Becoming a Mobile Applications Developer: Job Description & Salary Info

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Learn about a mobile applications developer's job description, salary and education requirements. Get straight talk about the pros and cons of a mobile applications development career.
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Pros and Cons of a Becoming a Mobile Applications Developer

Mobile applications developers primarily design and code programs that run on phones and tablets, while some may create applications for these devices and also make Web applications. Check out all the pros and cons to know what to expect as a mobile applications developer.

Pros of Becoming a Mobile Applications Developer
High earning potential (annual mean wage of approximately $100,000 in 2014)*
Positive job growth expected (23% increase in jobs for applications developers from 2012-2022)*
High school diploma can be sufficient if you have mobile applications development skills and experience**
Can create and publish apps yourself***
Some positions allow telecommuting*

Cons of Becoming a Mobile Applications Developer
More than 25% of developers worked more than 40 hours a week in 2012*
Specialized knowledge is needed for most mobile platforms**
Travel may be required for consulting positions**
May face some job outsourcing*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Multiple job postings from May 2012, ***Apple.com.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Using their knowledge of software engineering, mobile applications developers collaborate with analysts, other developers and project managers to determine the requirements for mobile applications. You could be responsible for developing a variety of programs, including games and Web applications. These developers determine the mobile program's appearance, the functions the application should perform and the integration needed with Web services. The developer must also consider any timelines and cost limitations indicated by the project manager. Self-employed mobile developers may determine their own requirements and limitations, and consultants may work with businesses to figure out the details of a program.

After the requirements are set, the developer designs and codes the app. During these processes, modifications may be made until the application functions as planned. If you're an independent developer, you could submit finished applications to online app stores. You may also provide support for released applications by fixing bugs and uploading upgraded versions. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), around one-fourth of software developers had to work more than 40 hours each week in 2010.

Job Outlook and Salary Info

According to the BLS, the job outlook is favorable for software applications developers, with a projected growth of 23% between 2012 and 2022. As applications on mobile devices become more popular, developers will be needed to meet consumer demand. States with the highest employment levels include Washington, California and Texas. Like other software development careers, there is the risk of some job outsourcing.

The mean annual wage for applications developers was about $100,000, according to the BLS in 2014. The top 10% of applications developers earned more than $149,000, while the lowest 10% made less than $56,000. Some of the highest paying states in 2014 include California, Washington, Massachusetts, New York and Maryland.

What Are Employers Looking For?

A bachelor's degree is not always a requirement for a mobile applications development career, but employers that do require a bachelor's degree typically look for a major in computer science or mathematics. Your program should expose you to several programming languages and software engineering techniques. No matter what level of education an employer wants you to have, you'll still need expertise in mobile and desktop programming languages, including Objective C, C++ and Java. You'll also need to be familiar with mobile operating systems, such as Windows Mobile, Apple iOS and Google Android. An understanding of Web services and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) is usually needed for creating mobile Web applications.

Being flexible is helpful for handling multiple projects, and creativity is a must for turning ideas into a functional application. You'll need to make sure that you fully understand the project and be able to ask specific questions, which makes strong communication and analytical skills extremely beneficial. The ability to collaborate with team members is especially important if you aren't a self-employed developer.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers typically seek candidates with software engineering skills, particularly related to creating programs for Android, Windows Mobile and iOS devices. Employers sometimes waive formal education requirements if you're able to demonstrate your programming abilities and you have experience working with mobile devices. Here are some job listings for mobile applications developers posted in May 2012:

  • A media firm in New York City is looking for a mobile applications developer to create Apple iOS apps. The candidate should be familiar with the Cocoa framework, Objective C and iOS SDK. Other requirements include object-oriented programming experience and at least 2 years of experience using PHP 5. The listing doesn't state any degree requirements.
  • A Virginia consulting firm is looking for an IT mobile applications developer with at least 3 years of programming experience for non-mobile systems and experience with iOS, Android, CSS3, Objective C, Java and HTML5. While the company requires a high school diploma at a minimum, applicants with a bachelor's degree in computer science or mathematics would be preferred.
  • A workforce solutions company in Texas advertised for a mobile applications developer to create Android and iOS applications. A bachelor's degree is required, but can be substituted with 6 years of programming experience. The candidate should have a track record showing knowledge of interfacing with APIs and Web services. The company prefers those who have proficiency in Objective C, Java and C++.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

Get Additional Mobile Application Development Training

While a computer science bachelor's program may cover some languages often used for mobile applications development, you can enroll in courses or certificate programs to further your knowledge of mobile platforms and programming techniques without spending huge sums of money. A single survey course in mobile development can be helpful if your bachelor's degree program doesn't offer a similar elective, and it may introduce you to a variety of platforms. Certificate programs include multiple courses and may let you focus on a specific platform that interests you. You may need a bachelor's degree or need to meet other prerequisites to be eligible for some certificate programs.

Create Apps to Gain Experience

A good way to demonstrate your mobile application development skills to potential employers is to create your own app and get it published in an app store, such as Google Play or iTunes. Each of these stores has specific requirements for your app's content, design and components, and you'll need to register as a developer and get the app approved before it becomes available to users. A registration fee may also be required to get a developer's account.

Other Careers to Consider

Mobile Web Developer

If you're interested in mobile development but don't want to create applications, a mobile Web development career may be a suitable alternative. A mobile Web developer may create graphical content for mobile apps or design Websites that are viewed on mobile devices. This career usually requires a bachelor's degree related to design or computer science. You'll also need expertise in scripting languages and design tools. The BLS expected Web developers to see employment growth of 22% from 2010-2020, which was faster than the average of all occupations. According to the BLS, the salary data for Web developers, network architects and information security analysts was combined into a single number; these professionals earned an average salary of about $82,000 in 2011.

Systems Software Developer

Becoming a systems software developer is an option if you'd rather work with mobile operating systems instead of mobile applications. While you may develop a mobile operating system's components, you may also create or modify the user interface. This software development career can require a bachelor's degree or a master's degree related to software engineering, computer science or mathematics. Similar to mobile applications developers, you'll need to be proficient in multiple programming languages. According to the May 2011 national wage estimates form the BLS, systems software developers made a mean salary of approximately $100,000. You should have solid job prospects in this field, as the BLS projected that systems software developers would experience a 32% increase in job opportunities between 2010 and 2020.

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