If you’re thinking about pursuing a career in technology, there are plenty of options available to you. One of the perks of a tech career is that you can specialize in virtually anything you’re passionate about, and your work could potentially impact a range of industries — from healthcare to logistics.
One popular choice you might consider is becoming an app developer, or application developer. What exactly do these professionals do and what’s the process for how to become an app developer? Find out in this in-depth career guide.
What Is an App Developer?
An app developer is a computer expert who creates apps, or applications. Applications are software programs that are designed to execute specific tasks. There are desktop apps for desktop computers, mobile apps for mobile devices and web-based apps, which do not need to be downloaded onto a device.
Some apps are fairly simple and can only carry out one specific type of function (e.g. digital calculators and clocks). Others are quite complex and are capable of multiple functions, such as web browsers, videogames and word processors.
You probably already use many different apps during the course of any given day. You may use a banking app on your smartphone to transfer money, a media player on your desktop to enjoy music or a word processing app to type term papers. If you decide to become an app developer, you could one day create innovative software programs that help make everyday life a little easier or more enjoyable for people.
What Does an App Developer Do?
App developers work on creating new software programs and updating existing ones in order to improve their functionality, aesthetics and security, or to fix issues that users have experienced. App developers often work as a member of a collaborative team. Some app developers work on one specific part of the project, such as coding, while others may work on the project through its entire life cycle.
Although a day in the life of an app developer can vary considerably depending on their employer and the needs of their current project, they may do any of the following tasks:
- Collaborating – App developers participate in meetings with their team, where they may discuss the scope of the project, learn about client expectations (if applicable) and delegate responsibilities.
- Planning – App developers must establish the specifications (specs) for the application and create initial prototypes based on those specs.
- Coding – The next step is to write the code and build the app.
- Testing – Extensive testing is necessary to identify bugs in the code. Developers can perform manual and automated testing.
- Debugging – Once the application has been thoroughly tested, it will need to be debugged to ensure it works as expected. Debugging is also frequently performed on apps that are already in use by the public. Developers often need to fix issues as they arise based on user feedback.
- Submitting – Not all app developers do this, but some are responsible for submitting a new app to digital app stores. There is generally a specific process that must be followed, and developers must ensure that their app meets all of the requirements of the store.
Some app developers may function as project managers or team leaders. They track the progress of the project, making sure it stays within budget and on track toward a timely completion. Managerial duties can also include client communications. For instance, an app developer may need to provide the client with regular updates on the progress of the software project.
Some app developers are generalists who work for companies that create and sell a wide variety of programs. Other professionals choose to specialize in a particular area. For example, you might decide to specialize in creating videogames, educational technology or healthcare-related apps.
Becoming an App Developer
If the idea of becoming an app developer appeals to you and you’re still in high school, talk to your guidance counselor about your career aspirations. You may be able to take some additional courses that can prepare you for your postsecondary education. For instance, classes in coding, computer science, information technology and mathematics will be helpful for you.
You might also explore relevant extracurricular activities, such as a summer computer science camp or an afterschool coding club. In addition, see if you can take advantage of any relevant job shadowing opportunities. These will let you get an inside look at a typical workday in the tech field.
After high school, you’ll need to earn a bachelor’s degree in a tech subfield such as digital design or software development. A master’s degree isn’t usually necessary, although you may decide to earn one in order to position yourself to pursue higher-level positions. App developers can also benefit from earning one or more professional certifications.
Earn Your Software Development or Digital Design Degree
After high school, the first step in the process of how to become an app developer is to earn your bachelor’s degree. A digital design degree, also known as a software design degree, is pretty similar to software development, and the school you choose may simply refer to this degree as a software development degree. You can expect to spend four years as a full-time student to earn your degree in software development.
Along the way, you will likely study topics such as the following:
- Fundamental and advanced concepts in programming with Java, C# and other programming languages, with a look at design, development, debugging techniques, structured and object-oriented programming and GUI elements
- The use of data definition language (DDL) and data manipulation language (DML) to design and create databases
- The history and development trends of UNIX-derived open-source operating systems, with a look at shells, graphical user interfaces, editors, manual pages and user commands
- Cloud computing and application development with the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model
A typical software development or digital design degree involves a blend of classroom instruction and hands-on learning activities. You will likely have the opportunity to complete one or more senior projects, also known as capstone courses, which are intended to showcase everything you’ve learned to that point. During these courses, you’ll usher a digital design project through its life cycle, perhaps working with a small group and/or a project mentor.
