Students interested in becoming an app developer have different academic options available. This is because there are no mobile app industry standard rules that require a specific degree or certification. However, a computer science degree can definitely lay the foundation for a successful career as an app developer, and everything from its classes to its extracurriculars can help to prepare you for the competitive job market of the tech industry.
Types of Computer Science Degrees
The first thing to know about computer science degrees is that they come in many different varieties. The most straightforward is a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS) in Computer Science, but other options include a Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) in Computer Science, a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Mathematics and Computer Science, and a Bachelor of Applied Science (BASc) in Computer Science. Some universities also offer a Bachelor of Computing (B.Comp).
Computer science degrees are also available at every level of education. While a four-year bachelor degree is often considered the standard of the industry, many others are available for those with varied personal and professional goals. A two-year degree, for example, might take the form of an Associate of Science (AS) or an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Computer Science; these are often community college degrees primed for transfer into four-year universities. A postgraduate degree might be a Master of Computer Science (MCS). There are even doctorate and PhD options for those who want to go into research or academia-related areas of computer science.
Regardless of degree type, all computer science majors should expect rigorous coursework with both practical and theoretical study.
How Will a Computer Science Degree Help Your Career Goals?
You’ll learn a lot of relevant, real-world skills in computer science degree programs. They usually cover a variety of fundamental topics related to math, software, networks, programming, databases and software engineering. Some programs might also touch on things like business acumen or organizational leadership. As you start to build your technical and theoretical skills, you’ll study more specialized topics.
A basic computer science class might teach students about algorithms, hardware and applications. An introductory programming class will introduce programming-based problem solving through basic languages such as Python. Math classes will cover linear algebra, calculus for engineers and data analysis, which will include an introduction to probability and statistics.
Advanced coursework will tackle more difficult subjects, but it can directly benefit an aspiring app developer. For example, students might learn object orientated programming in C++ and thus be exposed to polymorphism, interface relationships and standard template libraries. Students might also study algorithm design and analysis. As a result, they’ll begin to understand string, graph and geometric algorithms.
Most computer science programs have major-related prerequisites in addition to a set number of necessary electives and general education credits. Depending on the program, you might also be asked to complete real-world projects or practicums outside of classroom. Internships with industry organizations are common but not always necessary.
Specializations and Concentrations
There are many sub-specialties within the computer science field, including mobile app development. You don’t have to focus your studies on apps at the exclusion of all else. Other specialties can also build your core competencies in the tech field.
A focus on information technology (IT), for example, can teach you all about the infrastructure of digital systems and networks. A focus on software or web development can show you how to create all kinds of tech materials, not just apps. A concentration on data science can show you how to harvest information from your apps and utilize it for business purposes.
Other specializations within computer science include computer graphics, information security, programming languages, computer-human interface, and artificial intelligence (AI). Any of these would be acceptable areas of study for a future app developer. Since there are no industry-set standards for one’s qualifications, you can pick and choose your own.
For the most relevant degree to your future career goals, however, consider a specialization in app development. Modern computer science degree programs often include classes on web, mobile and cloud software development as a matter of course, but you can gain a deeper understanding of the subject with more topical classes. Because these classes are the most beneficial, students should consider specializing their computer science degree in app development.
A Degree in Mobile Development
Mobile devices are becoming integrated into every aspect of life, business and entertainment. As the demand for sophisticated games and applications grows, colleges are now offering specialized degrees related to mobile app development.
App development degree programs explore the complete mobile app development cycle. Starting with pre-production and ending with deployment, they’ll help you develop tech-related skills while also building your business acumen and learning how to harness your creativity for profitable and productive ends.
When you’re ready to move on to the next level of app development, advanced coursework might include classes such as the psychology of play, the mobile user experience and app development project management. Students will be exposed to emerging interface design, visual frameworks and scalable data infrastructure. Students will also take a number of classes on integrated product development and mobile development frameworks. They may be classes on 3D graphics, artificial intelligence, video game design and more.
Your creative side won’t be ignored. App development is just as imaginative as it is innovative, so there will be plenty of classes in things like art, interactive media, creative presentation and English composition. These classes might be required by your degree program or just encouraged as electives. If you have an interest in the creative side of app development, try looking for computer science programs that offer concentrations in things like graphic design for game or app development.
Ultimately, a specialized degree in mobile development is an excellent academic choice for students who are interested in becoming an app developer. Not only will it prepare you for the field by equipping you with a wide range of skills, but it can also help to set you apart from others in the job applicant pool. While computer science degrees aren’t uncommon in tech fields, a mobile development degree is something rarer.
