Next-Generation Job: Mobile Application Developer

Joe Hankin was on the fast track to law school. The 25-year-old Maryland native graduated early from Brown University and soon landed a paralegal job at a corporate law firm in New York City. After two and a half years, however, he had a change of heart.

"I had enough attorneys tell me not to go to law school that I finally listened to them," said Hankin. Their advice inspired him to take an entirely different direction.

Mobile app developer
Mobile app developer

He started to dabble in Web development. At first he just created Web pages, and then he eventually moved on to the more complex field of computer programming. After a significant amount of independent reading and several post-baccalaureate computer science classes, Hankin found himself equipped to take on iPhone application development.

"I came up with some ideas and made an app of my own that’s still actually waiting for entry into the [Apple ] App Store right now, but it was strong enough to land me a job," said Hankin.

Thanks in part to his Baby Burp mobile app, which turns an iPhone into a baby you can burp, Hankin landed a job at Fuzz Productions in New York, where he’s been working for six months.

Considering the current employment landscape, many would say Hankin made a wise decision by moving into the growing mobile application field. Even though the economy is still shedding jobs and unemployment is nearly 10 percent, Hankin is in a profession where the supply of qualified candidates is less than the demand—and many expect that demand to grow dramatically.

According to research firm Gartner, mobile application downloads will exceed 4.5 billion worldwide in 2010, up from 2.5 billion in 2009. The firm projects that number will soar to nearly 22 billion in 2013. This growth, according to Gartner, is expected to produce $6.7 billion in mobile app revenue in 2010, up from $4.2 billion in 2009. From 2008 to 2013, the firm estimates there will be more than 50 billion applications downloads generating more than $72 billion. This upward trajectory, according to industry insiders, translates into job opportunities.

Elance, a Web-based company that connects online freelancers with employers, saw demand for mobile application development grow 180 percent on its site in 2009. More than 8,800 iPhone jobs alone were posted on Elance in 2009, and the company said the pace is accelerating across all mobile application platforms.

"Currently demand [for mobile application development] exceeds supply," said Fabio Rosati, CEO of Elance. "At the beginning of last year, it was 10:1, and I think now it's more 5:1 as people are recognizing the trend," he added.

Rosati expects this imbalance to continue and says emerging demand for GoogleAndroid apps and apps for Apple's iPad, which is due in stores on April 3, will likely follow the fast growth of iPhone apps. More than 20 iPad jobs, for example, were listed on Elance within the first 24 hours of the iPad announcement, and many more have been added since.

Rosati, whose company is global, said the hourly rate for a mobile application developer ranges from $20 to $150 an hour, depending on the location of the developer and their credentials.

Despite the 9.7 percent unemployment rate, Fuzz Productions, the nine-year-old company where Joe Hankin works, is finding it difficult to find more qualified candidates like Hankin in this relatively new space.

"In the Web development world it's pretty easy to find talented people that know how to do Web development," explained Nathanial Trienens, director of mobile services at Fuzz. "It doesn't require as much classical training (as mobile application development), and people can pick it up a little easier on their own." He added that nearly all of the mobile application developers at Fuzz have a degree in computer science, while none of the developers on the Web side do.

Fuzz started as a Web development company, but just last year they launched a mobile division. Today, the mobile division comprises nearly half of the company's 18 employees and is close to beating the Web division in revenue.

The company currently has 27 mobile apps in the Apple App Store and has 12 more in development. Their clients include AOL , Rodale, Sotheby's and Lucky Brand. The strong interest in mobile apps, according to Trienens, has allowed the company to be selective in the projects it takes on.

"It's definitely been a high growth and fast moving space," added Trienens, who expects to hire four additional mobile application developers within the next six months.

So how can someone fill one of those four spots?

"As long as you have a programming background, you can program iPhone apps," said Joe Hankin, speaking form experience. He said a computer science or computer engineering degree would be helpful but ultimately, he concluded, the proof is in the pudding.

"In the industry, employers are more interested in what you’ve done and what you can do than what your degree is in," he added. "If you have an iPhone app under your belt, you have something you can show people, and that’s the most important thing.

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