How to become a mobile app developer

It's almost 2020 and mobile apps are still a thing. This field is still advancing, and new technologies opened [...]

It’s almost 2020 and mobile apps are still a thing. This field is still advancing, and new technologies opened the door for apps that were impossible to build years ago. Being an app developer opens multiple opportunities for you. You can get a job at a company, work as a freelancer, or go solo and develop your own apps. So, how can you become a mobile app developer?

1. Choose a Platform

First of all, there are many mobile operating systems, and you should choose the platforms you want to develop for. Do you want to build apps for Android or iOS? What about supporting other operating systems?

Now, 76.08% of mobile devices run Android, and 22.01% run iOS. So your focus should be on these two. But, development for Android is different from that for iOS. Here come two types of app development: Native and Cross-Platform.

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Cross-Platform Development

Cross-platform development allows you to develop apps for multiple operating systems using the same code base. In other words, you write a single program that will work on Android and iOS, and other platforms depending on the framework. Despite that, cross-platform development has some limits to be able to support multiple OSs. You may not be able to benefit from all the functionalities nor access all the hardware components.

Native Development

Native apps are exclusive for each OS and are built using official tools and IDEs by Apple and Google. These apps take full advantage of the operating system’s features, have better access to the hardware, and they are faster in execution. Also, native apps have familiar design elements that follow the OS standards. This leads to better user experience.

Native Android app development is done on Android Studio. Android Studio can run on Windows, macOS, and Linux. So you can start developing for Android on any computer that meets the minimum requirements. Native Android development is done using Java or Kotlin.

On the other hand, native iOS apps are developed using Xcode, which only runs on macOS, so you need an Apple computer. You can use either Objective-C or Swift, however, Swift is faster and easier to read and learn.

So unless you want cross-platform apps, you have to choose a platform, Android or iOS. You can learn both of course, but you should start with one. When I started, I started with Android since I had an Android device. Then, when I was ready to develop for iOS, I switched to iPhone and learned the platform. It’s important to be comfortable with the platform you’re developing for.

2. Learn the Basics

Now that you decided which platform to develop for, you should learn its basics. Start with tutorials and courses about app development. Watch videos, or read articles, tutorials, and books. There are several ways to learn, choose what suits you. Personally, I learned from step by step tutorials and articles (Read how to get the most out of programming tutorials). You may learn more from videos, so go for what works for you.

After going through some basics, download and install the required tools and IDE. Get familiar with the environment and build a “Hello World” app. Use Google to get help and fix any issues and problems you may face at this step. After learning the basics, move to the next step.

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Photo by freddie marriage on Unsplash

3. Acquire the Skills

As an app developer, your job is more than coding. You have to master different fields to make a complete app.

UI & UX design

The design of your app can define its success. The user interface (UI) is what the user sees even before downloading the app, through screenshots. If your UI was cluttered, the user would most probably look for another app.

User experience (UX) is also important. It defines the way a user interacts with your app. If he needs to go through several steps to do a simple task, your app sucks! The user experience should be easy, simple, and straight forward. No one has time to learn how to use your app. The store is already full of alternatives.

Learn UI & UX right, study popular apps, and ask people around you. Ask for feedback and improve. Keep an eye on the trends. Things change fast.


Knowing how to program is a must to become an app developer. Programming is not writing code. It’s a way of thinking. You should learn how to think, how to solve problems. Learn about algorithms, data structures, and complexity. You may not need a lot of knowledge for simple apps, however as you advance, you’ll need to know how to maintain performance, no one likes slow and buggy apps.

Master the language you’re using, dive into its details, this will help you a lot writing your apps.

Graphic Design

Unless you want to hire a graphic designer, you need to design a unique icon for your app. Several online tools can help you too.

For icons and other elements inside your app, you can find free items online with specific licenses, like on icons8, freepik, iconfinder, and others. However, having a basic graphic design skills can help you make exactly what you want and save more time instead of searching for hours!

