"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."
Who's hiring, and how
All signs indicate there is a healthy demand for mobile app developers, but that demand isn't translating into widespread offers of full-time jobs on corporate IT teams just yet. That's because many companies with lean IT budgets aren't ready to commit to hiring highly specialized, and therefore pricey, mobile development talent.
Some organizations are outsourcing mobile app projects to consulting firms and boutique development shops until they have a more pronounced need.
That's Aspen Skiing Co.'s strategy. To date, the Colorado ski resort has come out with a couple of mobile apps, including a tool that lets managers conduct ad hoc smartphone-based surveys of customers around the resort, and another that gives customers access to an array of resort data, including weather conditions, lift status and daily events.
Since Aspen Skiing doesn't consider software development a core competency and can't accommodate a large IT staff, outsourcing mobile development seemed like the most efficient plan -- at least in the short run -- which is why the company turned to an outside consultancy to develop its mobile apps.
"Mobile is such a rapidly changing environment -- so much of it is tied to what content management tool you use or what devices you want to support," says Paul Major, managing director of IT at Aspen Skiing. "Going outside helps us keep pace."
Supermedia, which provides marketing and advertising services for small and midsize businesses, also initially thought outsourcing would be more cost-effective than in-house development.
But a couple of years into its mobile initiative, Supermedia realized the discipline was far too central to its business model to continue paying outside consultants to develop apps, according to Michael Dunn, the company's CIO. A little over a year ago, the firm decided to set up an internal team to build regular updates and to enhance its apps to support the growing number of mobile platforms.
Cognizant of the shortage of skilled development talent, Supermedia took a number of steps to avoid being caught in a crunch.
First, it cross-trained two key internal Java developers to learn the new skills, and then it seeded the rest of its fledgling team with recent college graduates. "The market took off so fast and there was such a huge demand for developers, this let us hire immediately, and it's far more affordable," Dunn explains.
The seasoned Java developers came up to speed pretty quickly on specific Android- and iOS-related skills, Dunn says, thanks to their basic sets of core skills.
With the new domain expertise under their belt, the veteran developers were then able to mentor incoming college graduates, allowing Supermedia to leverage its investment in their training. The new hires "have core development skills and some knowledge of mobile app development -- maybe not on a commercial scale, but they've done it in an academic environment as a project," Dunn explains.
Currently, Supermedia has 10 mobile app specialists within its 150-person developer group, which is part of an enterprise IT staff of nearly 300 people.
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