How the Application Developer Role Has Evolved

Application Developer

In the 1950s, application developer was not quite a defined role. Instead, IT programmers, of whom there were very few, were responsible for everything from loading tapes into servers and creating and running cables, to helping users understand how to work computers.

At that time, experience in customer service, engineering and even mechanics was necessary. Degrees in engineering (and later computer science) were welcome, but knowing a little bit of everything was more important.

The late 1950s and 1960s were marked by the complicated languages early application developers needed to use in programming. Three inventions paved the way for how the application developer would interact with computers. IBM created a new, simplified computer programming language called FORTRAN in 1957. In 1964, IBM introduced the System/360, the first large "family" of computers to use interchangeable software and peripheral equipment. Just one month later, two math professors from Dartmouth College, John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz, created BASIC, one of the first widely used programming languages. This eventually allowed the data storage application developers used to be moved from punch cards to magnetic reel-to-reel tapes, then to floppy disks and eventually to hard drives. Now, solid state hard drives and USB devices can hold terabytes of data that would have required millions of punch cards.

Beginning to specialize

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, an application developer still needed to know a little bit of everything, including customer service, setting up a computer or server and programming. But during this time, as technology advanced and new programming languages were developed, application developers started to move away from a generalist-type position and begin to specialize and develop their own niche. Application developers started to become proficient in languages such as C++, Perl and Java.

This trend continued into the early 2000s. Today, with the proliferation of mobile applications and application-based programs, as well as wearable technology, an application developer specializing in these areas needs skills in building apps for platforms such as Android and iOS, among others, as well as proficiency in languages such as Java, .NET and HTML.

Salaries and skills

The demand for mobile application developers is at an all-time high. The 2015 Robert Half Technology Salary Guide predicts a 10.2 percent increase over 2014 for a mobile application developer, with an average starting salary of $107,500 to $161,500 in the United States.

lead application developer is also in high demand, and can expect to earn $106,250 to $148,250, adjusted per market. Skills and experience required for this role include:

  • A computer science or computer engineering bachelor’s degree
  • Strong analytical and problem-solving capabilities
  • Testing and debugging experience
  • Experience in at least some of these commonly specified languages and platforms:            
    • .NET
    • PHP
    • C#
    • C++
    • Microsoft.NET framework

Application developers have come a long way since punching cards into a mainframe in the 1950s. Today, application developers are well-paid specialists in demand by companies looking to develop applications for our frenzied mobile-enabled society.

What do you think the future holds for the role of the application developer? Share your thoughts in the comments section.