How to Cope with the Mobile App Developer Skills Shortage

Esther Shein

With the growing number of smartphones in the market, it’s a safe bet that if you have skills in mobile app development, you’ll have your pick of jobs. Total revenues from mobile apps are forecast to reach $99 billion annually by 2019, according to Juniper Research. 

While that may be good news for developers -- who can command an average starting salary of $79,000 depending on their skillset --the increasing demand for mobile apps has made it a challenge for companies to find and retain workers with mobile app development skills. Enterprise Mobility Exchange spoke with Eric Klein, Director of Mobile Software at VDC Research, about some proactive measures businesses can take.

EME: Why is there a skills gap when it comes to supporting mobile apps?

EK: There truly is a broader challenge that comes with supporting a mobile workforce; apps are a significant part of the problem, but not the primary cause of the skills gap. As our data shows, interoperability remains a significant issue and is central to effectively supporting mobile applications ― unfortunately, making apps work properly (and securely) is critical to empowering end users to take full advantage of mobility. 

Going forward, internal development teams must not only be capable of using multiple development environments, but find themselves having to deal with varied programming models and testing frameworks. Maintaining these solutions is not only a challenge but frequently consists of disjointed combinations of legacy software, which are unable to address all of the nuances and requirements of today's fast-moving mobile landscape and results in both time and cost redundancies.

EME: So is it a challenge for enterprises to attract and retain mobile developers? 

EK: The trends relating to application development described above are forcing organizations to recruit and retain expanded development and quality assurance (QA) teams with different skill sets―this has made investing in multiple tools a necessity for effective mobile application lifecycle management and will ultimately require a larger staff with both web and mobile expertise.

Attracting and retaining skilled developers is a challenge for businesses ― many developers are keen on joining firms like Amazon and Google for the experience and financial rewards. However, ISVs like IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP are making notable progress in developing tools for their customers to help them along in developing applications internally.

EME: I know this tends to be geographic-specific, but what salary range can mobile developers generally command? What skills do they need for higher paying positions?

EK: Salaries of mobile developers definitely vary widely and are specific to geography and skill, since developers are typically measured by their portfolios; successful apps they have already developed that can easily be showcased, and by their efficiency and creativity. The ranks of skilled mobile developers continue to grow as most colleges and universities have evolved/modernized their curriculums to incorporate mobile development. Many now regularly host ‘hackathons.’

EME: How important a role should DevOps play on your mobile app team?

EK: DevOps programs will be very important going forward, as they can help to automate the app dev lifecycle by compressing the time between coding, testing and app deployment. These programs will also play a significant role in facilitating the collaboration that is required between developers and other IT professionals and can help in ensuring that your software develop workflows and not only scale, but become sustainable.

EME: How can you enhance the skillsets of your existing mobile apps staff?

EK: Everyone talks about how the mobile market is “fast moving.” There is no better example of this than mobile app development. For example, Apple’s popular Swift programming language was announced almost exactly two years ago; it is now one of the most popular programming languages -- ranked send on stackoverflow’s Developer Survey. Translation: Enterprises must expand their training budgets. This will help younger developers expand their skill sets and will greatly help in retaining key talent.