Computer Science

How to Become a Mobile Developer—And Why They’re So In-Demand

How to Become a Mobile Developer—And Why They’re So In-Demand
Mobile development is one of the fields with the highest employer demand relative to the number of developers available. Image from Unsplash
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry October 15, 2019

There are currently more positions available for mobile developers than there are developers to fill them. If you have a knack for programming and you're looking for a career path with lots of opportunities, you should give mobile development some serious consideration.

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Mobile app development is big business. According to Statista, mobile apps will generate $462 billion in revenue worldwide in 2019, and are expected to generate $935 billion in 2023. That’s a lot of cash, but that’s because mobile apps have multiple means of creating revenue: there are paid downloads, in-app purchases, and in-app advertising, and that’s just for games, hardly the sum total of mobile app business. True, gaming apps are the most popular mobile apps, but there are also millions of business apps, education apps, utilities apps, and more. Mobile developers are behind all of them.

Mobile developers are the IT professionals responsible for designing, building, and maintaining mobile applications. Depending on their platform specialization (and how employers refer to them), they may think of themselves as Android developers, iOs developers, app developers, or mobile app developers.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • What is mobile application development?
  • A day in the life of a mobile developer
  • The education needed to become a mobile developer
  • Bootstrapping your way into mobile development

Is becoming a mobile developer right for you? Keep reading to find out.

What is mobile application development?

Mobile application development (or mobile development) is how apps—from high-profile apps like Instagram to the apps that come pre-installed on smartphones, tablets, and increasingly, PCs (e.g., the camera app or the calculator) to fun indie games—get made.

Mobile application development is similar in many ways to traditional software development, but app developers have to think about many more hardware specifications and configurations because their products need to work the same way on devices that can be very different. That’s why most mobile developers specialize in a specific platform (Android development or iOs development). They may further specialize in a specific development area like games, business applications, or health applications.


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A day in the life of a mobile developer

When you become a mobile applications developer, your daily duties may include:

  • Talking with clients about app specifications
  • Mocking up apps
  • Programming
  • Connecting apps to other programs and databases
  • Performing QA tests on apps
  • Presenting progress to clients
  • Running a beta testing program
  • Writing documentation
  • Learning a new programming language
  • Updating apps with new features
  • Responding to crash reports
  • Fixing reported bugs

Mobile developers wear many hats and take on many responsibilities. It’s a challenge, but in return, you get to exercise a lot of control over projects. That’s one of the best parts of the job, according to mobile developer Ian Joyner, an Apadmi mobile developer who shared some of his experiences on the company blog. He explains: “App teams tend to be small, which means the role of a developer typically spans requirements, software development, testing as well as often being client-facing. This variety and influence at all stages of the project really appeals to me.”

The education needed to become a mobile developer

Many online guides to becoming a mobile developer will tell you that you don’t need a degree to break into this field. In theory, that’s true; technically, all it takes to become a mobile developer is drive. You can learn pretty much everything about the practical aspects of mobile development in free courses and boot camps (more on that below), and then launch as many games or applications as you can dream up. At that point, you can reasonably call yourself a mobile developer.

The problem is that paying employers may not agree that you deserve that title. A quick look at job listings for mobile developers on Glassdoor suggests that despite the prevailing wisdom, many employers are looking for candidates with degrees.

Here’s a sampling of what those employers want, quoted from actual job listings:

  • BS degree in computer science or related field
  • Bachelor’s degree in a science or engineering field preferred
  • Bachelor’s degree in computer science, software engineering, management information science, or related field
  • Bachelor’s degree in computer science, engineering or mathematics

Not every job listing for mobile developers includes a degree requirement, but it’s worth noting that you’ll never be penalized by employers for having a bachelor’s degree, and that it may make you a more attractive job candidate. A computer science degree will probably be the most versatile option. Look for schools that let students choose mobile app development or mobile computing as a concentration.

Computer science programs offering mobile app development and/or mobile computing concentrations can be found at:

Computer science programs cover fundamental topics such as:

  • Mathematics
  • Programming
  • Databases
  • Networks
  • Statistics and probability
  • Software engineering

Some of what you learn may not apply to your future work as a mobile developer, but a lot of it will. As you begin to do more advanced coursework, the curriculum will include object-oriented programming in C++, algorithm design and analysis, software design, AI, project management, and even finance. Your concentration classes will probably touch:

  • The mobile app development cycle
  • Popular mobile platforms
  • Mobile design principles
  • 3D graphics
  • The mobile user experience
  • PHP
  • JavaScript

So what about a bachelor’s in mobile development? There are few full degree programs devoted to the field (most offered by less prestigious for-profit schools), but a number of universities do offer standalone classes, extension programs, or certificates in mobile development.

There are mobile development courses offered at:

As the demand for mobile apps grows, expect more colleges to offer specialized degree paths entirely devoted to mobile app development.

Bootstrapping your way into mobile development

If you have no plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree, or it’s just not feasible right now, you can still start on the path to an eventual career as a mobile developer by taking classes, learning to use the popular frameworks through trial and error, enrolling in a mobile app development boot camp, or doing all three. Your goal should be to learn the principles of secure and stable software design, understand the software development process and lifecycle, learn at least two programming languages, and master at least one of the most popular mobile development platforms.

The first thing you need to do is decide what platform—Android or iOS—you will work in. From there, look for tutorial videos, how-to guides, online courses, and other resources for aspiring mobile developers. Most mobile developers know one or more of the following programming languages:

  • Python
  • Java
  • PHP
  • js
  • C++
  • Swift
  • Objective – C
  • JavaScript

They can also work in one or more of the following frameworks:

  • Mobile Roadie
  • TheAppBuilder
  • Good Barber
  • Appy Pie
  • AppMachine
  • GameSalad
  • BiznessApps

You can’t learn everything about every platform, programming language, and framework, so you’ll need to decide which to prioritize. As in many areas of the tech world, mobile development technology is continually evolving. The languages and frameworks popular today may not be the ones in use five years from now. Look into what’s popular now, as well as what people are anticipating will be most useful in the future before you make any decisions.

For an immersive education in mobile development, you can’t go wrong with intensive eight-to-twelve week developer boot camp programs. These programs tend to be tough (hence the name boot camp) but will get you up to speed. They may also facilitate professional connections that will prove valuable when you start job hunting.

So, is becoming a mobile developer right for you?

Mobile development isn’t going anywhere. More than half the world’s population uses smartphones and smartphone ownership is increasing around the world. We are increasingly dependent on mobile technology, which suggests the need for more and better apps is inevitable. That means that jobs for mobile developers will be around for a long time.

If you’re trying to decide between front-end or back-end web development or mobile development, consider the following. According to data from StackOverflow, mobile development is one of the fields with the highest employer demand relative to the number of developers available. It may be easier to get a job in mobile development than in web development.

You’ll also earn more. PayScale reports that the average web developer salary is just over $59,000, while the average mobile developer salary is more than $73,000.

All told, becoming a mobile developer is not a bad idea—especially if you’re someone who thinks of themselves as a lifelong learner. You’ll need to study up on new technologies every few years, but chances are good you’ll have plenty of opportunities open to you for years to come.

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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