June 2011

Volume 26 Number 06

Editor’s Note - The Best of Times

By Keith Ward | June 2011

Keith WardLast month, I wrote that your skills are never really outdated, no matter what platform you develop for. This month, following the MIX11 show (which is finishing up as I write this), I’d like to expand upon that positive thought: There has never been a better time, in the history of IT, to be a developer.

A bold claim? Yes. But there’s ample evidence to back it up. Let’s start with the best development trend since the Web became an everyday part of our lives: mobile devices.

Windows Phone 7, Android, iPhone and BlackBerry didn’t exist as application venues a few years ago. And, in general, they’re easier to develop for than, say, a standard Windows 7 desktop app. In fact, there are plenty of developers building apps for those devices by themselves, either freelance or as part of a larger company.

I talked to one developer who’s written several Windows Phone 7 apps related to music. It took him no more than a week to write the basic app—more time was spent tweaking it, but the foundation was laid in a few blinks of the eye. That’s been difficult to do in the past.

If you’ve got a great idea and get lucky enough to hit a nerve with your audience, you can make gobs of money on your 70 percent cut of each app. With most paid apps costing a buck, that means you make about 70 cents (on average; that’s the normal deal in the mobile world).

In the old days of development, that kind of profit margin was laughable, and a product that promised such a tiny return would have never been approved. But we’re now in the era of mass adoption on a mind-bending scale. Consider that Android recently passed the 3 billion app download mark, and iPhone has eclipsed 10 billion downloads. With Gartner bullish on the prospects for Windows Phone 7 going forward, that gives three thriving markets for your apps (if RIM can ever get its act together with BlackBerry, you can add a fourth). Even if many of those apps are free, that still leaves tons of paid apps, and the ability to sell within apps with things like upgrades.

The mobile category is itself expanding, too, opening up more avenues. The iPad demonstrated vividly the possibilities of the tablet form factor once and for all. Once Apple set the market (again), other companies started getting in the tablet game, of course. That means mobile devs have even more opportunity.

The other major reason to believe we’re in the golden age of development is the explosion of online resources. Way back when, learning a new coding language usually meant a trip to Borders (remember them?) or Barnes & Noble to buy a book.

Of course, you can still get books—even in paper form. But Kindles, Nooks and the iPad are now the preferred book-reading method for many. Beyond books, however, is an entire universe of information online at sites like msdn.microsoft.com (and the broader MSDN Network), codeproject.com, stackoverflow.com, personal blogs and so on. Almost every conceivable question you may have has likely been asked and answered already.

And most of it won’t cost you. One of the great things about developers is that they don’t mind giving stuff away for free. Code samples, new approaches to building an app, ways to make your code more powerful and efficient—it’s all out there, and most of it is yours for the taking, without plunking down a dime. I can’t think of a single industry that’s as philanthropic in nature.

Related to that idea is the social-networking boom. Through sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and others, there’s more ability than ever to meet colleagues, ask questions and get answers, and generally connect with this community. This is the greatest resource of them all. Again, a decade ago you didn’t have any of it. Think about that.

Remember all this next time you’re complaining about the long hours, low pay, insane deadlines, psychotic bosses and other frustrations of being a developer in 2011.