I took for granted the transition would be easy for me and that I could easily get a job in 2 months or less. 5 months later, I was clearly wrong and I had to learn some of those lessons the hardest way possible. Here are some tips I wish someone told me before I quit my well-paying comfortable desktop software developer job to pursue the exciting world of mobile development:
1) You are not a mobile app developer unless you have developed and released a mobile app
Your worth as an app developer is not measured by your blog, business card, or how many API’s you have read up on. It’s measured on your proven ability to deliver a useful mobile app or possess a history of releases demonstrating you are on the way there.
I went to a #devTO meeting in late 2011 and I told people I was a mobile developer in search for a job without having actually released an app. I peeked the interests of some of the people I spoke to and they asked me what apps have I done, I told them I am still working on releasing them. They scoffed. They had every right to do so. A VC gave me sage advice and said “Just focus on releasing apps, prove that you have applied what you have learned, deliver it to the masses. I am sorry, man: you are not a mobile developer until you get that app out there.”
He was right. You really don’t know what it’s like to develop an app until you have got real users telling you it sucks or they demand change requests.
2) Make quality, face-to-face, connections in the local community
Network with people who are developers, like yourself or with professionals, who are a part of a company with a mobile offering. Tech meet-ups like #devTO are really great for this because everyone is so friendly. By developing your mobile professional network, you’ll gain a first-hand perspective through your primary connections about companies you could potentially work for. Alternatively, it could also give you insight on red flagged companies that you should not work for.
If actively taking control of your future is not your thing, you could network with recruiters who can only provide a very limited perspective about a company as they are not cognizant of that company’s culture from the view point of a developer. If your resume matches the keywords their client is looking for, they will do everything in their power to present their client as your best, exciting, and only career choice even if it means not disclosing things that may discourage you.
Having technical insiders in your network will give you a better picture as they can speak first-hand about both the pros and cons about their workplace off the record. In most cases, they would be happy to share this information with you because you are a fellow developer and there is no financial incentive. Whereas in the case of recruiters who have zero technical background, us developers are seen as an immense source of revenue (25-35% of our salary). For career technical advice, you would be better served by your technical brethren.
3) Your past work experience or education doesn’t play as big of a role as you think
When applying for jobs, if you can showcase your ability to develop mobile apps, you will have an advantage over those applicants who may have comprehensive technology experience that does not necessarily translate to mobile. Many employers in our area cannot afford to hire people so that they can pay them to learn. In their mind, it’s cheaper to pay someone who knows their stuff over someone who doesn’t. If you were lucky to get one of these positions, congratulations to you as it is very rare. Mobile is so brand new and hot right now that if you graduated 2 or more years ago, chances are the technologies you covered in school don’t apply.
However, I want to make it clear that I am not promoting the idea that education is undervalued. If anything, if you survive the academic gauntlet, you will walk away with the tools and rigor required to survive in a shifting landscape that is hard to predict.
Having a formal education in Computer Science/Engineering will definitely give you an advantage but there are currently more opportunities out there than graduates of this type. Many competitive companies are more than willing to hire candidates who are a good fit but not necessarily comp sci / eng degree holders because they can add value in other ways.
4) Specialize in Native or HTML5, not both
There are two schools of thought right now in which direction mobile should go. There is a trend for many established websites announcing they have place their bets on mobile web because of its cross mobile audience reach. However, this strategy doesn’t work well if you want to deliver a premium user experience that exploits the underlying features of a the device such as deep native OS integration, battery life optimization, OpenGL, and so much more. To do either mobile web or native properly requires you to focus on one. Each discipline is a universe onto itself with not just a lot to learn but a lot to apply. Because each of these disciplines are so vast, attempting to do both will result in half-assed results.
If an employer would ever hire you to do both, you could only do one of them at a time while your investment in the other goes to waste. Know your own limitations and aim for depth rather than breadth. Taking on both these technologies involves more learning than you could possibly apply and what you apply is what counts.
5) Know who you want to work for and give them a compelling reason why they should hire you
Let’s just cut to the chase. Aside from actually releasing apps, who you know, having a technology background, practice HTML5 or native, it all boils down to one thing: Relevance.
Take a look at this list (http://www.zeusriver.com/blog/2011/11/list-of-mobile-startups-in-toronto/) and visit their websites. Look at what value do they provide to their customers and see how your experience can add value to that offering. This pro-active approach is very much different than waiting to apply for the traditional Workoplois/Monster.ca job ad. Mobile companies are always hiring but only for the right people as described in the aforementioned.
Although there are many doors you can knock on in Toronto, if you cannot present how your skill sets apply to their company, in my own personal face-to-face experience, you are wasting their time. If you even try to talk your way into getting a job without having released any apps, they won’t be shy in telling you that you that you are not the right candidate they are looking for.
A potential employer will evaluate the user experience of your mobile apps. It’s an indicator of what value you will add to their own mobile
products or services offering. If that company is already in mobile, the first question they will ask is will this candidate slow us down
or help us move forward. If you target a company that is not in mobile, your work may blow them away despite how simple it is. Getting
hired as a mobile developer in Toronto comes down to your ability demonstrate how your experience is relevant to that mobile company.
Good luck with your search!
Mark Lapasa(@mlapasa) is a mobile developer who has released Native Android apps for both phones and tablets. He collaborates with business analysts, development and design teams to deliver engaging user experiences at the client-tier. He has many years of experience developing user interfaces for Enterprise Mobile, Healthcare, Financial, Social Gaming, and Online Gambling sectors. He blogs at http://knowledge.lapasa.net