Your next job: Mobile app developer?

With companies scrambling to build mobile apps, there's a gold rush on for developers willing to retool their technical skills and adopt a new design mind-set.

As market demand surges for apps to run on iOS, Android and whatever operating system will power the next wave of smart devices, companies are facing a dearth of mobile development talent. For IT professionals with programming skills, that gap represents a fresh opportunity to embark on a career makeover.

To put the demand in perspective, consider that Apple racked up $1.78 billion in app sales in 2010, and global mobile app sales are forecast to hit $4 billion this year, according to market researcher IHS.

mobile app dev

Just who is developing all of those apps? In its recent "America's Tech Talent Crunch" study, IT job site Dice.com found that job postings for Android developers soared 302% in the first quarter of this year compared to the first quarter of 2010; ads for iPhone-related positions rose 220% in the same time frame.

Elance.com, a website for freelancers, reports comparable demand: In the first quarter of 2011, there were 4,500 mobile developer jobs posted on the site -- an increase of 101% over the number of similar job postings in the same quarter last year.

The total number of job listings on the site expanded at a rate of 52% in that same time frame, indicating that mobile development as a career segment may be growing twice as fast as the overall job market, according to Ellen Pack, vice president of marketing at Elance.com.

It's not just tech companies that are on the prowl for mobile development talent. Today, all kinds of product and service companies are scrambling to come out with apps, just as, a short while ago, they were working to establish a presence on social networking sites.

"It's become one of the boxes you have to check to be a successful brand," Pack says. And that reality translates into pent-up demand for app developers. "It's one of those areas where there is more demand than supply because there aren't enough great mobile developers out there."

While there are ample pools of Web and Java development talent, professionals with expertise building native apps for Apple's iPhone or iPad, or for the BlackBerry or any of the newer Android devices, are in short supply because of the relative newness of those platforms.

Developers and designers who fully understand the constraints and the opportunities afforded by the smaller real estate and touch interfaces of the smart device platform are in high demand.

Market watchers say it's the ability to grasp mobile's new usage rules, and not simply the ability to master new programming skills, that separates those with an affinity for mobile development from those who just don't get it.

"When you're building Web applications, [you] have the whole desktop. There are things you can get away with from a design point of view that simply don't translate to a mobile device," notes Eric Knipp, a Gartner analyst specializing in Web and cloud computing. "It's not just about making things smaller or splitting things up into separate screens. Developers have been trained to think that more features equates to better applications, but on mobile devices, that's simply not true."

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