App development: An insider's view

The role of an app developer has changed greatly in recent years, no doubt affected by their growing importance in the mobile market. But while everyone is aware of their presence in the technology sphere, how many of us can say we know what they actually do on a daily basis?

Here, mobile app developer Ian Joyner tells us about his career at Apadmi, an award winning app development company in Manchester.

Ian has been with the business since 2011, having previously worked in the aerospace industry as a systems engineer, and developing for mobile in his free time. To discover a little more about the day to day life of an app developer, we quizzed Ian on his career and current work at Apadmi.

Ian, before we get stuck in to the nitty gritty could you tell us a little about how Apadmi works as a business?

Apadmi professionally advises customers on their mobile strategy, solving complex technical issues to create robust, reliable and intuitive mobile software. We offer services in consultancy and strategy, design and development, test and launch, as well as marketing and maintenance. As we also provide back end server pieces and integration with existing systems, we are a one stop shop for all things mobile.

What is your first port of call when you get to work each day?

After grabbing a coffee it really depends where in the project we are. If we’re mid-development I will likely dive straight in where I left off yesterday, coding feels easy first thing in the morning. Otherwise it may be a case of catching up on customer communication or testing feedback.

Now for an important question that must be put to all app developers; what phone currently floats your boat?

The iPhone 5. I specialise in iOS development, and it really helps with platform knowledge to also be an end user.

Creating apps on a daily basis seems exciting and glamorous to those of us not in the know - do you have many opportunities to be creative with your commissions?

One of the great things about app development is that team sizes tend to be fairly small, so early on everyone gets a chance to have some input into how the app is going to turn out.

There really is a chance here to be creative about how features are going to work because we are there for the full mobile project, right from the idea generation stage through to post launch. Clients often have challenging demands and this requires creative technical teams to provide working solutions, or we are brought in on existing projects that need further help to get back on track.

In a nutshell what is your typical role within the app development team?

App teams tend to be small which means the role of a developer typically spans requirements, software development, testing, and facing clients. This variety and influence at all stages of the project really appeals to me.

How many meetings do you have with the client during a project?

I like to work as closely as possible with the client, this is really important. We would typically have daily calls and face to face meetings every one to two weeks, or even more frequently if geographical barriers allow.

What music inspires the app development process for you?

It really varies, but if you’ve got to push through a tough programming challenge, you can’t beat Da Funk!

What’s your favourite platform to work on?

I really enjoy working on all platforms, but the vertical integration with Apple tends to mean you can spend more time perfecting things rather than dealing with compatibility.

Apadmi has seen some exciting app opportunities come its way over its four years in existence, can you identify a favourite project?

I was lead developer for the first release of BBC iPlayer Radio for iOS. We worked with a great team at the BBC and I’m really proud of the performance we were able to achieve in such a content-rich app.

How has app development affected the developer landscape as a whole?

This isn't just about app development, but many software developers in all areas are working on increasingly high level languages and APIs, meaning lots of the heavy lifting is done for you. In many ways this is great because it allows you to concentrate on the high level features, but it can be easy to take for granted. It's still important to have an understanding of what's going on underneath in order to make good software design decisions around which APIs to use, how to use them, and when it's necessary to write them yourself.

One of the increasingly challenging areas of being an app developer is the rapid changes to mobile operating systems that we see. There is a constant requirement to learn new aspects of languages and APIs, but again this rewards those who can understand the changes and make good decisions around them.

How does a dev like you unwind after a day of coding?

I do find exercise pretty important, sitting at a desk all day isn’t great! Our company now has a regular CrossFit training session at lunch times, this is really good because it means I can relax in the evenings having done some exercise during the day. Weekday evenings are short, it’s great to spend some time with my daughter. After she’s gone to bed, my wife and I are getting increasingly hooked on Netflix!