How to Become a
Mobile Application Developer
Best Education Tracks, Key Skills, and Top Certifications
The first consideration when learning how to become a mobile application developer is whether you plan to build native apps for Android or iOS, or whether you want to study cross-platform technology like Xamarin and React Native.
If you are new to mobile app development, it would be prudent to avoid starting with cross-platform technology, which is rather limited. Generally speaking, native mobile development provides all the foundation you will need to branch out into other spheres of mobile application development.
Regardless of the development platform you choose, the information presented in this guide will help you decide how to go about your education.
What Is a Mobile Application Developer?
A mobile app developer is a programmer responsible for developing applications that are compatible with mobile devices. Mobile application developers write, test, and deploy apps that can be used on one or more specific platforms.
Android developers and iOS developers build platform-specific apps, which means that they only work on a single operating system. Cross-platform developers create apps that work on both Android and Apple devices.
Suffice it to say that, to become a mobile app developer, you need to have sound knowledge of programming languages, computing, and mobile platforms.
What Type of School Should You Attend
to Become a Mobile Application Developer?
The traditional option for anybody wishing to become a mobile application developer is to pursue a degree at a four-year college or university, majoring in computer science or a related discipline. Most employers hiring mobile app developers require candidates to have a bachelor’s degree.
A recent report by US News found that the average annual tuition among top colleges and universities is $9,687 for in-state public schools, $21,184 for out-of-state public schools, and $35,087 for private institutions.
With that said, less traditional career pathways like coding bootcamps for mobile application developers are becoming more common. Google’s Kotlin course, which we expand on below, is an example of this.
Best Mobile Application Developer Education Tracks
No matter which of the following education tracks you choose, remember that no tutorial or course is a substitute for practical experience. To strengthen your problem-solving skills, you should always pair formal education with self-directed attempts to develop your own Android or iOS apps. It will make you a better app developer in the long run.
An Associate in Applied Science (AAS) in Mobile App Development is a community college degree that will provide you with the minimum skills needed for an entry-level job. The AAS program at Mesa Community College in Arizona, for instance, teaches industry-standard tools and methods and prepares students for a number of professional certifications.
The Mesa Community College program can be done either part-time or full-time. Depending on how much of your time you can commit, it will take between two and five years to complete.
Mobile Application Developer Degrees
Beyond searching for candidates with a strong software development background, development companies are searching for mobile app developers with degrees in software engineering, computer science, or informatics.
To complete a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, for example, you would need to spend between three and six years in school. A degree in one of these fields enhances employability but does not guarantee a job. To give a further boost to your prospects, you could complete a one-year or two-year Master of Science in Computer Science.
Mobile Application Developer Bootcamps
Some coding bootcamps offer programs that teach the fundamentals of mobile app development, including programming languages like Java, C++, and Swift. Programs like these tend to run for a few weeks or a few months.
The reason bootcamp programs are desirable is that, even though most of them are shorter than associate degree programs, you can usually benefit from the same flexible scheduling options. Even many full-time courses, such as those offered by Big Nerd Ranch, are so short that you can take them without upending your life.
Mobile Application Developer Courses
The most efficient place to learn mobile is from the horse’s mouth. Android and Apple both have learning resources available on their very own development platforms, which you can access for free or at a lower cost than other education pathways.
Whereas Android’s free Android Basics in Kotlin course consists of four units and 40 hours of coursework, Apple’s free course for developers features 19 short modules and takes 12 hours. Both courses train students to build interactive mobile acts for end users. There is a lot of trial and error involved with both courses, along with ample opportunity to improve.
The most compelling feature about this pathway is that it offers a level of practical training that few other programs can match. You will get your hands dirty while learning directly from the folks who invented the tools and technologies you’ll be using.
How to Become a Mobile Application
Developer: A Step-by-Step Guide
Above all, a mobile application developer is a creator and an innovator. Once you have the requisite technical skills, the onus will be on you to generate ideas and set them in motion.
The following steps will help you go from a newbie to a master of your craft.
Build coding and design skills.
While coding is a big part of mobile development, UX/UI design should carry equal weight. Focus as much on design as you would on functionality, and take online courses, join bootcamps, or enroll in online colleges that can equip you with the necessary skills.
Download an integrated development environment (IDE).
There are actually several development environments you can use, but XCode and Android Studio both provide everything that developers need. Your decision here will depend on whether you want to become an iOS developer or an Android developer.
Create and test your application.
Now you’re ready to start developing. Your goal should be to create something usable, functional, and devoid of any glitches. Among the things you ought to take into account are screen resolution, screen orientation, and suitability for specific devices.
Publish your app.
Once you have familiarized yourself with the XCode or Android software and managed to build an app, you should publish that app on either Google Play or iTunes. Whatever you publish, you will want to include it in your portfolio for use in job interviews.
If you fail, try again.
If your app crashes, won’t open, or simply isn’t working as you had intended, Google and Apple both have robust support networks that can help suggest potential fixes. With the developer community at your side, there’s no reason you can’t eventually land the job of your dreams.
Key Mobile Application Developer Skills
Above all else, companies are looking for developers with proven ability. Saying in a job interview that you have the necessary skills is one thing, but actually having them is another.
Below are the top skills that employers look for when interviewing candidates for entry-level mobile development jobs.
iOS Programming Tools
Developing for Apple devices requires a specific set of tools. To create an app for iPhone or iPad, you need to learn Swift, Apple’s own programming language.
