The most defining eras throughout American history are branded by the economic needs of their times.
The 19th and 20th centuries saw the rise and proliferation of the “Industrial Age” in which workers were needed to drive the industries born from the creation of power-driven machines. Subsequently, the later part of the 20th century gave way to the “Information Age” as a high-tech global economy created a knowledge-based society, cultivating professionals who can design the technology needed to connect one part of the world to the other in a matter of seconds. Throughout these times, leaders pursued an open environment of learning and provided apprentices with the training and education to drive the relevant industry.
The Information Age has spurred the “apps economy,” driving an entirely new jobs market that requires talents to fulfill society’s demands. As we emerge from grim economic times, the apps economy is creating job opportunities across the world related to new mobile advances and the “Internet of Things.”
These advances and the Internet of Things will prove that consumers—thanks to what they’ve come to expect from their smartphones—now expect all their digital experiences to work the first time and every time. As innovative new form factors hit the market (e.g., fitness trackers, smart watches and smart glasses), companies will need talented developers to join their teams to find ways to make their apps functional, usable and appealing across the spectrum of devices spurred on by the apps economy.
The demand for individuals with IT skills is growing. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nearly 100,000 IT jobs were added in 2013 (about a 2.1% growth over 2012). The same data suggest job growth in IT for 2014 will be comparable to last year.
Furthermore, the apps economy created 466,000 jobs from 2007 to 2012, according to a TechNet survey, and it is anticipated that employer demand will create 3.7 million new IT jobs by 2016.
While very distinct unto themselves, these eras share one factor in common: Each require workers to possess certain skill sets that allow them to run the machines and technology needed to power the economy, and the businesses responsible for influencing the economy of its time.
In response, colleges and universities over the past two and half centuries developed degree programs suited to train and prepare workers with specific skills needed for a successful career path. However, the apps economy and “Mobile Age” are still so young that traditional learning institutions are few and far between or not accessible to many who want to get involved in the apps economy and become a developer. Moreover, traditional learning institutions are just not nimble enough to change at a pace that is needed to keep up with the new apps economy. Plus, they face challenges in skyrocketing tuitions, competitive admissions processes, growth in administrative budgets outpacing faculty raises and more tenure-track lines being replaced by low-paid adjuncts.
The dilemma is exacerbated by the fact that in 2020, again according to the BLS, one million programming jobs in the U.S. will go unfilled. Increasingly, colleges and universities are falling short in meeting the needs of committed students looking to embark in these programming fields. This is due, in part, to the rise of applications that can’t all be accommodated because of enrollment limits, and fear of student loan debt, which has discouraged students in large numbers since the financial downturn of 2008. Indeed, the latter is an especially powerful force, one that is driving interested students to seek alternative options to gaining the skills necessary to flourish in today’s apps economy.
An alternative education path
There is yet another demographic group from which the booming apps economy is attracting talent. With a recent surge in employment thanks to the proliferation of IT jobs, many adults who are seeking to turn their careers around and want to participate in the apps economy are turning to alternative education paths—because going back to college will take too long for them to obtain a degree.
A real opportunity exists for skills-based jobs training and retraining. In today’s connected world, eager students don’t have to restrict their learning opportunities to the confines of brick-and-motor institutions. The recent phenomenon of massive open online courses (MOOCs) provides knowledge-hungry individuals with tools and resources taught to them by educators and established professionals within the field from all over the world. In fact, the major MOOC provider Coursera at the beginning of this year started offering certificates in mobile-app development. With more than 400 courses made available by the three current major MOOC providers (325 from Coursera, 94 from edX and 26 from Udacity), the opportunities are endless for the continuation of job-skills training for the apps economy.
But the opportunities do not start and end with MOOCs. Other online programs, platforms and courses (both online and traditional) are available for any person thinking about joining the apps field. Education coding bootcamps (e.g., DevBootcamp) are among new schools that (for a hefty price) promise their graduates immediate employment after completing a few, intense months of instruction. Some companies, such as General Assembly, offer coding bootcamps in addition to other less intensive services, such as long-form courses, classes and workshops, for anyone to pick and choose at one’s desire.
But for those who are less inclined to pay thousands of dollars for their education, more affordable coding schools (e.g., Codeacademy and Treehouse) are cropping up to provide modern training resources for the mobile app industry. Interested learners can even take advantage of free online app tester and software developer communities to gain the experience needed to embark on this career opportunity.
And why wouldn’t they? Companies preparing to launch applications for various operating systems on platforms such as smartphones and tablets will find it difficult to account for every single scenario in which a consumer will consume the app. For example, users might have outdated devices or operating systems, or in a different language. Companies need professional testers who have the knowledge to develop flawless, high-quality apps that meet these varied usage needs
In response to this demand, Applause, repurposed the former name of our company, uTest, to best represent our growing community of 150,000 professional software and app testers. We created “uTest University,” designed to be a single source for testers of all experience levels to access free training courses. The blueprint for uTest University was established through years of training and mentoring that members drawn from the uTest community started organically across more than 40,000 app “test cycles” and 2,000-plus customers. Since its launch in December 2013, uTest University has created and encouraged comprehensive knowledge-sharing for mobile app developer professionals.
With these educational resources readily available, everyone from high school graduates to those seeking a mid-career change can jump start their app-influenced careers at any time. But as in any industry, it is easy for one who has landed a mobile development job with a big-name brand to become comfortable in their employment situation and halt any further learning. This career pitfall must be avoided, especially in an industry that is constantly changing. It is vital for developers to stay up-to-date on the latest cutting-edge technology that keeps reinventing the mobile development field and the consumer demand that keeps growing with it, such as wearable technology and smart car and smart home developments, which, according to Business Insider, are expected to explode in the coming decade. If the past seven years since the introduction of the iPhone is any indication of where the apps economy is heading, it would be unwise for professionals in the field not to take advantage of the alternative educational opportunities offered by MOOCs and other training programs and courses throughout an entire career.
Learning is a lifelong process, as those looking to succeed within the new apps economy have proven. With the increasing challenges facing traditional colleges and universities, driven learners can follow alternative educational paths–whether they are free, online or through industry forums–to suit their desired career and financial needs.
Matt Johnston is chief marketing & strategy officer at Applause, which helps companies achieve the 360° app quality they need to thrive in the modern apps economy. The company also oversees uTest, a global, online community dedicated to skill enhancement, learning and the advancement of all things related to software testing.