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Mobile app developers create applications for mobile devices like laptops, smartphones, and tablets. As more users turn to mobile technology, the need for developers increases.
Becoming a mobile app developer entails earning a relevant degree, attending a bootcamp, or even learning the skills through self-study. Internship opportunities provide hands-on training, portfolio content, and a chance to experience different work environments.
This guide will walk you through the steps to starting a career as a mobile app developer.
What do mobile app developers do?
Mobile app developers create applications for phones, laptops, and tablets. They may focus on iOS, Android, or Windows app development.
Individual developers at larger companies typically don't work on an app from start to finish. Instead, they focus on individual components of the process.
Daily tasks include:
User interface design
Mobile app developers need to know programming languages such as Swift, Python, Java, Flash, and SQL, depending on whether they work with iOS or Android operating systems. Depending on the project's scope, they may work on their own or on teams of developers, engineers, and designers.
Larger employers include technology companies, financial corporations, retail and service businesses, and healthcare organizations.
What skills does a mobile app developer need?
Mobile app developers need both creative and technical skills.
On the tech side, they must know programming, database management, and debugging. On the creative end, app developers employ design and artistic skills to build visually appealing apps.
People (or "soft") skills, such as teamwork and managing projects, also play an important part in mobile app development.
Attention to detail
Designing functional user interfaces
Development and configuration
Testing and troubleshooting
How do I become a mobile app developer?
This section lists all the steps to becoming a mobile app developer, from your initial decision and testing the waters to landing a job.
1. Make sure that you really want to become a developer.
If you aren't sure whether you want to become a mobile app developer, lack development experience, or just need a refresher you can access coding practice websites.
Try these free sites:
CodinGame: This site features 25+ programming languages to practice through games, puzzles, and competitions.
LeetCode: 2,000+ practice problems build skills in algorithms, database structures, and 14 programming languages.
Sphere Online Judge (SPOJ): Code and build algorithms through more than 20,000 problems designed for students.
2. Learn mobile app development skills through degree(s), coding bootcamp(s), or self-study.
Mobile app developers usually earn a bachelor's in computer science degree. Students should look for curriculums that offer courses in design theory, algorithms and data structures, and programming languages.
Some CS programs offer tracks in mobile development. You'll choose between iOS development or Android development with Android Studio.
Other helpful majors and concentrations include application development, game development, interactive media design, software engineering, and web development.
Mobile app developers indicate that iOS development is faster and easier to master than Android. The Swift language used for iOS app development is more efficient than Java or Kotlin languages used in Android development.
Because the programming languages are quite different, developers typically choose either iOS or Android.
4. Practice skills and build your portfolio.
Mobile app developers can hone their programming skills on coding websites, join online communities of developers to brainstorm app ideas, take free courses, and practice building their own apps.
Projects you've created yourself, along with those completed in bootcamps, degree programs, and internships count when assembling your portfolio.
In your portfolio, highlight projects that showcase your design skills, mastery of programming languages, and ability to create user-friendly apps. You can view examples of portfolios on project sites like Github.
If you're planning a career as an Android developer and have mastered Java or Kotlin, consider testing for an associate Android developer certification. This credential, designed for beginning developers, demonstrates your skill to potential employers.
5. Pursue an internship.
Internships offer invaluable experience and opportunities to make connections. You'll likely partner with a mentor or supervisor and work on different project components. Internships may involve remote work or take place onsite.
Social media companies, technology corporations, video-sharing and game developers, real estate firms, and retailers offer mobile app development internships. Seek internships in the types of workplaces you'd like to explore for future employment.
Look for internships on general job search sites and those that specialize in tech roles.
6. Determine your mobile app developer career path.
All areas of business and industry use mobile applications. That you can likely take your pick of specialization areas and career fields.
Whether you're interested in developing Android, iOS, or web-based apps, employment opportunities span business, healthcare, service industries, and retail.
A technical interview by phone or video call that may include technical assessments or problem sets
A final onsite interview that may include meetings with potential supervisors and coworkers
This article was reviewed by Darnell Kenebrew
Darnell Kenebrew is a first-generation graduate from San Francisco State University's class of 2020. He graduated with a bachelor's in computer science, which helped him kick off a career in tech and pursue roles within data and engineering.
Currently, he's a data analytics engineer at Meta and an executive captain for COOP Careers — a nonprofit for overcoming underemployment. Kenebrew strongly believes in giving people a chance and that everyone should have an equal opportunity within the job market. He believes that COOP Careers helps this equality materialize.
Kenebrew is passionate about how the industry is shaped with data and how data can be leveraged in many aspects of business decisions to meet goals. In addition, he's passionate about inclusion, community, education, and using data for good. He hopes that he can pivot business decisions to make a positive, meaningful impact and that his work will positively impact end-users, as well as meet business goals.
Darnell Kenebrew is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education Integrity Network.