Alternatively, you could learn to write the software using Objective-C. It’s older than Swift but still widely used for iOS development.
Android Programming Tools
Object Oriented Programming
All mobile app developers should be well versed in object oriented programming. This methodology involves combining a group of related variables and functions into a single unit, also known as an object, to reduce complexity and increase reusability. The four pillars of object oriented programming are encapsulation, abstraction, inheritance, and polymorphism.
Encapsulation refers to the actual coming together of variables and functions, while abstraction centers around making the programming interface easier to use. Inheritance and polymorphism are techniques that allow users to eliminate redundant code.
Mobile Application Developer Salary and Job Outlook
According to PayScale, the average salary for mobile app developers is around $73,000. Depending on your location and experience, you can expect to make as little as $50,000 or as much as $115,000.
Entry-Level Mobile Application Developer Job Requirements
An entry-level mobile app developer can expect to earn around $79,000, according to ZipRecruiter. For that salary, an Android developer is expected to have sound knowledge of Java and Kotlin. The Apple equivalent is Swift or Objective-C. In most cases, sound knowledge comes with two years of experience, completion of a bootcamp program, or both.
What Does a Mobile Application Developer Do?
Your day-to-day duties as a mobile developer will depend on your company and the level of experience required to do your job. However, there is a core set of duties that you will be expected to perform regardless of your specific circumstances.
Write Clean, Readable, and Testable Code
If your mobile app is going to be successful, it will need to be both fast and efficient. It is one thing to develop an app quickly, but it is more important to develop an app correctly. That involves writing code that’s as clean as possible.
Develop Functional and Adaptive Mobile Applications
Beyond clean code, several things go into the high performance of a mobile application. App developers need to focus on advanced features, aesthetics, and the optimization of the user interface. They also need to be flexible enough with their creation to roll out new features on a regular basis.
Fix Bugs and Performance Problems
The harsh reality with mobile software is that bugs are inevitable. In fact, mobile software is never actually bug-free. Fixing those bugs can be an enormous and costly undertaking. A good mobile application developer will have the capacity to streamline this process and make it pain-free for all of the relevant stakeholders.
Mobile Application Developer Certifications
A developer certification will give you a competitive edge over your mobile development rivals in 2021. The field is highly competitive, and adding additional strings to your bow can be the difference between succeeding and failing in a job interview.
Oracle Certified Professional (OCP)
This certification is to confirm your Java programming skills. It is a certification that is actually earned in two clear steps, which is why it carries so much weight.
You first need to be recognized as an Oracle Certified Associate (OCA). An OCA is somebody who can demonstrate a fundamental understanding of the Java programming language. To then earn your OCP, you need to be able to demonstrate that you are highly skilled at using the Java Platform for software development.
IBM Certified Mobile Application Developer
This certification is for intermediate developers who already have some meaningful practical experience in the field. Specifically, it is designed for those using Mobile Foundation V8.0.
This development environment is useful for a mobile developer who wishes to create client-side applications for the front end, server-side integration on the backend, and security components.
How to Prepare for Your Mobile Developer Job Interview
If you’re up for a platform-specific job, you should be prepared to answer questions specific to Android or iOS. But you should also be ready for general technical and behavioral questions relevant to all mobile developers.
We focus on the more general set of questions below. Keep in mind that there are no guarantees that these questions will be asked in your interviews.
Mobile Application Developer Job Interview Practice Questions
- Can you talk about the mobile apps you have developed?
- What is the most challenging thing about creating a mobile application?
- What is your favorite platform for creating a mobile app?
- How do you handle team disagreements or differences in development strategies?
- How updated are you on developments in the mobile app field?
How Long Does It Take to Become a Mobile Application Developer?
As a point of departure, you should never put a strict timeline on becoming a mobile app developer. The reality is that in a field as specialized as this, people will learn and absorb information at different speeds. Rather place emphasis on getting through your material, without keeping an eye on the clock.
If you pursue the more traditional method of studying towards a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science, you could spend anywhere from three to five years. Add a master’s degree, and you’ll tack on another one or two years. This route can be costly and time-consuming.
For people who can’t reasonably be expected to pursue this track, there are newer, more practical options, including bootcamps, comprehensive online courses, and professional certifications, which can be completed in a matter of weeks or months.
Should You Become a Mobile Application Developer in 2021?
Yes, the demand for these skills has never been higher. According to the International Data Corporation, the market for smartphones is growing. This trend appears poised to continue in 2021 and beyond.
Suffice it to say that the more smartphone users there are, the greater the demand for mobile application developers will be.
Mobile Application Developer FAQ
Why should I develop a mobile app?
You should create an app in 2021 because digital content is now more likely to be consumed on mobile phones than on any other type of device.
How do I open an Apple Developer account?
The price of an Apple Developer account is $99 per year. You can open an individual account or a company account. You can also submit several applications with the same developer account.
How do I test my mobile app on an Android phone?
Go to the Settings on your Android device. Under Security Device Administration, check the box to allow the installation of apps from sources other than Google Play. Then open the APK file from your phone. You should now be able to install it.
How do I make money with my mobile app?
The most common thing to do is create a paid app. When you submit your app to the app stores, you should set a price for it. Alternatively, you could put ads in your app.