Passion, projects and platforms: what 4 companies look for in mobile devs

by James Risley
August 11, 2016

As more and more time is spent on mobile devices instead of traditional computers, creating a killer mobile app is vital for many growing companies. But you can’t just pull your web engineers onto a new team and spit out a great iPhone or Android app. Companies really looking to make a splash in the mobile world need killer mobile developers.

We talked to some of Chicago tech’s engineering leaders to find out what they look for in mobile developers. Their advice can help mobile devs looking for a job — and startups building up a mobile team.

For Peter Soung, Sprout Social’s co-founder and director of mobile and web engineering, it’s vital to find developers who can take a product from start to finish. In his view, a good way of identifying a strong candidate is to look at projects completed outside of work.

“Hobbies are a great barometer for passion for mobile development,” Soung said. “If someone is actively building personal mobile projects, it's a good indicator that they are staying up to date with industry trends and want to continue leveling up as a mobile engineer. These initiatives also demonstrate a knack to be independent, which is a great asset here at Sprout.”

If there’s one group that’s embraced mobile life more than any others, it’s kids. Obviously, tutoring matchup service WyzAnt needs to connect to students where they are. While WyzAnt Vice President of Engineering Ivan Moscoso likes to see an active GitHub page, strengths in certain coding languages and an overall sense of appreciation, it’s also important to him for developers to integrate well with a team.

“Team dynamics matter more in the long term than how quickly you can push out the first version of your apps,” he said, “so it's increasingly important that mobile developers bring both technical expertise as well as an understanding of how to integrate with the rest of your engineering team.”

At ParkWhiz, business is practically built on mobile, and Vice President of Engineering Mark Stratman is looking for candidates who know mobile all the way through.

“A great deal of experience working with the native tools and languages on a platform is critical to being a highly effective mobile app developer,” he said. “Having worked with most aspects of the platform — basic and custom UIs and animations, sensors, data storage, and so on, even if only on sample apps to gain familiarity — goes a long way toward preparing a developer to make sound decisions when solving new problems and accurately estimating projects.”

That depth of knowledge can come easy to those who have a real passion for their platform, whether it’s Android or iOS.

“Even if it's a simple game or note taking app, the best mobile developers are usually excited to show off an interaction or transition they're proud of, or tell me about the unique challenges they overcame to get a feature shipped,” Stratman said.

But it’s not always those who are extensively trained that make the best fit. Gina Contella, director of talent at music gear marketplace Reverb, said that enthusiasm and dedication are more important.

“[Computer science] degrees have never been important to us as we've hired great developers with liberal arts backgrounds who are completely self-taught,” she said. “Our mobile developers really grok the special problem space of mobile design and the constraints of that ecosystem. They proactively identify opportunities to simplify and improve existing features and collaborate across the organization to develop and prioritize new ones.”

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