One way to maximize your time as a mobile app development student is to participate in an internship. These opportunities are offered by everything from up-and-coming startups to well-established Fortune 500 companies.
As an intern, you’ll have the chance to test your skills in a real-life work setting while also drawing on the advice and experience of the industry professionals around you. You’ll also learn how to work in teams with people like coders, graphic designers and software engineers while collaborating on projects at every stage of the product cycle.
Your duties as an intern will depend on your company, but you might be tasked with things like writing code, maintaining databases, troubleshooting IT problems or building app or software prototypes. You’ll usually be expected to provide support and assistance for senior executives as well.
A major benefit of internships is that they can lead to full-time employment offers after your time as an intern is complete. Many professionals in the tech industry work their way up from entry-level positions to more senior roles as they gain experience. Even if your internship doesn’t lead to a job at that particular company, you can use them as references or networking groups in the future.
Internships aren’t the only way to gain experience in app development. Many students find other avenues to design things, launch things, test their skills, challenge themselves or push the boundaries of modern technology. Since the tech industry is one that values innovation, entrepreneurship can look great on a resume.
Some students choose to create and sell their own apps. Others might work on programming projects based on their personal interests or contribute to open-source software communities like GitHub.
Google hosts an annual Summer of Code, an opportunity for students to develop free and open-source software under the guidance of mentor organizations. Applications are necessary, but once approved, students can gain valuable experience in everything from drafting proposals to working within coding teams that follow structured models and evaluation processes.
Volunteer work is also an option. It can give you the same kind of real-world experience as an internship, but it’s usually less competitive, and it can look nice on a resume. Microsoft runs a program called Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) that pairs computer science enthusiasts with high school students interested in things like coding. Many universities also have volunteer opportunities within their computer science departments; some, like the University of Massachusetts Amherst, even have a dedicated Undergraduate Research Volunteers (URV) Program.
For those who are interested in college-level coursework for app development but aren’t yet committed to the idea of official enrollment, many universities offer computer science courses online. Some are free, including the ones at edX, Udemy and Coursera. Almost all of these courses are online and self-paced, allowing you to explore your interest in computer science according to your schedule.
Student Clubs and Organizations
If you do decide to attend college for a computer science degree, you should know that there are many opportunities for personal and professional development even outside of the classroom.
Student clubs can connect you with other like-minded individuals who are interested in computer science. On-campus job fairs and networking events can open the door to employment opportunities while also allowing you to rub shoulders with influential people within the industry.
If your university has any mentorship programs, those can offer a lot of value in establishing your professional network as well. Even if your mentor isn’t directly employed in computer science, they can coach you on things like career development while also writing you letters of recommendation or putting you in touch with relevant industry professionals.
All in all, student life can be a key factor in building a career for yourself as an app developer. Your education in computer science doesn’t have to be limited to what you learn from lectures.
An Attractive Alternative
Students who already who are tech savvy or have a background in computer science or software development may simply want to obtain a certification and start working right away. While this career path isn’t without its challenges, it can be a viable option for those who are unable or uninterested in obtaining a college degree.
There are several ways to earn qualifications for app and software development. One of the most popular is the Advanced Training Consultants (ATC) Android Certified Application Developer. Like its name suggests, it’s intended for Android programmers, and it will test your knowledge of writing, building, debugging and maintaining Android-based apps. The ATC offers the AND-401 exam through worldwide Pearson VUE testing centers.
The Oracle Java ME Mobile Application Developer certification is another option. It will demonstrate your proficiency with the most popular and in-demand Java technologies. Before obtaining it, however, you’ll have to earn the Java Programmer or Oracle Certified Professional credential, so be prepared to take that exam as well. Both of these credentials can prove your competence at app development, and they can help to distinguish you from other applicants when you hit the job market.
Other credentials for app developers include the GIAC Mobile Device Security Analyst (GMOB) certification and Google’s Associate Android Developer Certification. The Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD) also offers several types of certification, including MCSD: Web Applications, MCSD: Application Lifecycle Management, and MCSD: Windows Store Apps. The latter comes with specializations in HTML5 and C#.
If you want to become an app developer, there are many paths that you can take through a combination of education and experience. From classes and clubs to internships and certifications, it’s a field with ample opportunities for advancement. Bear in mind, however, that students who skip a degree program must have demonstrable mobile app development skills, such as knowing how to create a user interface and apply analytical skills to determine the users’ needs. It is highly recommended that students interested in becoming an app developer pursue a formal education, such as a degree in computer science.