AppBoard Tuesday – A Day In The Life Of An iPhone App Developer

By | May 17, 2016
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Mobile app development is, at least from the outside, probably the most glam job in the IT industry at present. We are part of the 8.8 million worldwide developer community, we get to work on the latest Apple computers, we ‘speak’ (oh well, we type…but you get the point, right?) in popular programming languages, and we understand and apply cutting-edge mobile technology – to create applications of varied nature. What often goes unnoticed is the sheer amount of dedication, hard work and eye for detail (I was tempted to say blood, toil and tears…but that would have been stretching it!) with which we app-makers have to work, day in and day out. Last week, we interviewed 4 senior-level in-house iPhone app developers at Teksmobile – and on the basis of their responses, here is the detailed schedule of ‘just another day’ in the life of a developer working on the iOS platform:

(as told by the respondents)

6:30 – 7:30/ Morning jog and light exercise – I will be spending around 10-12 hours after this sitting in front of a Mac computer. It’s essential that my static state does not compromise my physical fitness in the long-run. I get out of home at 6:30 am sharp, go on a morning jog (tracksuits et al.), return home, head for the terrace, and do some freehand exercise. Helps me feel alive and awake, looking forward to yet another challenging day.

7:45 – 8:15/ Breakfast and the news – Whoever said that breakfast is the most important meal in the day could not have spoken a truer word. Shower over, I hit the breakfast table, with coffee, cornflakes and a poached egg (sunny side up!) waiting for me. During the meal, I read up the latest tech-news on my iPad Pro. I do glance over the newspaper later – but for a quick check of all the new stuff Apple keeps coming up with, the iPad news apps (I have 3 of them installed) yields more information…and quicker. Some chat with my family-members also happens (but of course!) while I am finishing up my breakfast.

9:00 – 9:15 /Entry at office – Yep, that’s the time window by which I always arrive at office. As a senior mobile app entrepreneur, I feel that being punctual is a part of my daily responsibilities (leading by example and all that). My colleagues start trooping in as well over the next 15-20 minutes. I use that time to glance over my email, reply to the urgent ones, and get rid of the scores of advertisements that arrive every day. Once my team members are all at office, it’s time for a small coffee session at the canteen.

(Note to self: Yep, that’s two times I have already had caffeine, and it’s not yet 9:30 am. I am not going to have another cuppa until it’s afternoon)

9:30 – 9:45/ Morning Scrum session – The ‘scrum-culture’, I feel, keeps our day-to-day tasks really organized. I head to the conference room along with the other iPhone app makers, where we mention the project(s) we will be working on during the day, the progress already made on them, and the milestone(s) we expect to reach by EOD (end of day, in case you did not get that). I can already see the Android app development team clamoring outside – once we are done, they will be having their scrum right here (their time is 9:45 – 10:00).

10:00 – 10:30/ Mail again – This time, I look for one type of emails – the type whose subject is “Your application is ready for sale”! I mean, I have been in the mobile app development industry for close to a decade – and even now, I get butterflies in my stomach when a new iOS app goes ‘Under Review’. It’s a good thing that the Apple has shortened the app review times to 1-2 days (on average). I have to ‘worry’ for a much shorter time-frame!

Note: If a new app or an app update indeed gets approved, I pass on the news to my colleagues. A round of high-fives and hooting follows – after which, it’s back to work.

10:45 – 10:50/ Plug on the music – I don’t know about others – but I do get royally upset by distractions while doing the coding for apps (it’s not an easy task folks, and a ‘small’ error can necessitate an additional couple of hours of app testing and debugging). I rummage my bag for the good ol’ iPod Touch – select ‘Vangelis – Conquest of Paradise’ from the playlist, and put in the earplugs. That’s it – the noises of the outside world have been drowned out, and I can proceed peacefully.

11:00 – 12:30/ Coding. Coding. Coding – The first half of the day is, without a shadow of a doubt, my favourite for doing the bulk of the required coding. I write in Objective-C or Swift – depending on the requirements of the app project on hand. I get a real kick out of coding the actual user-interface of new applications. The database and the backend support are all very important, but unless the UI is properly optimized – my app is not gonna work. There…that’s my extra motivation for coding the user interface well.

12:45 – 13:00/ Learning the new APIs – I try to keep the 15-minute pre-lunch period aside for checking out the new APIs included in the latest version of the iOS platform. In addition, I try to learn as much as I can about developing apps for Apple Watch and Apple TV (the latter is not really required at the moment for me…but a li’l bit of extra knowledge never hurt anyone). If nothing urgent crops up at this time, I head for the pantry with my tiffin-carrier. A good half-day’s work done…and I deserve a mini, self-served treat!

13:00 – 13:30/ Lunch – Not too light, lest I feel peckish too soon afterwards. Not too heavy, for heavy midday meals make me sleepy. The tiffin I carry from home feels just right. On certain days, I order something extra from the pantry as well.

13:30 – 14:00/ Checking out iOS discussion forums – I am sure that many other iPhone app development experts love the StackOverflow site, just like I do. After lunch, I get back to my workstation, and randomly browse through the iOS development-related questions posted on SO, check out the answers, post a couple of answers (if my knowledge allows me to do so!), and maybe seek out help on topics that I get stuck with. I also go through all the Apple-related subreddits. There’s a lot of information on the web – it’s up to us developers to make use of it.

