What Makes a Developer Marketable?

stand out

Having hired a few dozen people in the past few years, I’m often asked what I look for in a resume, and more pointedly, what skills are hot in mobile in general.

The simplest answer: everything.

That’s right, everything. Does that mean you should be a jack-of-all-trades and master of none? Not quite. I’d actually advocate for becoming a jack-of-all-trades and a master of one. The developers who are in hottest demand are those with the widest skillsets, but with specialization in one or two different platforms or subject areas.

Foundationally, C/C++ is probably the closest thing you have to a “must need” skill and a lowest common denominator for all mobile platforms right now. Combine that with deep understanding of object oriented programming and you should have skills that are transferable to Objective-C, Java and C#.

But of course, to even get your resume viewed by a hiring manager, you need to hit the keywords of the job posting. However, rather than just littering your resume with keywords, have meaningful insight and experience with each platform and something that the manager can see, touch and download. Nothing is more appealing than someone who has actually built something on each platform and has stayed current with the SDKs of each. Not only does it show a strong diversification in skills, but it proves your ability to learn new technologies and gives you an appreciation for the strengths, weaknesses and design paradigms of each.

What app should you build? Anything! If you want something generic, build an RSS Reader or weather app. But if you want brownie points and want to get a return on your invested time, build something that solves a problem your own life, no matter how niche – it shows creativity and problem–solving skills.

So that’s native in a nutshell, but what about web? Well, it doesn’t take a genius to know that HTML5 is one of the top buzzwords du jour. So the question then becomes how to separate you from the pack. Similar to the native developer, diversity is the key. Yes, HTML, JavaScript and CSS are the foundations, but if you take the exact same web content, and re-implement it several times over using a variety of JavaScript frameworks (jQuery, Sencha, Dojo, Node, Backbone, etc.), you’ve got a deeper understanding of differing approaches, plus you increase the likelihood that you can add value to whatever existing setup your potential employer may have.

The story for mobile game development is very different. In this space, there’s just no substitute for blood, sweat and tears. Yes, a graphics background is valuable. Yes, experience with the big name game engines is a must. But in gaming, your resume really is represented by the work you’ve done. And if you’re interested in specialization, this is the one of the industries where it counts most: audio, physics, AI, art, cinematography… the list goes on and on. Gaming is extremely competitive. In this world, much like in medicine, specialists like brain surgeons, oncologists and anesthesiologists  tend to be paid significantly more than the family doctor.

This post just barely scratches the surface of industry trends for mobile development skills. The honest answer is that each industry, each company and each project will benefit from different skill sets. For something like Developer Relations, my specific needs can be succinctly stated as good developer skills, strong social skills, and probably most importantly, an overwhelming sense of personal responsibility for the work you do. But coming back to my opening statements, the best thing you can offer to a potential employer is skills that are transferable to as many different projects as possible. Ideally you get to work on the ones that play best to your strengths, but for every developer, a time will come when they need to adapt and work outside of your comfort zone. When that day comes, will you be ready?

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