It's 2014. How do I decide between internet or mobile development?
March 19, 2014 10:50 AM   Subscribe

It's 2014. How do I decide between internet application design and development or mobile application design and development school programs? Which has the better market?

So I'm making a career change at 30 - in my early 20's, I had a side-business building Wordpress pages for artists and non-profits. I enjoyed it, but I was very young, didn't know how to run a business, and thus didn't take the risk to go full-time out of school (in an unrelated field.)

Now I'm at a cross-roads - I have a bunch of professional skills and significant PM and business leadership skills, but I'm just not happy in my field. And I still build webpages on the side (mostly volunteering for small non-profits as a way to give back) and enjoy working to find solutions to problems. What I really want to learn is how to build working things, not just implement them, as I have as primarily an HTML/CSS/Googling-for-a-solution builder.

So - I applied to college. I got accepted into two two-year programs - one is internet applications and web development, and the other is mobile applications design and development - links to programs if the curriculum is relevant and/or should eliminate one of them.

Having never developed for mobile and having been out of the game in web development for a while, I don't know how to choose between them. I live in Ottawa, Ontario, if that matters. I am not looking to be the best in my field or work myself to death (through experience, I know this isn't me), but I want to do very good work at a relatively good wage and spend time with my family evenings and weekends. Maybe someday I'll go freelance and work as a stay-at-home-dad type.

The key differences in programs are that the internet application and web development program has a co-op and the mobile one doesn't. Let's assume that I'm ambitious enough to develop a portfolio as I am learning (at least an up to date one) and let's assume I have the business and networking skills to work the industry.

To me, they're both problem solving skillsets but mobile is really taking over so I should go with where users are going. Is it that simple? Is there a reason you chose one over the other? Is there a wage gap?

Thanks for your answers in advance.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (14 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I think you could spitball for hours about where the users are/are not going, but in terms of your career, I'd say the most valuable thing is what skills/topics you would have exposure to. From the curriculum:

Internet: XHTML, CSS and JavaScript, SQL, Java, C# and, PHP

Mobile: Photoshop, HTML, CSS and JavaScript, Flash, Java, C#, Objective-C

As you can see, there's not a huge amount of difference. The latter seems slightly preferable to me in terms of marketability/demand since Objective-C is your way into all things Apple-related.

Also, if I were you, I would pick the thing I knew the least about - you have some basic Web Dev experience, so why not try mobile?
posted by UncleBoomee at 11:30 AM on March 19, 2014

If you have any interest at all in the app space, go into mobile dev -- current web dev isn't nearly as lucrative or as fun for the people I know and work with. One of my coworkers recently expanded his coding repertoire from webdev only to iOS and Android and his salary skyrocketed as a result. He's just so much more valuable to our team now that he can support our other programmers as they build the engines for our apps. I also have a webdev background and am working my ass off to find time to dive into iOS dev since that's the bulk of my design work and because I know it'll help me command a better salary.
posted by Hermione Granger at 11:33 AM on March 19, 2014

I'd do the one with the co-op.
posted by mskyle at 11:48 AM on March 19, 2014

If you have any interest at all in the app space, go into mobile dev -- current web dev isn't nearly as lucrative or as fun

15 years ago this idea would tell you to go into Java applets. Learning web dev and some back-end skills will give you something that's always in demand (says the guy who did that). Each mobile platform is nice but temporary. Learn to handle responsive designs and you can put together a good mobile experience across platforms without getting bogged down in The Right Now.
posted by yerfatma at 12:23 PM on March 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

As a longtime Wordpress/JS developer I would vote for iOS because after dealing with all these hacked-together Web frameworks, the better engineering and classic NextStep roots of iOS feels like the chance to work on a Ferrari.

