When it comes to app development and all the associated skills, developers have their work cut out for them. The languages, tools and best practices in this field are complicated to learn and change at a rapid pace; the latest and greatest can become yesterday’s leftovers in the blink of an eye.
Despite this, we don’t often butt heads with new technologies. I asked our developers how they stay current with industry changes and keep their skills from getting stale.
Develop on the Side
“The best tip for improving development skills is doing side projects that give you experience to improve the weak points in your skill set.” – David Olesch, Jackrabbit iOS lead
Personal projects give you the freedom to experiment without worrying about hitting a deadline or going out of scope. Each project can be a lesson in something new, like a plugin, a design trend or a tweak to a standard practice.
Probably a fair amount of the 1.5 million apps in both Apple’s and Google’s stores are the result of developers playing, building and testing new ideas in their spare time. Some of these apps take off and some don’t, but either way they’re invaluable chances for developers to refine their real-world chops.
Want to see some of the stuff our developers have made on the side?
- free2go by David Oleschfree2go is made for people who use a global carsharing app called car2go. car2go pays users to refuel the shared cars, and free2go points users to cars that need refueling, essentially granting them free rides.
- Book Scan by David OleschBook Scan makes it easier to sell back college textbooks. Just scan the book’s barcode to get a quote and a free shipping label. Book Scan in the App Store.
- HereBy.Us by Vincil BishopHereBy is a networking app that allows users to set automated “watches” to alert them when other users with similar interests are nearby.
- ParseDataViz (in progress) by David OleschMade for developers, ParseDataViz is an app for viewing the top distinct values for each column of a Parse class.
Every other Friday, the Jackrabbit team takes a break from regular work and gets together in one room to focus on personal projects. We call it Hackrabbit. It’s a chance for everyone to refresh their brains, dive into something new (and potentially groundbreaking), and it’s a chance to ask questions and learn from each other.
Hang Out with Other Developers
Being an app developer means you’re thinking about development beyond the hours of 9-5, and one thing that helps our team is being a part of a larger network of code engineers, designers and other enthusiasts who offer opportunities for both learning and teaching.
There are all kinds of meetups, and they tend to be great places for meeting subject matter experts for every conceivable niche of tech. They’re also good places to find a mentor or mentee, and to host problem-solving sessions.
A lot of meetups allow attendees to give presentations about things they’ve learned, up and coming tech, tips for better coding, etc. These presentations are good resources for developers, but they’re also a huge advantage to the presenters. Teaching others requires really putting in the time to understand a topic thoroughly and be able to articulately answer questions about it.
So if you’re really looking to grow, look into giving presentations, becoming a blogger, doing podcasts, or creating courses on sites like Learnable or Udemy. (Check out project manager Grayson Smith’s Udemy course!)
Our team hosts a couple of meetup group each month:
Austin Developer Meetups
- iOS Developers Meetup First Tuesday of every month, 7:00pm.
- Android Developers MeetupMeetup day changes, but it’s generally a Tues or Wed mid-month.
Austin Developer and Tech Conferences
Attending and presenting at conferences offers a great mix of networking, learning and revelry. We’re lucky to be based in Austin, where we have a year-round supply of conferences and seminars to choose from. We’re including a (non-comprehensive) list for fellow Austinites:
- September: Djangocon
- September: SpiceWorld IT Conference
- September: Rock Stars of Wearables
- October: Big Android BBQ
- October: InnoTech
- October: Dell World
- March: SXSWi
- April: Big Data Boot Camp
- May: CocoaConf
- July: Lone Star Software Symposium
Use the Internet!
The most obvious resource is the internet. Besides being good at code, developers are also very good at sharing their knowledge. Online resources exist in spades for every niche topic imaginable. Here’s the abridged list of news sources, tutorials and blogs that our developers like the best.
Online Tutorials and Resources for iOS App Development
- WWDC Videos“WWDC videos are awesome, lots of content and are definitely the first place to go to learn about a new iOS API or feature, or tips for Objective-C and Swift – as well as the latest about those two languages.” – Matt Wanninger, Jackrabbit iOS developer
- Ray Wenderlich’s site has a great team of tutorial writers and some great example code. Plus they go back and update their old tutorials when new versions of iOS launch or Xcode is updated.
- NSHipster is a weekly update on bits and pieces of Obj-C, Swift and Cocoa.
- Objc.io is one of the best iOS and OS X resources because the articles are focused and in-depth.
- CocoaPods and Cocoa Controls have good libraries our developers use keep abreast of what others are doing in the industry. They also provide good building blocks for new projects.
- David Smith’s blog has insightful posts on iOS and Apple Watch news, tips and observations.
Online Tutorials and Resources for Android
- CodePath is “CliffsNotes” for Android.
- The Nerd Ranch Blog offers a little of everything: news, tutorials, and other thoughts.
- XDA is a good site for people who are into modding and lower-level development (not just apps).
- Of course, the Android Developers Blog and Android Developers Site are default go-tos.