relying on your experience. Keep in mind, though, that it’s not just about finding the right answer; interviewers also want some insight into how you think through problems, and they’re sometimes willing to give you credit even if you don’t come up with the “correct solution.”

At some point, the interviewer may also bring up salary. Keep in mind that you should never offer a hard number first; either come up with a suitable range, or else deflect by saying you’re sure that your prospective employer will pay what the market will sustain. It’s imperative that the interviewer shows their cards first.

If you’re curious (and if you’re in the market for an iOS developer job, you should be), the “average” full-time iOS developer salary is quite high in various cities. Check out this handy chart, pulled from Dice data:

iOS Developer Résumé: What to Include

As always, you should tailor your résumé to match the job you’re applying for, as well as your skills. Make sure that the bullet-points in your experience section not only highlight your projects, but also describe results—for example, if you launched a successful app for your last company, you’re definitely going to want to mention that.

A successful iOS developer résumé will absolutely detail your Swift and Objective-C experience; there’s simply no way around that. In fact, you should go deep into your work with both languages, which will persuade employers that you can not only handle building new apps, but also maintaining legacy code.

You should also include any experience with Xcode tooling; in addition, many companies will want you to have some database experience (MySQL, Oracle, etc.), as well as Java and JavaScript, which are important to mobile and web development.

One final word: Over the past few years, non-native tools such as React Native and Cordova have become a popular way to build apps for multiple mobile platforms. Since 2018, however, both Apple and Google have been waging a bit of a shadow-war against many non-native tools, and the number of apps created as a result of non-native development has declined precipitously (according to AppFigures).

Nonetheless, highlighting that you have experience with tools such as React Native can appeal to companies that are building multiple apps on multiple platforms; at the very least, it shows that you’re well-versed in the nuances of the mobile app industry.   

When in doubt, be as comprehensive as possible—while keeping things to one page, if at all possible (interviewers and recruiters will generally spend less than a minute on their first skim-through of your application materials, remember). And when in doubt, remember: even if you don’t land the first job or two you apply for, the need for iOS developers means that (sooner or later) you will land that interview.