How to hire a quality mobile app developer

Frank Zinghini

Founder & CEO
man wearing glasses looking at his computer screen

2020 set a new record for global spend in mobile apps across iOS and Google Play stores, reaching $112 billion. Just about every company is jumping into the mobile app market, either looking to build a new mobile app, or to improve ones already in existence. 

You may already have one or more mobile app developers in your organization, or you may find yourself searching for one. We pride ourselves on the quality of our development team, and thought this would be an excellent opportunity to share our thoughts on what makes a mobile app developer truly special. 

Checklist for hiring a mobile app developer

Before we dig into the specifics of what to look for in a mobile app developer, let’s take a step back and discuss certain qualities that are critical for any good developer (whether it be for mobile, web, cloud, enterprise, desktop, or IoT). 

Here are 7 items we consider requirements when you want to find a quality app developer. 

1. A strong work ethic 

Naturally, you want someone who gets their work done on time and respects deadlines. This is especially important when work is done in shorter, agile sprints, as missing a deadline can delay the entire team and put the project behind schedule. 

2. Good communication skills 

We consider this an important quality in a good app developer, but it isn’t always easy to find. In fact, many developers are lacking in this area. The traditional, stereotypical developer prefers to interact with their computers more than people, but a quality app requires collaboration with business stakeholders, project managers, quality assurance testers, and security team members. A technically gifted developer who is unwilling or unable to work well with others on a project is not a wise choice, as it will cause roadblocks and impede the path to a successful end product. 

3. Breadth of experience 

Does the candidate have experience using a variety of app development tools? Some developers can become wedded to one tool because it has worked well in the past. Their preferred tool may become outdated or it simply may not be appropriate for a given project. Quality developers, however, remain open to new tools and techniques. Developers with a deep toolbox bring more options to the table and are better equipped to choose the best tools and methodologies for your application. 

4. Depth of experience 

No matter how well-planned an application development project is, there are always surprises. The more experience a developer has working on different types of applications, the more likely it is they have encountered common (and uncommon) issues that can arise, and have figured out how to resolve them. This depth of experience is an invaluable asset that can keep a project moving in the right direction if and when a potential problem rears its head. 

5. Understanding of business issues 

Most application developers are well-versed in certain programming languages, but do they understand the business side of application development? Every app has a specific business purpose, whether it be to generate revenue, introduce a new function to the market, or to improve employee productivity. A good developer understands the business need and takes it into account throughout the development process. 

6. Respect for security 

If an application developer doesn’t understand or respect the importance of application security, then this should raise a red flag during the hiring process. Security should be a part of the development process from day one, and it needs to remain a priority throughout the life of the application. Developers who only want to focus on the next code release and ignore bugs and vulnerabilities will put your organization at risk of a breach that can cost you dearly in terms of dollars and reputation. 

7. Coding skill 

We never hire a mobile application developer without actually seeing previous code he or she has written. In fact, we alway share a code sample with another developer already on our team to get feedback. In order to become a part of our team of application development experts, code needs to be written efficiently. Bloated or poorly organized code can cause performance and security issues. Any serious application developer will be more than happy to share work they have done in the past, so you can properly assess their coding capabilities. 

Qualities to look for when you hire a mobile developer

Now that we have discussed what to look for in a quality application developer, let’s narrow our focus to mobile app developers specifically. There are four additional qualities to look for when you want to hire a dedicated mobile app developer. 

1. Awareness of the end user 

By and large, mobile applications are user-facing applications, making the end user an important part of the design and development process. We always dedicate time to mapping the user’s journey, prototyping, and gathering user feedback to make sure the application adds value to the end user. 

A quality developer understands the importance of the user experience and is open to incorporating user feedback into the development process in an iterative fashion. The mobile app developer must be willing to listen to users, interpret their feedback, and integrate it into the application. 

2. Appreciation for design 

Design and coding are closely intertwined in mobile application development, more so than with other apps, largely because most mobile apps are used by humans (rather than in a situation where machines are talking to other machines). The design plays a key role in usability and user acceptance.

While we don’t expect developers to necessarily be able to do user experience design themselves, the best developers understand and appreciate the importance of the design process and the value it adds to the mobile app. One of our best developers actually dabbles in drawing as a hobby, and this shows in the work he does for clients. He integrates design elements into his development work and looks at the application through the eyes of the user. 

3. A sharp focus on function

Outside of the mobile app world, applications are often multi-functional. Mobile apps, however, tend to have a sharp focus on providing one or two particular functions or purposes for the user. Some developers struggle with this and want to keep adding more functionality to the same mobile app, creating a Swiss Army Knife of sorts. 

A successful mobile app, however, is more akin to one high-quality knife within a set, created purposely for a specific task. That razor focus results in an app that stands out from the competition because it delivers a better user experience for that one purpose. 

When developers start adding too many functions, the overall experience gets muddied. Rather than excelling at one function, the mobile app tends to deliver an average performance across multiple functions.

4. Elegance 

You might not expect us to use this word to describe a mobile app, but it’s actually very accurate. The best mobile apps just work—easily. The user experience is intuitive. We call this elegance, and it will be immediate to the user if your mobile app is elegant or not. 

If you’re looking for some concrete examples, we recommend checking out the Chase banking app, which just keeps getting better and better. The American Express app, however, is a classic example of what not to do. The developers continue to force more functions into the app, often mixing pages from their website with the native app, and the user experience suffers. 

Additional tips to find a good mobile app developer

You may be wondering how you will be able to find someone with all of the qualities and skills we just enumerated for you. So we suggest keeping one key point in mind: Aim to hire based on aptitude rather than just strict skills and abilities. 

Someone who may not have the best code sample to show you can still turn into a valuable developer if they are receptive to learning, demonstrate an ability to understand complex processes, and can organize their thinking around short, incremental sprints of work. That’s why when we conduct our programming analysis on candidates, we don’t ignore technical concepts, but we place more importance on style and aptitude. People who show willingness to collaborate, who want to learn, who are good listeners and communicators are often worth a bit of investment in technical training.

As you go through the search process, you will also need to decide if you want to hire a full-time mobile app developer as part of your permanent team, or if you’re better off working with an external team that has proven expertise in mobile app development.

There are some benefits to working with an outside team. You get access to more than just developers. A team of designers, quality assurance specialists, security testers, and project managers—who have already worked together successfully on previous projects—can deliver an end product that takes all aspects of mobile app development into account (beyond “just the code”). You also benefit from the breadth and depth of experience of a team that has done work across many industries, which can help avoid common mishaps and increase the success of your application. 

Whether you’re looking to hire a permanent mobile application developer or seeking a team of consultants with deep expertise in mobile app design, be sure to choose an individual or team that checks off all of the boxes on our list of quality app developer skills. It’s always better to spend a little more time upfront finding the best individual(s) for the job, so you get a quality product without wasting time and money having to fix issues caused by an inexperienced developer who just isn’t right for your project.