Teacher Ryan Hari helps Nick Raska with an iPad during a math intensive class Jan. 11 at Parrish Middle School in Salem, Ore.
While on missionary trips to South Korea with his Mormon church, Lorenzo Swank recruited application developers for his mobile-application company, Pixio, based in Salt Lake City.
“It’s the best time to be doing this,” he said. “Five years down the road? I don’t know.”
Swank, also a part-time instructor at the University of Utah, teaches mobile application programming to students. He said a big issue is making sure app development is “not just a fad.”
Out of Swank’s 16 employees, four are recent college graduates and two are graduate students. The work, he said, is more than just someone getting rich off the latest version of Angry Birds.
Because mobile app development is so broad and new, there is room for specialization.
“There is a lot of undiscovered territory,” said Swank, whose team is currently working on a custom version of Android for a project to be announced later this summer.
In the great Northwest, the U.S. Department of Education awarded four Oregon colleges a $740,000 grant through 2013 for their work on algebra apps for elementary and middle school students, USA TODAY reported.
And in Portland, start-up companies like Burnside Digital have thrived with more than 50 employees across six countries. It opened a code school last September, where students spend 12 weeks learning code, in a combination of both practice and real-time projects, before joining the company.
“We look for people that have the enthusiasm,” Burnside Digital President Omid Rahmat said. “It should be like a second language.”
Rahmat stressed that anyone with “practical experience” can join his company — not just college students. He has had interns as young as 16.
“You can find talent from all kinds of places,” he said.
The annual median salary for a software application developer was $87,790, according to May 2010 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But the number is somewhat misleading because apps themselves are “disposable,” said Maneesh Agrawala, an associate professor at the University of California – Berkeley. Agrawala has taught several app-development courses at Berkeley since 2009.
Being a mobile app developer is a “short-team goal,” he said. “There’s a lot more to it. We have to start seeing things that can also sit on both your TV and laptop.”
Still, the newfound industry is exciting for students such as Adeesha Ekanayake, vice president of the Ithaca College App Club.
Ekanayake, a junior majoring in computer science, and a group of students founded the group last year after they received a $5,000 grant for winning a software competition.
His app-development classes are “exciting,” he said, because Ithaca’s staff is so supportive. The industry helps, too.
“It’s definitely one of the options once I graduate,” he said. “It’s not an on-the-side thing.”
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