The Shortage Of Developer Talent Is Crushing Mobile

Author

Omojola, Ayo

July 15, 2013

The biggest problem facing mobile today is a shortage of talented developers.

There is not enough mobile developer talent (iOS talent in particular amongst the folks we talk to in mobile retail) to feed consumer and enterprise demand for apps.

Since launching Hipmob, we’ve talked to thousands of folks in mobile, from indie devs, to startup founders to mobile PMs at large retail brands and services companies. During our discussions I listen for the pain points hitting them the hardest. After talking about some technical or business challenges, a lot of them, usually as a throwaway comment, will say something like:

“Well of course we’re also resource constrained in terms of finding good developers. This affects how quickly we can achieve our roadmap.”

The talent shortage in tech is well documented. Lots of folks write about it, and it’s a key reason the technology industry backs immigration reform. The shortage, however, has a disproportionately large impact on mobile. The reason is – while the developer shortage might prevent businesses in general from moving faster, a lack of mobile developers prevents businesses from doing the basics (for example launch an app, when your competitors already have).

It’s Only Getting Worse

Data courtesy of Indeed.com

Connecting the dots took a while, but the answer was obvious. Four of the top 10 fastest growing keywords tracked by Indeed.com are for mobile developer talent (*HTML5, iOS, Android, Mobile App*), and all four keywords are in the top 5

Two of my brothers are skilled mobile developers. One is my cofounder at Hipmob. Several of my friends are also mobile developers. All were engineers before the current mobile cycle. They’re constantly bombarded by someone or some business wants to build an app. It’s so bad, that they even turn down projects they find interesting and lucrative. This has been true for a couple of years – the projects keep coming in, and they only get busier.

This mirrors the boom in demand for web developers in the early days of the internet. Building websites was in high demand back then, and businesses would pay a premium to get one made. Today, apps are seeing explosive growth.

The launch of iOS 7 will make this worse. As some have pointed out,

“iOS 7’s appearance and dynamics require a powerful GPU and advanced, finely tuned, fully hardware-accelerated graphics and animation APIs”
- Marco Arment

As retailers and publishers exploit these advancements to differentiate themselves, the demand for iOS specific talent (vs. Android and HTML5) will grow. As leaders in each vertical nail the user experience, competitors without native teams will struggle to keep up.

Graphics like these dont come cheap

Image courtesy of PCAdvisor.Co.UK

It’s Happening To Everybody

This problem isn’t confined to the tech industry. Businesses from retail to healthcare to hospitality are seeing mobile grow as part of their usage and revenues (over 40% of sales come from mobile for some retailers). Despite this, many large companies, with multiple thousands of employees, and a large percentage (> 20% )of their business coming from mobile, will have a single iOS engineer and/or a single Android engineer.


iOS Job Trends – up 800% in the past 3 years
Data courtesy of Indeed.com

In retail and services/Saas in particular, the shortage hits really hard in iOS. This is because so far, iOS is where most of these sectors are seeing growth and revenue (for some retailers 90% of mobile revenue comes from iOS devices). These sectors trend toward native – sales conversions depend on snappy load times and fast image rendering for a smooth UX. For this kind of performance, native still beats most cross platform technologies including HTML5.

How Businesses Are Adapting

Companies are adapting in 2 main ways

(1) The rise of 3rd party app development platforms and agencies

Companies like Branding Brand have done a great job of stepping into the void here. Over the past few years they’ve amassed a blue chip client list including Sephora, Costco, and Ralph Lauren.. In addition, a whole ecosystem of backend-as-a-service companies (such as Parse with over 100k apps published) and app development frameworks (such as PhoneGap and Appcelerator) have helped alleviate this trend. Recent exits by Parse (to Facebook) and PhoneGap (to Adobe) help to validate that even large businesses see this as a space to focus on.

(2] Leveraging their web teams to build mobile and responsive sites

Some companies with NO native iOS or Android developer talent in house opt instead for a highly polished mobile web experience, and some have had stellar results with it. This helps drive the massive demand growth in HTML5. That being said, every single person I’ve spoken to, whether a mobile PM at a large company or a startup founder, has expressed strong interest in bringing native development talent in house. They simply cannot find enough developers to fill their needs.

As a rule, I try to add value to the folks we talk to, regardless of whether they’re our customers or not, and their responses to mobile developer referrals are extremely positive. If you’re a mobile developer in search of interesting work, reach out – I know folks who want to talk to you.

The demand for good software is only getting greater. Eventually there will be more than 5 billion smartphones in circulation (even more if you include tablets), up from 1 billion. The amount of users that a business can access is going to grow by 5X over the next decade – will the supply of mobile developers keep up?

Image courtesy of BusinessInsider.com

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