For app store listing, you may need a featured image. Furthermore, screenshots are no more just plain screenshots, they include custom designs, mockups, text, and other elements to get the user’s attention.

Business & Marketing

Yes, you read it right. Some business skills are needed. You want to make money right? And money is business. You have to choose how to monetize your app, whether it’s ads, in-app purchases, subscriptions, listing the app as paid, or a combination of them. Also, you want to know how much revenue you’re making.

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Photo by Lukas Blazek on Unsplash

Besides, marketing skills can help you with promoting your app. There are more than 3.3 million apps on Google Play and 2.2 million apps on the App Store. To reach your audience and get people to use your app you should have a marketing strategy. From running ads on Google and Facebook to writing your press release, and posting on social media, there is a lot of work to acquire your first users. It’s not enough to put your app on the store.

4. Make Your First App

To be a developer, you should start. Learning is not enough, you should practice and build your portfolio. Start by making your first app. No, I’m not talking about a “Hello World” app. I’m talking about a real app.

1. Find Your App Idea

Find a simple app idea. It doesn’t have to be unique or new. It’s your first app, it just has to be with some functionality. Like a todo app for example.

Remember, you don’t need all the complex features, just a simple and basic one. You can also follow a step by step tutorial to build your first app if you prefer that.

2. Sketch Your App

Draw a simple sketch on paper, explaining how your app should look like, how users should navigate the app, and what features should be included. Do that while keeping UX in mind. This will give you a clear idea about what are you going to build.

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Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash

3. Design and Code

Now that you have a clear idea, start building the app. Design the interfaces and write the program. While developing, you may notice that some changes should be made to the sketch. It’s okay to go back and rethink your app. Make the changes and continue. Use Google to solve problems you face, learn from other developers and open source projects. Stack Overflow will help you a lot. You can find solutions for almost any problem you face.

4. Test Your App

Test your app on your device and make sure it’s working. It won’t work for the first time. Learn how to debug your app and fix the errors. After that, let your friends and family test it. See how they interact with your app and make changes accordingly.

5. Learn, Build, Repeat

Now after you built your first app, it’s time to expand your knowledge and master your new skill. Learn new courses and tutorials, go more deeply into new technologies. Experiment with different libraries. Follow up with new updates and watch conferences.

Build more apps and apply your new knowledge. Keep practicing, the more apps you make the more experience you’ll have. You’ll notice that you’re getting faster at solving problems and making the small tasks.

Once you feel your apps are good enough, you can submit them to the store, and of course, monetize them. Build a good portfolio if you want to work as a freelancer or seek a job.

Repeat the process, keep learning, keep practicing, that’s how you become a good app developer.


You can learn the skills needed and become an app developer. You need to be persistent and practice a lot. All while following up with new trends and new technologies. Learning app development can open a new career for you. You may like to get a job at a company, do freelance app development for clients, or you may prefer to go solo and monetize your apps. The opportunities are there. Just start!


  1. An excellent blog I must say. Today the app development company is facing the problems of skill crisis as the technologies are ever changing and the developers need to update themselves every minute. Also, developers are gaining degrees in mass today, but quality developers are hard to find. I appreciate your efforts for providing us with the solution to this problem.
    Thanks and keep posting such things.

    • Thank you! For the problem stated, I believe that self learning is the key. Developers should stay updated with new technologies, they should be willing to learn them. Also, quality developers are usually the ones who learned more than their academic program. Again, it’s self learning. And these developers usually gain experience from personal projects they build. I hope this helps. Thank you again!

  2. I liked that you pointed out that it would be smart to design the app out on paper. That does seem like it would help you get the design locked down early on as well. That could probably help you save time later on. It seems like you would want to be good at making clear and easy to understand diagrams if you are an app developer.

    • For what platform you want to develop? For native Android you’ll it’s Android Studio, for native iOS it’s Xcode, for cross-platform there are many options.

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