At the turn of the century, Michael Candelori remembers thinking his first mobile device, a Palm m105, would be perfect if it could only hold all the software from his personal computer. Now, more than a decade later, Candelori is part of making that dream a reality through his work as the creative director and technical lead for mobile app development at marketing agency ATS Mobile. His work has him in the middle of an industry poised for explosive growth during the coming years.
"Every day developers and innovators are creating new functionalities and expanding the horizon of how mobile devices can make our lives easier," says Candelori.
In exchange for pushing the envelope in terms of innovation and functionality, mobile app developers are well-compensated and have access to jobs at both dedicated app companies as well as more traditional employers seeking to hop on the app bandwagon.
'App economy' equals 466,000 jobs
In 2012, Dr. Michael Mandel of South Mountain Economics dubbed the job-creating power of mobile technology as the 'app economy.' In a report prepared for the bipartisan political organization TeachNet, Mandel estimated apps are responsible for 466,000 jobs in the U.S. That numbers exceeds jobs created by software publishers, wireless telecom carriers and electronic shopping.
His findings are consistent with government estimates for growth in the tech industry in general. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not specifically track employment numbers for mobile app developers, it does project the IT industry will grow at a rate of 6.1 percent per year. For comparison, the average annual growth of all industries is pegged at 2.9 percent.
Meanwhile, the Application Developers Alliance estimates mobile app revenue will rocket to $46 billion by 2016. In 2011, industry revenue was only $5 billion.
It's a man's world - and a well paid one too
The Application Developers Alliance has also compiled other interesting information on the demographics of current developers. Like other tech careers, mobile app development is dominated by men with a whopping 94 percent of those in the workforce being males.
In addition, according to the alliance, the career is largely the domain of younger workers.
- 40 percent of developers are between 25-34 years old and the average age is 33
- 52 percent have at least two years experience, but only 30 percent have more than four years experience
- 54 percent come from North America
Despite their youth, mobile app developers can command impressive salaries. The Application Developers Alliance places the average income for developers in 2012 at $75,000. However, other surveys find the income potential might be much greater.
The Robert Half Technology 2014 Salary Guide estimates starting salaries for U.S. mobile application developers will be between $100,000 and $144,000 next year. That represents a 7.8 percent increase in starting salaries from 2013.
Developers challenged to keep up
Growth in the mobile app industry shows no signs of slowing as consumers continue to demand more from their devices.
"Custom mobile apps for brands, businesses and other organizations are already becoming an essential part of our daily experience, and I think that companies of all sizes will find themselves at a disadvantage if they don't embrace all that apps can offer," says Candelori, explaining that even non-tech companies are going to need robust apps in the future.
For developers like Candelori, the rapid pace of app expansion is both exciting and challenging. "The app world moves very fast and in addition to creating new opportunities for our brand clients to engage, activate and expand their customer base, we have to stay in tune with the rapid progress of mobile technology," he says.
That means staying on top of not only new operating system releases, but also accommodating technological advances and customizing user experiences based upon their device and screen size.
Get the education and experience to land the job
"I wouldn't say that you need a degree," says Candelori. "It depends a lot on how you learn."
He should know, seeing that his formal education is in filmmaking. However, he found that his self-taught computer skills combined with a creative background made him the perfect fit for his current employer.
"If you learn best in a classroom or group-learning environment, then a degree program might be the perfect fit," suggests Candelori, "[but] schools cannot teach you creative problem-solving or design intuition. Those skills are acquired through doing."
That said, the Application Developers Alliance notes 71 percent of mobile app developers have college degrees. In response to the incredible demand in the field, some schools have started rolling out dedicated degrees in mobile app development. However, Robert Half Technology says a degree in computer science or information systems may be enough to help an applicant's chances of landing a job.
Along with exploring related degree programs, students interested in becoming app developers should pull out their phones and spend time getting to know what's already out there.
"It is impossible to know what's next unless you can find what's not been done yet," advises Candelori. "The best way to innovate is to find a problem and try to solve it."
Michael Candelori, Creative Director and Technical Lead for Mobile App Development at ATS Mobile
"Mobile App Development: Hot Skill and Hard-to-Find Candidates," Robert Half Technology. November 18, 2013, Kellie Shadle, http://blog.rht.com/mobile-app-development-hot-skill-hard-find-candidates/
2014 IT Salary Guide, Robert Half Technology, http://www.roberthalf.com/technology/it-salary-center
Industry Research, Application Developers Alliance, Accessed December 13, 2013, http://appdevelopersalliance.org/research
"Careers in the growing field of information technology services," Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 2013, Lauren Csorny, http://www.bls.gov/opub/btn/volume-2/careers-in-growing-field-of-information-technology-services.htm
"Where the Jobs Are: The App Economy," TechNet, February 7, 2012, Michael Mandel, http://www.technet.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/TechNet-App-Economy-Jobs-Study.pdf