It’s important to put forth your best effort for your senior projects and similar major projects. You may end up using the results of your work as portfolio items after graduation. Potential employers will want to see samples of your work while they consider whether to offer you a position.
Hands-on experience is particularly important in the software development field. During your time in school, you should give serious consideration to pursing an internship—either a part-time internship during a semester or perhaps a full-time internship during the summer. Not only will you develop stronger programming skills, but you’ll also get an insider’s look at a tech workplace, build invaluable professional connections and be able to request letters of reference.
Require Experience as an App Developer
As you approach your graduation date, you’ll want to begin researching companies and positions. You should also visit your school’s career services department to learn how to build a solid resume and work on your interviewing skills.
If you completed an internship, you’ll want to reach out to your contacts at that organization to discuss employment opportunities. If you didn’t complete an internship, then you may need to do so after graduation in order to gain hands-on professional experience.
It’s possible to land an app developer job right out of college. However, in some cases, aspiring app developers may need to gain some experience at other positions first. For example, you could look for job ads for quality assurance (QA) testers, junior test developers, front-end developers and tech support engineers.
Make a good impression at your first job, even if it isn’t quite the one you want. Doing well on the tasks you’re assigned, working collaboratively with others and volunteering to take on more responsibilities are smart ways to work your way up the ladder. Once you’ve gained some experience, you may apply for app developer jobs at your company or elsewhere.
Obtain Professional App Developer Certifications
Another smart way to climb the corporate ladder is to earn voluntary professional certifications. While not all employers require them, having one or more certifications on your resume can set you apart from other candidates and open the door to promotional opportunities at your current company. There are many different certification options offered by reputable organizations, including the following:
- Associate Android Developer – Google
- iOS Application Development with Swift Certification – Coursera
- Flutter Certified Application Developer – Google
- IBM Mobile Foundation Application Development – IBM
- GIAC Mobile Device Security Analyst – SANS Institute
- MTA Developer - Microsoft
Note that certifications aren't intended to replace a degree. Rather, they complement your degree by strengthening your skillset.
Consider Earning a Master’s Degree to Elevate Your Career
A master’s degree isn’t usually a requirement for landing a job as an app developer, although some employers may prefer it. It’s entirely possible to enjoy a nice career as an app developer with a bachelor’s degree and one or more voluntary certifications. However, at some point in your career, you may decide to return to school to enhance your opportunities for advancement.
Before you enroll in a master’s degree program, you need to ask yourself this question, Do I want to advance to a position that still involves writing code and creating apps, or do I want to advance to a leadership/project management position in which I would not spend the majority of each day writing code? Your career path choice will influence the type of master’s degree you should earn.
If you want to pursue a position as a senior app developer who does spend a great deal of time actively working on creating new software, then you should probably earn a Master of Science in Software Development. While working toward your degree, you’ll acquire advanced skills in sophisticated software design and development.
On the other hand, if you’re interested in a leadership position that leans toward project management and away from writing code, then you’ll likely want to earn a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree. One good choice is an MBA with a concentration in project management. You’ll develop strong leadership abilities, explore organizational science and learn how to effectively usher a project through its life cycle.
How To Be an App Developer: Essential Skills and Characteristics
There are many important skills and characteristics that are helpful for aspiring and current app developers. These include the following:
- Analytical reasoning
- Creative problem-solving skills
- Attention to detail
- Concentration and focus
- Communication skills
- Interpersonal skills and a collaborative mindset
If you’re passionate about technology and eager to pursue a rewarding career in tech, Grand Canyon University welcomes your application. The College of Science, Engineering and Technology offers a number of degrees for our STEM students, including the Bachelor of Science in Software Development. This degree instills fundamental competencies such as Java programming skills, and prepares our graduates to apply innovative solutions to the challenges of tomorrow.
Approved by assistant professor for the College of Science, Engineering and Technology on Jan. 5, 2023.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.