Mobile Applications DevelopmentThe years 2007 and 2008 were notable for more than just the start and expansion of the Great Recession. In June 2007, Apple introduced the iPhone, followed by the App Store – the world’s first mobile applications distribution service – in July 2008. Three months later, the Android phone debuted (the HTC Dream, aka the T-Mobile G1). So while cell-phone use took off exponentially, the economy domino-effected in a different direction.

By 2010, while much of the world was emerging from the recession, the U.S. economy was still lagging, burdened by extraordinary debt and high unemployment. But in one non-grim corner of this economic landscape, something big was brewing. Mobile applications. Also known as apps, these small self-contained software programs are designed to enhance the existing functionality of mobile devices. They execute specific tasks – such as games, weather reports, and banking – in a more user-friendly way, saving you from tiny-typing in a URL bar and managing bookmarks.

San Diego State University’s Department of Computer Science was on top of it. In August 2010, in partnership with the College of Extended Studies, they launched a new graduate-level program – the Advanced Certificate in Web and Mobile Applications Development – to prepare students for success in this exploding industry.

In March 2011, with the program in only its second semester, it scored a live link in a CBS Money Watch article – Dream Jobs: Six-Figure Salaries and a Bright Future – on Yahoo Finance. The article noted that while the problem with many such dream-job lists is that they often require years of training, offer a minuscule pool of jobs, or don’t pay well, this list featured jobs that “don’t require more than two years of additional training to secure a position, have a reasonably large and growing number of overall jobs, and offer six-figure salaries to top earners in the field.”

Number two on CBS Money Watch’s list of dream jobs included a live link to SDSU’s Web & Mobile Applications Development program:

Mobile Applications Developer

Salary for top earners: $115,000

Projected job growth: 131 percent this year alone

Additional training required: Programming experience in mobile platforms is necessary, but depending on your background, you can fine-tune your knowledge with a DIY approach or perhaps an online certificate program that typically takes one year to complete.

Developing and building applications for smartphones, iPads, and other tablets and notebook PCs is one of the most in-demand jobs in the world right now. So enticing is the revenue from mobile apps – Gartner estimates that worldwide revenue could top $15 billion this year – that Google recently announced it’s hiring dozens of mobile developers in an attempt to counter Apple. Reality check: This isn’t a field for dilettantes: it requires serious programming and IT skills, but the growth potential is huge.


The hyperlink in the first paragraph led straight to the web and mobile page of the College of Extended Studies’ website, and it wasn’t long before recruiters came calling. “One even waited outside the classroom to offer my students jobs,” said Roger Whitney, an SDSU associate professor, and instructor in the program.

Student success stories include Justin Boseant, a data warehouse engineer for Facebook; Prashanth Govindaraj, who landed a job with Apple; and Vanya Goel, a software developer at San Diego Gas & Electric.

In the fall of 2011, SDSU’s Web and Mobile Applications Development program was honored by the University Professional and Continuing Education Association – which promotes excellence in professional, continuing and online education – as the 2011 outstanding credit program for the western region.

Offering more insight into the award-winning web and mobile program is Leland Beck, chair of SDSU’s Computer Science Department.

Leland BeckWhat was the catalyst for the launch of the web and mobile advanced-certificate program in the fall of 2010?

We recognized that there was a great deal of demand for this type of course, including from professionals in the field who want to maintain and upgrade their skills. That led us to create the program through the College of Extended Studies, in order to make it available to the wider community.

How were instructors recruited?
Initially, all of the instructors were full-time faculty members from SDSU’s Department of Computer Science. Most of the web and mobile courses are still taught by our resident faculty, but we are also in the process of adding a few new (carefully selected and screened) instructors who have special expertise to bring to the program.

All classes are online or a hybrid of classroom and online. Does the course dictate which it is?
All classes are offered in both forms (hybrid and fully online). The student chooses, based on his or her individual situation and preferences.

What sets SDSU’s program apart from others that teach applications development?
Many other programs just train students to use particular tools. Our program offers graduate-level courses that teach principles. The goal is a thorough understanding of the way web and mobile applications work at the lowest level. Once students understand these principles, they can build on that knowledge to learn and use many different types of higher level tools. So our courses are more rigorous and demand more from the students. But the students learn much more and are much better prepared for whatever technological developments come next. Web technologies are evolving at a very fast rate, and no one can predict what we will be using in 10 to 15 years. Yet our students should be able to use the skills they have learned to adapt and use new technologies quickly and easily.

How many programming languages will students learn?
Students entering the Web & Mobile program already have good programming skills in an object-oriented language like Java or C++. They then learn (or enhance their knowledge of) several other languages as they take courses in the program. The main languages currently used in the program are PHP, Perl, Python, Java, Javascript, and Objective C. However, the specific languages can change to keep pace with new developments. For example, Apple recently introduced a new language called Swift, and we will be adding that to the curriculum.

Students spend a great deal of time doing actual programming projects and developing apps. Have some of these projects ended up in the real world?
Yes, some of the student projects have been designed to meet the needs of outside companies and organizations, and were actually used by those organizations. Also, there is at least one example of a startup company site built by a former student:

Given that the program is graduate-level and can be completed in one academic year, should students be prepared for an intense workload?
Definitely. The usual rule of thumb for graduate courses is that students should expect to spend two to three hours outside of class for each hour in class. For one three-unit course, that would translate into a total of six to nine hours per week outside of class. Of course, the time required varies considerably from one person to another – some students need less time than that, and some need much more. I usually suggest that prospective students think about other advanced courses they have taken – whether they seemed to spend more or less time than most of their classmates. That might give them an idea of where they would fall in the range of time required. When in doubt, I recommend that students be cautious about the time commitment when starting the program. It is better to start slowly, rather than taking on too many courses at once and having problems because of that. 

Is there an internship branch of the program?
We don’t arrange internships for our students. However, many students find employment during the program using the skills they are learning (essentially similar to a paid internship).

Is the job demand for mobile applications developers just as high as it was when the Web & Mobile program began in 2010?
Yes, the job demand in this area of employment is still very high. Employers still frequently contact the department, and individual instructors, looking for students to fill job openings.

How do our instructors stay current on emerging technologies?
Our faculty members typically spend several hours each week reading about new developments in the field. They also attend professional conferences to learn about what is going on.

What’s the next big thing in web and mobile?
I wish I knew! That is one of the big challenges in this area – things are always changing, sometimes in ways that are hard to predict. Here is a guess from one of our faculty members, Alan Riggins: “Evolution on the client side (scripting languages and local database systems), plus cloud services.”