The closed (for good reason) world of mobile development

**As published in RCR Wireless News** For a community that clamors around the word “open” like a proverbial up-for-grabs ticket to the next Super Bowl, there are some surprisingly closed aspects of the world of mobile app development. With an equal mix of the-sky’s-the-limit mentality and hesitation, there’s an uncertainty surrounding the mobile developer community for good reason. The incredible, ongoing success stories built on the shoulders of giant business models online – think Google, eBay, Amazon, Salesforce.com, etc. – have not be replicated several times over yet on mobile. Missing from mobile still are the several revolutionary business models and teams of successful entrepreneurs and developers who follow. With large purses following online ad networks moving to mobile, for example, like AdMob and Quattro, mobile has had its share of success stories of late, albeit they are more limited and evolutionary.

There are plenty of different approaches to tackling a new business in mobile. Some argue that the workforce – which has spent most of its career in mobile, especially with the carriers – is not always best equipped to transition into startup life. There are still wide disparities between the rather structured infrastructure business of the carriers and the comparable Wild West of the mobile Web. And sometimes it’s the most entrenched veterans who can’t see beyond the traditional business model of on-deck applications while much of the excitement and investment today sits off-deck ad on the mobile Web. More work than talent Again though, finding any successive examples of revolutionary business models striking gold in mobile is mostly an effort in futility. These factors and more are partly to blame for the absolute lack of quantity of mobile developers. Indeed, with demand for mobile developers throughout the space far outweighing supply, plenty of firms receive padded resumes from folks who over-promise their skill sets because they know the odds are in their favor. When a startup lands an incredibly talented and cutting-edge mobile developer you can be sure it will do everything possible to keep them vested and committed for the long term. When RCR Wireless News set out to profile a mobile developer for a “day in the life of” feature, if the developer showed initial interest it eventually led to one of their supervisors requesting that no interview take place. At every mobile developer company RCR Wireless News approached, it ran into a prevailing concern that competitors would poach its talent after putting one of its developers out on display in the media. Disclosing any details about day-to-day operations was another area of concern. The fact that so many developing houses – large and small – are uniformly committed to protecting their work, strategy and even more mundane information like how employees were trained and eventually hired in the field says a lot about the level of competition in the space. Whether its paranoia bubbling to the surface or not, the protectionist stance taken by many isn’t backed up by any widespread so-called talent wars. Like any job type it quite often comes down to regional influences. In Los Angeles, for example, there is a group of online, social and video gaming companies that compete for talent. In Silicon Valley, there’s a variety of startups venturing into mobile and, some would argue, a deeper pool of mobile developer talent to pull from. There’s the unavoidable financial reality as well. The level of financial investment in the space has taken a tough turn in the past 18 months and so competition for great talent has dissipated almost in kind. The combination of large rounds of layoffs at the big firms and less funding and innovation in the space has squeezed an already tight community even further. The burgeoning allure of mobile app startups Compensation and equity are two surefire ways to land talent at a startup, but there are other points of allure at play. “One of the main draws is the freedom to innovate, the ability to own projects and have more authorship in the final product that is delivered to the customer. When you’re at a big company, you rarely have these opportunities and it’s this level of freedom and autonomy that today’s generation cherishes,” James Citron, CEO of Mogreet, a mobile video marketing platform, wrote in response to questions. “They want to come out of school and be intimately involved as a core developer, architect, etc., and startups offer this opportunity for people early in their careers to take on more responsibility.” More than compensation, a developer will base his or her career choices on the environment they’ll be working in and how much they’ll be challenged to improve. “It’s about creating an environment where technical talent feels comfortable, challenged and can work alongside fellow developers and a management team they respect,” Citron added. “The best developers can choose where they want to go so they should ask the questions: "Am I going to work for a CTO or director of engineering who is a rockstar? Can I learn and grow from this person? And if this works and we sell the business, am I going to want to with these guys at their next venture?”

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