The media has been excitedly reporting the launch of “London’s first app academy”, where aspiring programmers can learn to create apps.
The academy is being set up by broadcaster Sky, which has given its new venture the more conservative official title of the “Software Engineering Academy”, although I suspect Sky had a hand in coining the media-friendly “app academy” soundbite.
For programmers at the start of their careers, this presents a great opportunity, and a dilemma.
The opportunity is that they can work with a company that has experience getting software into the hands of users, and that is prepared to pay developers to learn the ropes. Having a guaranteed audience for your work is a big plus, and being paid to train is unheard of at a time when the UK is still coming to terms with increases in university tuition fees.
The dilemma, though, is the opportunity cost: what might have been. In today’s software industry, you don’t necessarily need a big corporate sponsor to work as a developer. You can create your own opportunities more easily than ever before.
For years, it’s been possible to generate an income as a shareware developer: for some, it provided welcome pocket money, and for others it was their primary source of income. The internet amplified that opportunity by making it easier for people to spread the word about software and easier for others to find and download it.
The app store model has made it even easier for people to find and buy software, by integrating the purchase and download process into the device.
The Intel AppUp Center, for example, is being shipped on netbooks developed by Asus and on netbooks and laptops sold by Dixons, and will be added to more products in future.
It has become so easy to download apps now, that it’s the usual way most people acquire software. Anyone in the real world – i.e. outside of the game development industry – knows more people who have downloaded apps than who have bought boxed games software.
With a direct route to market, perhaps you don’t need an employer any more. If you’re willing and able to take on some of the risk, you could start up by yourself. You’ll need to work hard to find an audience, but if you create something that resonates with the market, you can keep most of the sales value for yourself.
To break even on walking away from the Sky opportunity, you’d need to create an average of six apps in a year that generate £5000 each, not too difficult when you’re keeping 70% of the sale price. If you create a hit app that sells a million, you could start your career with your mortgage paid off. Nice.
Even if you do decide the corporate environment is right for you, the best way to convince prospective employers that you’re serious about developing great software is to just go ahead and do it.
Jon Evans, writing for TechCrunch, argued that companies should only hire people who have already accomplished something in the real world. Given the opportunities there are for distributing software today, that’s not the chicken-and-egg conundrum it might once have seemed. If you claim to love developing software and don’t have some apps on your CV, expect a grilling in your next interview.
To sell apps through the Intel AppUp Center, join the Intel AppUp developer program.