14:15 – 15:30/ Client meetings, Skype calls – On most days, online meetings with clients are scheduled during this time-interval. I consider that working closely WITH the client is vital for any app developer – and it’s important that the developer and the client are on the same page, when an application is being developed. I head with my laptop to one of the 3 conference rooms, sign in on my Skype account – and lo & behold(!) – the client is already waiting for me. I share preliminary wireframes and mockups, note down the client’s feedback on the same, and exchange ideas about the next stage of making the concerned application. If (s)he has any particular queries, I resolve them during this time. A happy client is a relieved me!

(Rinse and repeat this…if there are meetings scheduled with more than one client on a day).

15:45 – 16:00/ Ranking checks –  I keep this 15/20-minute slot aside for two things primarily – a) to check my apps’ rankings on a tool like AppViz and b) to upload binaries. On most days, the sales projections of the applications are steady and there are no problems with the binary upload. However, there are the occasions when nothing seems to be going right. The sales of a couple of apps take a nosedive, the binary has a bug – and I have to put in that extra effort to set things right once again.

16:00 – 16:15/ Coffee – It’s time for the afternoon beverage, and I prefer taking it at my workstation. I check my personal mail and Facebook within this time (a brief period of indulging myself), make a couple of calls, and reply to messages. A bit of no-harms-meant leg-pulling also takes place on the office floor. Mobile app developers should not become the archetypical nerdy geeks – they should know how to laugh as well!

(Note: I hardly ever log on to FB or my personal email account at any other time during the day. I feel it’s a distraction (albeit a necessary one) – and a brief afternoon slot for them is more than enough)

16:30 – 17:30/ Some coding. More of troubleshooting – If I am lucky enough, my builds pass the scrutiny of the app testers at one go. On most days though, I am not that lucky – with reports of the build not working on either a certain device, or on older iPhones coming in. Initial builds, understandably, can crash quite a bit too. Time for rectifying these errors…it’s not always as straightforward as it sounds.

17:45 – 18:30/ App store research – This is something I do every day. I head to the Apple App Store, browse through all categories of applications, download a few that actually catch my fancy, and check out how they work. The developers’ perspective fascinate me, and I try to guess the answers to questions like “Why would anyone need this app?” or “What was the developer thinking when he included this feature?” This research gives me a sort of insight…and on occasions, fresh app ideas. If I feel that we can make an improved version of an existing app, I immediately float the idea among my colleagues.

(Note: I check out the worst-performing apps at the store too, the so-called ‘zombie applications’. I note down the probable reasons behind their failure. This is like creating a reference point of mistakes that my team MUST NOT make while working on new app projects).

18:30 – 18:45/ Evening Scrum session – Time to be accountable. On certain days, I take the day-end scrum, noting down the things that the other iOS app developers have done during the day. Daily targets are, more often than not, met by everyone. If there’s any issue over a project, I talk it over with the developer(s) working on it.

18:50 – 19:00/ Sticky Notes everywhere – I do this ‘note-to-self’ thingy before I leave every day. I take stock of the pending work, prioritize the different tasks, write them out on sticky notes, and paste them just above my Mac computer. That way, I can start working as soon as I arrive at office the next day – instead of wasting maybe a half hour, mapping out the things I have to do.

19:00 – 19:15/ Done for the day – On four days of the week (and if there is no emergency work), I head for home at this time. During my ride home, I need to completely unwind from the day’s work, forget about programming and clients and meetings for some time, and…just do something else. I either read a book or play mobile games till I reach my abode.

And on the other day… – We have our weekly iOS development training sessions. As senior developers, the onus is on us to bring the newbies up to scratch, regarding the nitty-gritty of mobile app development. I conduct one of these sessions every month – and I always try to drive home the fact that, the mobile apps we make should always be about the end-user. At the end of the day, good user-experience earns five-star app reviews. Lots of high-end, complicated coding might be useless if an application is not user-friendly.

Okay then, I have reached home. Time for a nice, relaxing shower – followed by a snack and maybe some TV. Before dinner, I quickly get on the internet to read up the day’s news (and sports scores, and travel tips!). By 11pm, I usually drift off to sleep…unless, of course, it’s the weekend. Another long day awaits me tomorrow.

This might seem a fair lot of hard work…but that’s the thing about the work-culture at Teks. We take pride in making good apps, and we really love the concept of app development in general (and you know that quote about how if you love the thing you do, you won’t have to WORK for a single day in your life). A typical working day at Teks just breezes through – with lots of hard, smart, productive work, the occasional ripples of laughter, and a few meetings. Making mobile apps is a glam job, but it’s also interesting, and fun, and has loads of learning opportunities. It’s a good life!

With that, let’s wrap up this week’s edition of AppBoard Tuesday (ABT). Do write in if you want to share your experience as an app developer…and let’s see whether your schedule matches with that of our iPhone developers. We will be back next week with another engaging app-related topic. Till that time…love thy apps!

Hussain Fakhruddin
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Hussain Fakhruddin

Hussain Fakhruddin is the founder/CEO of Teknowledge mobile apps company. He heads a large team of app developers, and has overseen the creation of nearly 600 applications. Apart from app development, his interests include reading, traveling and online blogging.
Hussain Fakhruddin
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