By 2016, 1 billion consumers will have smartphones, according to research firm Forrester, and the level of engagement with these devices seems to grow every day. Naturally, CFOs would like to reach the potential customers via their medium of choice.
Not surprisingly, spending on mobile projects will grow 100% by 2015, Forrester says, and it estimates that mobile revenue will grow from $6 billion to $31 billion in the next three years. To capitalize on mobile, a business must have a mobile presence.
Consequently, the mobile jobs market is booming.
In a survey of 600 enterprise human-resources managers released in October by mobile-solutions provider Antenna, 74% said they currently have mobile positions to fill. Naturally, web-based businesses (25 of the top 30 online retailers have created native iPhone apps, according to Forrester) have felt the impact of mobile commerce more than any other industry to date. One of those businesses is Hotels.com, a hotel reservation booking site.
Hotels.com presciently began producing smartphone apps in-house more than four years ago, and more than 10 million people have downloaded a Hotels.com app since the first was launched in July 2008. Today, senior technology recruiter Kevin Sharkey calls the company’s mobile division a “significant part of our customer offering.” But to sustain the climate of innovation required when one chooses to develop proprietary mobile apps, Hotels.com is constantly on the hunt for talent. Just last week, Sharkey says, it put out job descriptions for quality assurance workers to test the applications as they evolve. It also recently hired who Sharkey called a “technical lead” to guide innovation specifically for Apple’s iOS.
In the past, Hotels.com has used temporary workers to support its mobile developers, but Sharkey says consumer demand requires a more robust investment in new skill sets. “Smartphones and tablets are what people carry around,” he says. And, he believes, having people with the skills to supply those tablets and apps with new apps will “lead to more innovation.”
Sharkey admits it’s not exactly the norm for businesses to build apps in-house and consequently spend the money to hire and retain mobile personnel. But Hotels.com is a web-based business, and users, they felt, would really latch on to its mobile presence. “The hiring comes from a real business need to have a mobile app,” he says. “In response to that need, we put together a business case for having those staff in-house.”
That’s logical, but finding people with the right skills isn’t so easy. About 25% of the Antenna survey’s respondents said they’ve found it difficult to find the right workers. The problem is not a lack of applicants, but rather a lack of experience and qualifications. (Mobile technologies are still so new that universities have not yet caught up with courses, degrees, and certifications.) Sharkey admits that this makes the talent hunt “strenuous,” and therefore Hotels.com’s hiring strategy, he says, could be described as “open-minded.”
“We’re not concerned about this or that university or this career directory so far,” Sharkey says. “We look for a foundation. Maybe they studied computer science, electronics, or engineering. But we also take people on who might come from slightly different backgrounds if they’re used to dealing with data and building systems on a high level.”
For example, says Sharkey, the company has hired workers for its mobile division who previously worked collecting and analyzing data from the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest particle accelerator, in Switzerland.
“It might seem like a big leap to go from that to building systems dealing with hotels and bookings, but in terms of volumes of data, you might see how that could actually be very fitting,” Sharkey says.
He also says he seeks out people who started developing apps for the thrill of it, not necessarily for the paycheck. According to Antenna’s research, the mobile skill sets most in demand today by U.S. and U.K. businesses relate to development, content creations, and management.
More than half of the companies surveyed said they had recently created mobile-specific roles. As well they should: Forrester predicts that the mobile apps market will reach $55 billion by 2016.