Novice developers learn tricks of trade behind app development

kathleen.cooper@thenewstribune.comFebruary 1, 2014 

Microsoft’s Jeremy Foster leads a one-day mobile apps workshop for students Friday at the University of Washington Tacoma’s William W. Phillip Hall.

DEAN J. KOEPFLER/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

A one-day crash course in building a software application, to a room full of tech-savvy people, started with pencil and paper.

More than 200 people, mostly students, packed William W. Philip Hall at the University of Washington Tacoma on Friday to learn how to build an app from a “developer evangelist” from Microsoft.

“We actually have the opportunity to pay our bills doing this stuff,” Microsoft’s Jeremy Foster told the group. “But you have to have a good idea, with good execution and follow-through.”

The seminar, organized by the UWT’s Institute of Technology, was free and resulted from previous successful brown-bag sessions between the Seattle-based computer giant and local students. Friday’s session was open to the public and was attended by several employees of local government and businesses, as well as soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Organizer Andrew Fry, a lecturer at the Institute of Technology, said turnout was almost double what he expected.

Applications, known as “apps”, are a multibillion-dollar business. The vast majority, 90 percent as tabulated by research firm Gartner last year, are downloaded from online stores run by Apple and Google. So it makes business sense for Microsoft to spread the word that its app store is fresher territory for budding entrepreneurs. The company earns 30 percent of whatever revenue is collected by a successful app sold through its store, Foster said, and that share decreases to 20 percent after an app makes $25,000.

“In the Windows ecosystem you can still be a big fish in a little pond,” Foster said. Apps can’t be successful unless people use them, and people won’t use them if they can’t find them. And with 102 billion downloads of applications in 2013 alone, according to Gartner, visibility matters very much.

There were hours of discussion and demonstration of programming languages and design tools, but the actual work of building an app began with small groups sketching out their ideas on worksheets that resembled a storyboard for a movie. One pair worked on setting up a personal debt calculator. Another group experimented with online design tools.

“I just want to be able to develop an app for my own phone,” said Shruti Balabhadruni, a graduate student in computer science who was one of the few in the room with a Windows phone.

Her friend Geetha Sitaraman, also a graduate student, said she came to the seminar because app development needs to be an arrow in her professional quiver.

“It’s what everybody is doing,” she said. “And it’s cool!”

Kathleen Cooper: 253-597-8546 kathleen.cooper@thenewstribune.com

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