Publish or Perish: Build Apps During School


Stop wasting time. If you’re a computer science student and aren’t also building a mobile app on the side, that’s exactly what you’re doing. So in honor of #BlackBerryDevEd week, I’d like to tell you why.

If you have a smartphone (and I suspect you do), you walk around all day with what would have been considered a super computer when you were a kid. But it’s not just a powerful CPU, it also has things like GPS, cameras, a compass, NFC, all sorts of Bluetooth peripherals, and access to the entirety of the Internet.  And YOU can build an app that takes advantage of that. For some platforms, it costs money beyond just having the phone, but for others (like BlackBerry) it’s free. You’re taking computer science, so this is presumably something you would be interested in doing at some point.

So why start now? For one, it’s going to make school easier and make you a better programmer. You’re learning a lot of computer science theory: data structures, algorithms and general programming best practices. It’s easy to wonder how much of it is really important. But when you are actually building your own app, you will have real problems to solve that use those skills. For example, say you have some set of data that needs fast insertion and fast lookup, but you don’t care about order. What data structure do you use? Or say you are coming back to the first part of the app you wrote a few months ago to add a new feature. Did you write enough useful comments to help you remember what that nonsense on the screen is supposed to be doing? Building a real app forces you to make decisions and think about things on a level you don’t usually have to with the simple toy apps most CS assignments call for. That is going to turn into better knowledge retention, and better marks.

But maybe you are a perfect student and have no problems learning that stuff in the first place. So how about another nice benefit of building an app: money. A few years ago, if you wanted to be an indie developer, it was HARD. You could maybe build an app, sure, but then what? How were you going to sell it? Build your own e-commerce website? Will anyone even find it? Because of Twitter and Facebook, we are all hyperconnected, and it’s a lot easier to get the word out and go viral. To get paid, now all you have to do is toss your app up on the official platform storefront and call it good.

Of course, the problem is that now everyone can create paid apps,  everyone does. If you work really, really hard, and are incredibly lucky, you may hit the jackpot and never have to work for someone else for the rest of your life. If you are just lucky, you can make some pizza and beer money. For your typical poor university student, that’s something, and the real benefit will come later.

When you’ve graduated and are applying for jobs, you now have something most of your classmates won’t have. You aren’t just a fresh-faced university grad with nothing but a degree and a pile of debt to your name. You have something done outside of school that shows you know what you are doing. That’s the kind of differentiation you need when looking for your first job.

And hey, maybe you won’t need one.

Are you a current or former student? Did you build a mobile app, or are you working on one now? Let us know in comments below and join the #BlackBerryDevEd conversation here on the blog, on Twitter and Facebook throughout the week!

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