Develop mobile applications using web development skills

The need for mobile apps has increased dramatically as their number to. The number of mobile devices in use has passed the first billion more than a year ago and it is still increasing. As mobile use is closing the gap with computer use, the gap of development skills is increasing. Mobile platforms are huge with lot of possibilities and not so easy learning curves. Apple iOS supports Objective-C, C, C++, or Swift programming languages, on the other side, Android supports Java programming language. If you want to target these platforms, you have to be proficient in at least two programming languages, which is not very easy. In addition to that, publishing to both platforms requires you develop and maintain the very same application twice. Cross platform development of hybrid webview applications could be your saviour if your requirements are not graphic or resource intensive. With the performance of the mobile devices of our time, we can easily run mobile web applications packed as native apps with a performance close to native apps (games and resource intensive apps make an exception here). But how do we build such an app?

The answer is, by leveraging our existing web development skills with HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript and packaging it to a native app. But as we make our mind to use these technologies, we have still many other choices to make. The next one is what framework do we want to use. You can choose to make your UI by yourself, but chances are you will make a not so good feeling UI, or you will use quite a good time with it, so going with a framework is a wise choice here. Some of the choices are:

and this is not the end of the list. There are more choices.

Some of these frameworks offer only a mobile friendly User Interface (UI), and some have UI and packaging features. UI only frameworks are jQuery mobile, AngularJS and Bootstrap combination, Ionic and AngularJS, Kendo UI, and intel XDK. If you choose one of these, you can packaged them to a native mobile app using Apache Cordova or Adobe Phonegap Build. Appcelerator Titanium and Sencha Touch offer their own tools of packaging.

How do you make your choice? I would say your experience and required time to market are most important factors here. Perhaps jQuery mobile can give you the fastest way to put the app together, however, I must say it does not give you a very native user experience. Kendo UI has a good set of UI components but it comes at a price. So, in my opinion. there is no clear line here. The project requirements and available skillset influence the choice.

From my personal experience, I have developed few apps using jQuery mobile, Sencha Touch, and AngularJS with Bootstrap. The latter is my favourite choice, but I am looking forward to expand my horizon and try other frameworks as well. Let’s see what future brings.

PHP Tutorial site

In many of my posts I have shown a positive attitude towards PHP programming language. Although it is not the language I use every day, I do consider PHP as one of the best programming languages for a beginner in web development because I believe it has a fairly easy learning curve. I am now announcing an initiative to create a small PHP tutorial site.

I have been teaching PHP for over four years, and it was always my language of preference when I had to explain web development concepts to someone. I have been teaching it in university level as well as a professional course, and I have seen that students have learned the most important parts of it very quickly.

As a supporting material to my courses, as well as to contribute globally in knowledge sharing, I am creating a new section in my site for PHP tutorials. You can see the page here. This section is going to be dedicated to several tutorials explaining basic concepts of PHP. This is going to be an evolving project of online teaching I am planning to implement during 2015, so I will be adding learning materials continuously. If you don’t want to miss anything, please subscribe, and you will receive them in your email.

A beginners’ guide to web development

If you are reading this post, most probably you have some sort of interest in web development, or even you think about starting to learn about web development. In this post, I would like to show you what path you can follow to be a web developer. This is a beginners’ guide to web development from the perspective of what to learn and how to specialize. This is not a post in which you will learn coding. I just want to point out the what you need to consider before you start learning to code. So, welcome to our dynamic and ever changing world. One of those fast-pace professions with lot of challenges and excitement. So let us define some basic concepts first.

Front End vs. Back End

The initial separation you will feel here is Front End vs. Back End. Let us clarify first what is Frond End and what is Back End.

Front End

Web applications are categorized as distributed applications with a client-server architecture. So, we have a part of code which runs in the client and another part in server. The part of application which is run and rendered in client (most of the time, the client is our web browser) is called the Front End. The most usual technology combination which is used to develop for Front End is HTML+CSS+JavaScript. Front End specialists usually develop expertise in creating Front End of the web applications using these technologies. Another common skill Front End developers master is slicing Photoshop designs to HTML+CSS+JavaScript web pages.

Back End

Back End developers write code that runs on server. Usually, this part of the job entails communication with the DataBase for reading/writing data, reading/writing files, doing the business logic, etc. In some cases where the business logic resides in client side, then Back End is used to serve the data from the DataBase usually in the form of Web Services. Back End developers usually master one of web programming languages and a DataBase Management System.

 

You can master both, but from my experience, I have seen that all web developers tend to like one more than the other. Some even specialize on only one of them. Although there is a line of separation, there is no limit that which side should do what. Sometimes Front End is used only for visual representation and all the job is done in Back End. In some cases, Back End only serves the data and all the calculations and functions reside in Front End. It is a matter of design and architecture to define which side does what (although, depending on the architecture you choose, there are some guidelines about the responsibilities of each side).

Programming languages

There are a lot of available programming languages for web development. When we want to program on Front End, the defacto standard language is JavaScript. When it comes to Back End, we have plenty of choices. Let me list some of the popular choices:

  • PHP
  • JavaScript
  • Ruby on Rails (used with Ruby programming language)
  • ASP.NET (used with .net programming languages)
  • Java EE
  • Python

And this is not a definitive list, just those that came to my mind right now. So which one to choose. Well, your choice should be evaluated based on some factors like: the job market, hosting environment of the web application, available learning resources, available time to learn, the development community around you.

