Whether you’re looking to stream the latest news, deposit money into your bank account or shop for shoes, chances are there’s an app for that.
Of course, it doesn’t find its way into the app store without first touching the hands of a mobile-app developer, who’s responsible for everything from brainstorming the design with artists to typing up the code that makes it a reality.
We spoke with Kathy Tafel, the director of mobile engineering at Meetup, to find out more about the profession:
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What does a mobile-app developer do?
Much like the title suggests, a mobile-app developer is responsible for creating, testing and programming apps for mobile devices. “They usually work with product managers, designers and artists to build app features and then bring those ideas to life through code,” says Tafel. “If you’re on a bigger team, your [code] gets integrated with other team members’ work, and eventually that gets built into software that can be distributed by Google Play or the Apple app store.”
What schooling do you need?
While a computer-science degree is not required, it is helpful. More important, though, is a basic understanding of how computers work. The rest can be learned through a series of online tutorials and classes. “You have to have a curiosity and a desire to make it happen — without that, you can’t do it — but you absolutely don’t need to go to school,” Tafel says.
In fact, unless you attend a school that’s devoted specifically to app development, a computer-science degree is not guaranteed to arm you with the needed skills. “You’ll still need to do the same thing, which is learn on the internet how to use the environment, and run through tutorials,” she says. After all, “engineering is usually all about sharing knowledge.”
What’s the typical salary?
The median salary for mobile app developers is $78,232, according to national averages surveyed by Glassdoor.
Nowadays, nearly every industry— from healthcare to fashion and entertainment— has an app, which means there are plenty of employment opportunities for those looking to enter the field.
And while the skills of an app developer are undoubtedly in high-demand, companies are generally looking for people with experience. Tafel’s advice for those looking to break in: Create an app and maintain it for a few years. That gives you a tangible product to show to potential employers.
“There an exhilaration that comes from knowing that what you’re typing on your screen will be on billions of people’s devices in a couple of weeks,” says Tafel.
And that doesn’t even take into account the bigger picture. “You change the world every time you add something to the software ecosystem,” she says.
For those working with a team, making compromises during the development phase can be a challenge. “It usually makes the software better, but it’s one of those things that you have to learn that’s hard about the job,” says Tafel.
There’s also the need to keep up with the pace of innovation. “When Google and Apple upgrade their operating systems, you’re no longer doing the work that you choose to do — you have to just do what they say so that your software still works on their operating system,” says Tafel. “That can be very frustrating.”