How to Become an iOS Developer
BrainStation's iOS Developer career guide is intended to help you take the first steps toward a lucrative career in iOS Development. The guide provides an in-depth overview of the mobile development skills you should learn, the best available iOS training options, career paths in iOS Development, how to become an iOS Developer, and more.
To become an iOS Developer – and especially a really great iOS Developer – requires a firm grasp of several hard skills, including conceptualization, market research, basic design, and especially coding, as well as user testing, compliance, and finally, submitting your app to the App Store.
These hard skills can be straightforward to learn, but will require dedicated study. What’s more, the best iOS Developers combine technical expertise with a range of soft skills. These may take additional time to hone, but fortunately, they can be practiced across a range of disciplines.
How to become an iOS Developer in six steps:
- Learn iOS development fundamentals
- Enroll in an iOS development course
- Get familiar with key programming languages
- Create your own projects to develop your iOS development skills
- Continue to expand your soft skills
- Build an iOS development portfolio to showcase your work
1. Learn iOS Development Fundamentals
If you want to be an iOS Developer, you should start by gaining a clear sense of what exactly development is. Development for iOS is an area of specialty, not a bubble; the same development process that brings other types of products from concept to market still applies. If you’ve been working in development for a while, you can skip this step—but if you’re new to development and believe this is the industry you want to work in, you’ll first need to understand how it works and how you’re going to fit into it. You can accomplish this by taking a beginner’s development course, or even getting to know a few working Developers and asking them about what they do.
2. Enroll in an iOS Developer Course
iOS Developers are in high demand – Apple’s high year-over-year growth combined with the growing appetite for new content has resulted in a scarcity of talent across many sectors of tech, and particularly iOS Developers, and this trend is only expected to continue into the future.
That high demand for iOS Developers translates into competitive compensation, with average annual salaries that sit comfortably above the $100,000 mark. And the more programming languages you know and specialized skills you have, the more compensation you can demand – a combination of both Swift and its predecessor Objective-C is an exceptional way to burnish your resume.
And while the technical skills it takes to become an iOS Developer can be relatively straightforward to acquire, there’s a steep learning curve. Many people struggle to learn how to comfortably use Swift to program iOS apps. Others – especially those who aren’t intimately familiar with the Mac operating system – will need time to learn to use macOS to build the iOS binaries. Uploading the binaries in Xcode is another common stumbling block. A certification course in iOS development can help aspiring developers understand the unique challenges – and opportunities – involved with developing in iOS. Because instruction takes place within a structured curriculum with oversight from a professional in the field, you can be sure you’re learning all the essentials, with continual feedback to help keep your studies on track. In BrainStation’s course, for instance, students begin with learning the fundamentals of programming with Swift – including types, objects, functions and control flow – before gaining experience building iOS applications from scratch, using Swift libraries to add functionality. By the end of the course, students develop a sleek and user-friendly iOS application and learn how to deploy it to the App Store, an excellent first step toward building a professional portfolio.
3. Get Familiar With Key Programming Languages
There are only three things an iOS Developer absolutely has to know how when they’re first starting out: the primary iOS programming languages – Swift and Objective-C – and Xcode, an integrated environment purpose-built by Apple for people developing apps for all Apple devices. Once you have a firm grasp of these three elements, you can begin putting your knowledge to work, expanding your skill set as needed – and the number of additional skills you can learn is virtually limitless.
Beyond Swift, Objective-C and Xcode, the tools iOS Developers use are typically ways to streamline the process, as opposed to creating everything from scratch each time. For instance, there’s Cocoapods to manage external libraries and scale projects; Dash for API documentation and code snippet management; Firebase for databasing, user authentication and hosting; and Parse for back-end implementation, to name just a few. Apps are capable of carrying out dozens of different activities, from sending you push notifications to pinpointing your location using global positioning satellites, and virtually every one of these actions is supported by one or more purpose-made tools; it’s up to each Developer to select the one that they need. Fortunately, most apps only depend on a small subset of all these tools; which ones will depend on the nature of the app.
As you go, you’ll also become familiar with elements of iOS development that typically fall to people in other departments, but which iOS Developer should still be aware of – like layout design, information architecture, and UI / UX design.
4. Create Your Own Projects to Develop Your iOS Development Skills
Now that you’ve learned the basics – and how to incorporate higher-level functions as necessary – you’re ready to begin building. This is something of a learn-as-you-go activity; if you wait until you’ve mastered all the steps before you start, well, you’ll never start. Stopping to look things up is part of the process. It may help to start small by building a practice app, following a set of step-by-step instructions that will walk you through the entire process, clearly showing you what to do, before trying to build something from scratch.
Creating an iOS app involves many steps – and those steps will vary from app to app. In fact, the steps a given iOS Developer works on will vary as well, depending on their level of seniority (a Senior iOS Developer, for example, is more likely to be involved in the initial research and conceptualization phases, while a Junior iOS Developer working in a large firm might have a list of responsibilities limited to just one or two phases, or contribute to a single feature within a single phase.)
Following a set of instructions is a good way to see the steps involved in putting together an app, but to truly experience every stage of development, you’ll need to build your own original idea from the ground up. This will give you a chance to oversee not just the app’s assembly, but also the initial conceptualization process, market research and compliance. Following conceptualization is the design phase, where how the app will operate is determined, and modeled using wireframes. Finally, the UI and UX design phase establishes the specifics of each page’s organization, appearance, and interactivity.