If you want to work as a web developer, in my opinion the most important factor is the job market. You should analyze the job market you are in (or you want to be in) and chose that language that has most job openings. Another important factor is the hosting environment. For example, PHP hosting is quite cheap compared to Java hosting. If you are going to develop an intranet application which is going to be hosted internally in an organization, perhaps Java EE could be a very good choice, but if you want to host your application online, Java EE could be rather expensive compared to other languages.

With the popularity of Node.js, JavaScript has started to become a popular choice of Back End programmers, however, this is still quite a new and immature technology compared to others, and I would not recommend it as a choice of beginner Web Developer.

In my opinion, PHP has the easiest learning curve, cheap hosting environment, plenty of learning resources and relatively easy development environment, so I would recommend to any beginner web developer start with PHP. ASP.NET is also a good choice. Microsoft offers a lot of learning resources, free development tools and a pretty rich environment. If you like the Microsoft ecosystem, ASP.NET is a very good choice.

Frameworks

If you are a beginner, give yourself some time before you start learning a framework. Frameworks are code libraries which make the life of a web developer easier. Frameworks give a structure to a web application, help web developer do some tasks a lot easier and faster then coding everything yourself. If you want to be a professional Web Developer, then it is a must you learn at least one framework, which boosts your speed of development.

You have a plenty of frameworks which try to be general solutions or specialist solutions. You must evaluate your needs. If you have chosen PHP, I would recommend Laravel as a framework of choice. It is a sound MVC framework which is quite trendy these days. If your choice is with ASP.NET, I would definitely recommend you learn ASP.NET MVC and EntityFramework at least.

Web development can be huge and you may want to focus on one type of applications, let’s say development of web sites with Content Management Systems (CMS). Again if you have chosen PHP, I would recommend you continue with WordPress. WordPress allows you to create web sites, blogs, but also it can be extended with ready plugins or custom themes and plugins to quite complex business applications.

You will find plenty of choices for frameworks for any language you choose, so based on your language of choice, you will have to work with different frameworks.

What next

As a first advice, even if you choose to specialize for Front End or Back End (I would strongly recommend you do), you should have a grasp of the other side, and if you do, your team’s performance will be better. If you have learned a programming language and mastered a framework, what I would recommend is you start with another one. Programming languages have their own philosophies and paradigms, and sometimes some differ quite a lot. Knowing two or more programming languages will allow you have a better picture and understanding how programming problems are tackled and will make you a more fluent developer. As I said earlier, you have to consider many factors when you choose your languages. My choices until today were: JavaScript, PHP, ASP.NET, and Java EE. I’m still looking forward to extend my list 🙂

Do you need to take developer certifications

Software development industry is one of the fastest progressing industries. New technologies, amazingly fast changing businesses, and advancement of requirements make learning a daily task of software developers. In a way, when we choose this profession, we kind of agree to lifelong learning, but there comes the question:

“Do you need to take developer certifications?”.

Personally, I like developer certifications. You can see from my profile, I have taken 9 different industry certifications, mostly for Microsoft technologies. The biggest value I see in taking certifications is learning the details of some technologies. As the saying goes “The devil is hidden in the details”, I like learning some technologies in deep details. I do not claim that I do remember all those details from all the certifications I have gone through, but from the experience, I have had some “aha moments” when some of those details have spared me lots of time. Certifications have also helped me to establish my knowledge and credentials as knowledgeable person in those technologies and help me teach those technologies in various courses.

The effect of certifications on your career

I have read in many articles that certifications help you find a better job. I would not argue that you can look better or more prestigious with all those certifications but personally, I have not seen any case that certifications have been the ultimate factor for hiring someone. Perhaps I’m short of that kind of experience, but I put myself in the shoes of a hiring person, if I’d be choosing someone to hire, the certifications surely would be a benefit or a value added for the candidate, but not an important factor for my decision. The important factor is the knowledge one has, and industry certifications can only be a plus.

The effect of certifications on your professional development

If you have taken and passed an industry certification, most probably you have followed a learning plan to learn all the objectives tested in the exam, and that has pushed you to have some good understanding of that specific technology. Moreover, you have seen the latest developments in that technology and have become familiar with what is required to follow on further developments.

Development technologies advance every day, and if you follow the cutting edge technologies, this is an indications that you are also a productive developer as new technologies most of the time make the development process easier and faster. I have not seen a better illustration of this than this picture

are you too busy to improve

The effect of certifications on your personal brand

Branding is not something exclusive to corporates. We all have our brand, your name is a brand, and you should work to make it better and better. Taking certifications will have a positive impact on establishing a firm expertise in your industry and showing how seriously you take your career and personal development. Certifying your knowledge will have an added value towards the development of your personal brand as an industry expert.

Conclusions

As I stated from the beginning of this post, I am very much into certifications, not from the marketing benefits I get from them, but from the learning and self development benefits I get from the process of preparing to take the exams. Personally, I have had a lot of benefits from the knowledge I have gained during that process, therefore I would recommend taking industry certification exams to anyone who wants to advance in software development career.