Software

Tech Companies See Dearth of Mobile-Software Developers


Technology companies are running up against a dearth of qualified developers to create applications for mobile devices, according to a survey by online job board Dice Holdings.

Almost 57 percent of employers and outside recruiters that hired for mobile-related jobs this year plan to boost such hires in the next 12 months, the survey, conducted on behalf of Bloomberg Businessweek.com, showed. More than half the respondents described the supply of quality mobile-software designers and engineers as "scarce."

Companies need app developers as the market for mobile software surges to $17.5 billion by 2012, from $4.1 billion last year, according to a study by Chetan Sharma Consulting. The demand for programmers who can write for mobile platforms, such as Apple's (AAPL) iPhone, Google's (GOOG) Android, and Research In Motion's (RIMM) BlackBerry, has stoked competition among recruiters, driven up salaries, and led employers to consider getting new talent through acquisitions.

"We're seeing a lot of companies that have mobile as a component of their strategy," said Steve Fredrick, general partner at private equity firm Grotech Ventures in Vienna, Va., and founder of job site StartUpHire. "There just aren't that many people who have experience with mobile software, and there's a desire for people who know how to make that work."

The software publishing industry employed 257,300 workers in August, an increase of just 0.7 percent from a year earlier, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The online survey, conducted Oct. 11-15, was based on 283 recruiters who use New York-based Dice's site and said they had hired mobile professionals this year. Dice sells services to businesses that recruit employees through its site.

Increased Hiring

More than a fifth of respondents said they hired substantially more mobile experts this year than last year, and more than a third said they added slightly more. Some 36 percent hired about the same number, while 6.6 percent said mobile hiring fell this year. In the next 12 months, a fifth of recruiters anticipate a substantial increase in hiring, 37 percent see a slight increase, and 34 percent plan to hire about the same number.

The most common salary range for mobile engineers and designers was $75,001 to $100,000, according to 41 percent of respondents. About 28 percent said average pay was $100,001 to $125,000, while 21 percent said it was $50,001 to $75,000. Almost a third of employers raised salary levels for the average mobile worker "higher than normal," citing the increase in demand for talent.

Experience with Apple's mobile platform carried the most weight on résumés, with 72 percent of recruiters saying they are hiring for development of iPhone applications, and 38 percent saying iPhone expertise is the most attractive among platforms. "Anybody that has an application that has been working on a notebook now wants that to work on an iPad, an iPhone, and on Google Android," said Todd Thibodeaux, chief executive officer of the trade group Computing Technology Industry Assn. in Oak Brook, Ill. He described the supply of qualified talent as "scant." "There's a whole bunch of specialties that have to develop and emerge there," Thibodeaux said.

About 60 percent are hiring for Android development, and 23 percent said new recruits with knowledge of Google's platform are most highly prized. Some 48 percent of employers are hiring for BlackBerry, while just 16.1 percent said that's the most desirable type of mobile expertise.

This month, Dice's site had 758 job listings requiring skills or experience with the iPhone, up from 264 a year ago. The site had 685 listings requiring Android skills, up from 158. "If you look at jobs that require either iPhone skills or Android skills, the number of jobs is still pretty small, but if you look at the growth rate, it's huge," said Tom Silver, senior vice-president at Dice.

Mobile Priority

Mobile was described as one of the top three priorities in technology hiring by 35 percent of employers. A year from now, as more businesses incorporate mobile technology, Silver predicts that number will be closer to 50 percent. The vast majority of employers, or 95 percent, said mobile hiring was either competitive or extremely competitive.

That competition has intensified partly because of increased demand for talent in other countries, especially India and China, said Russell Hancock, CEO of Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network, a San Jose-based group formed by business leaders to focus on talent-pool concerns in the region.

While programmers and other skilled workers from India and China have had a significant presence in technology companies during the Internet boom, "in the past decade, that has tailed off significantly," Hancock said.

Some businesses are resorting to acquisitions. About half of the respondents plan to add mobile-software expertise by buying companies in the next 12 months. Other companies have learned to be more flexible in their hiring. Jeremy Stoppelman, co-founder and CEO of local-business reviews site Yelp, said he began recruiting engineers talented enough to learn and adjust to new types of mobile platforms. "If you're doing searches for people with iPhone experience, it isn't going to be a deep pool of people," Stoppelman said. "We just look for good engineers."

MacMillan is a reporter for Bloomberg News and Bloomberg Businessweek in San Francisco.

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