Also, if you have been away from Wordpress for a while, one of the most shocking changes to me in 2014 has been how much businesses now rely on buying pre-fab $50 ThemeForest themes bloated with spaghetti-code features rather than paying for something to be designed cleanly from the ground up. I am concerned that the capitalists are finding ways to put web developers out of business and that's why I am throwing my lot in with Objective-C.
posted by steinsaltz at 12:27 PM on March 19, 2014

I've always had a preference towards working in a place where I believe in the mission, non-profits, higher education, etc. Most of these places have web devs, none have mobile teams. They either use responsive web apps or outsource. With the pace of change in mobile devices, I don't see that changing any time soon.
posted by advicepig at 12:51 PM on March 19, 2014

Generally I'm in the "mobile is temporary, the web is forever" camp. Web technologies are useful on both desktop and any mobile devices; any specific mobile tech you focus on is going to last only as long as that specific mobile device does.

Evidence to support this: your mobile program includes at least three courses focused on already- or nearly-obsolete devices or technology (Actionscript as your "intro to object-oriented technology", "Blackberry Application Development", and "Windows Phone Application Development".) (Both of those last two are basically going to wind up being Java courses, which is a decent enough language.)

(The "internet" program is not exactly cutting-edge, either, though; it seems really heavily focused on .NET, which depending on who you ask is either dying or already dead and buried.)

All that said, don't get -too- hung up on the specific languages covered by each program; if you're going to be a coder you're going to be teaching yourself new languages every few years for the rest of your career anyway.
posted by ook at 1:02 PM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a fairly long (15 years now) history in software development, and have worked in a variety of spaces. Currently I've been working mostly on iOS apps. I previously have developed windows and mac software, web apps, browser extensions, server software, etc.

Learning flash and actionscript for mobile is 100% ridiculous (the devices won't even run flash), and I question any program that teaches them in that curriculum.

Photoshop is useful but it's not typically what programmers do. I haven't had/opened photoshop in years. A couple times I've used Acorn to make some super-simple placeholder graphic, but that's something I might do once every six months because I need to fill space until a graphic designer can make real graphics. If you're employed as a programmer, nobody wants to be paying you to do photoshop work.

The HTML/CSS/Javascript does have overlap but it applies a lot more to web development than mobile development.

I mean, honestly, looking at the list of things the mobile program covers it looks like the people running it have no idea what they're doing. At least the web dev one covers actual web dev technologies. It's not my favorite that it's catering C#, ASP.NET, and PHP. It looks like a curriculum from 10 years ago, but at least they're tools for web dev.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 2:05 PM on March 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

I was going to say you should take the mobile one but other posters made me look at the curriculum. They include:

Blackberry Application Development
Android Application Development
Windows Phone Development
iOS Phone Development

50% of that is a waste of your time. Take the web one.
posted by chairface at 3:02 PM on March 19, 2014

Unless you want to focus on gaming, go for web development. You can create mobile apps for just about all platforms with web frameworks. I think focusing on iOS (Apple) or Java (Android) is giving up a lot of freedom. Also most mobile apps have to interact with a web application/server.
posted by wongcorgi at 3:34 PM on March 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm not a web developer. This is a difficult decision, I think mobile skills are a great idea but the co-op will get you much more likely hired out of school. Is there a chance to choose different course? Could you take the web dev program and minor in mobile technologies? That way you could have the best of both worlds!
posted by Gor-ella at 4:27 PM on March 19, 2014

It looks like a curriculum from 10 years ago, but at least they're tools for web dev.

Agreed. XHTML is very old news by now; you should be learning HTML5. Ruby on Rails and/or Python are more current than
posted by kirkaracha at 4:34 PM on March 19, 2014

If you learn how to build responsive web designs, you ARE developing for mobile. +1 for do not do this mobile program as it is way out of date. I would ask the director of the web program what the curriculum includes about responsive design. If you get a "huh?" then don't do that program either.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 5:18 PM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Are you thinking you need the degree to find work when it's done?

College computer courses have never impressed me very much. But, a full out University Degree is likely a bit more than you're really looking for - and honestly they cover more than you need.

Given the resources that exist online, I think you could build a self directed learning program which would put you much further ahead at the end of a couple years of exploration.

The nicest thing about school is someone else does the work to decide what's worth learning. But the stuff they list seems a bit dated and unfocused.
posted by ChrisManley at 3:33 PM on March 20, 2014

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