With this planning complete, you can begin coding your app. Putting together an app involves three separate facets: the back end (everything that happens server-side, where the app’s heavy lifting happens), the Application Programming Interface, or API (which effectively translates what’s happening on the server side into something a user’s mobile device can understand), and the front end (everything the user interacts with directly). There are iOS Developers who do all three, and there are also those who specialize in front-end or back-end development only. Trying a variety of different approaches will help you find what’s the right area for you.
If you’re feeling truly ambitious, you can even take your practice app through the very final stages of development: testing it with users, analyzing their feedback to inform further improvements, and, finally, submitting your app to the App Store and making it available to the public.
5. Continue to Expand Your Soft Skills
The technical skills that iOS Developers draw on, as a whole, are very numerous, and the subset of those skills that you’ll be using as an iOS Developer will depend to a large extent on the type of app you’re building – a gaming app like Flappy Bird will obviously require a very different set of aptitudes than will an international banking app, for example. But besides this technical knowhow, there’s a set of soft skills that are just as crucial to perform the job well – and to your ability to move up the ranks and become a Senior iOS Developer.
It’s never too early to begin honing these skills – in fact, you don’t even need to be working in development to start. The most important of these skills have to do with how well you can work as part of (or lead) a team. Development is almost always a deadline-driven activity, so organization, exceptional time management, and an ability to work well under pressure are vital. So too is communication; in a senior position, you’ll be responsible for guiding and educating other Developers on your team, which takes diplomacy, patience, teamwork, and clear messaging. And, as a liaison to other departments, you may find yourself writing Emails more frequently than you’re writing code.
Finally, a top-notch iOS Developer should demonstrate big-picture thinking and an “Apple mindset” – deep knowledge of the digital landscape in general, and the Apple landscape in particular. Knowing how to build an app is just the start; understanding how to make it perfectly compatible with Apple devices – and perfectly intuitive to Apple users – is what will take your work to the next level.
6. Build an iOS Development Portfolio to Showcase Your Work
Putting together a portfolio of your iOS development work is something you can begin right away – as soon as you’ve got the skills to start building things, you can start showing them off to others. Even projects that you complete as part of your coursework can serve as examples of what you can do, and form the basis for your professional portfolio. As you gain more experience, you’ll want to limit your portfolio to your very best work – but in the beginning, at least, you can focus less on perfectly polished finished projects, and more on highlighting the types of tasks you can perform.
GitHub is an excellent place to begin showing others what you’ve accomplished and how you did it. The platform allows you to show sections of code in context – making it possible for others to understand what they’re looking at even if you have no functioning completed project. It also makes it possible for you to show your process – how you approach your work, respond to problems as they arise, and innovate solutions.
Of course, once you do have a functional finished product, upload it to the App Store to make it official!
From there, you can begin building out your professional network – join a community, either online or offline. And if you’re looking for a mentor, now’s the time to reach out and let them know what you can do, and what you’re hoping to accomplish in your career.
What is the Salary of an iOS Developer?
According to Mondo’s 2020 Salary Guide, iOS Developer salaries range between $90,000 at the low end and $165,000 at the high end. Those numbers increase to $180,000 for a Full-Stack Developer (apps or software).
Is iOS Development a Growing Field?
Yes, iOS development continues to be a fast-growing field. According to CIO’s 2018 State of the CIO survey, 59 percent of CIOs reported problems with skills shortage, with 15 percent specifically reporting a shortage related to mobile development talent. The U.S. Department of Labor also predicts “much faster than average” 24 percent growth in the field by 2026, with an estimate of 302,500 new jobs.
How do I Become an iOS Developer With no Experience?
iOS Developer is a job that requires quite a few technical skills. So while it’s possible to become an iOS Developer with no experience working directly in the field, your first step will be to acquire these skills – most importantly the programming languages Swift and Objective-C, as well as familiarity with the Xcode development environment.
This is where a certification course in iOS development can prove invaluable – by laying out these common pitfalls and guiding budding Developers around them. For beginners (especially for those who are new to the Apple ecosphere), common stumbling blocks include learning macOS and iOS, how to build the iOS binaries and uploading the binaries in Xcode. Working with an instructor ensures that you avoid pitfalls and get the most out of your time.
BrainStation’s iOS certificate course, for example, begins with the fundamentals of programming in Swift (including types, objects, functions, and control flow), then progresses to hands-on exercises building iOS applications from scratch, using Swift libraries to add functionality. By the end of the course, students have developed their own sleek, user-friendly iOS application and know how to upload it to the App Store for distribution.
With the basics of iOS development under your belt, you can continue to reinforce your skills – and gain new ones – by building practice apps. To begin with, try following step-by-step tutorials that will walk you through all the stages, showing you what needs to be done. Once you’ve got the hang of it, you’re ready to begin building your own. Apps can range from fairly simple to mind-bogglingly complex, which means it’s possible for even someone without much experience to successfully complete an app – but also that there are always more things to learn, new skills to acquire, and new challenges to take on.
Once you’ve completed a few coding assignments, put together some basic features, or even a completed app, you can begin assembling your professional portfolio. As you keep building practice apps, update your portfolio to keep your most impressive achievements front and center – finished apps you’ve successfully uploaded to the App Store, and higher-level features that show off your specialized skills. A platform like GitHub will not only allow you to show people the work you’ve done – it also makes you visible to others working in your field, connecting you to opportunities to work on new projects and raising your professional profile.
Kick-Start Your iOS Developer Career
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