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How to join the gold rush for mobile apps

As companies scramble to write apps for smartphones and tablets, the talent is in short supply.

By Beth Stackpole
August 22, 2011 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - As demand surges for apps to run on iOS, Android and whatever operating system will power the next wave of smart mobile 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 IHS, a market research firm in Englewood, Colo.

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 with the first quarter of 2010; postings 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 period, 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 they were working a short while ago 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," she says.

While there are ample pools of Web and Java development talent, professionals with expertise building native apps for Apple's iPhone and iPad, 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 -- 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.

Safety First

Don't Forget Security

Mobile application development is a relatively new field, and technologies for securing mobile application code are immature, according to a recent Forrester Research report that advises security managers to get involved.

The report, by analyst Chenxi Wang, says that vulnerabilities in mobile code, flawed application architecture or improper handling of credentials can lead to embarrassing data breaches, network intrusions or hacker attacks.

For example, last year researchers found that Citigroup's iPhone mobile banking app was mistakenly saving access codes and banking data in an unencrypted file on the phone. Citigroup then urged customers to upgrade the app to a version that fixed the problem.

— Mitch Betts



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