Why I Left the Mobile Team

First, a little backstory. I’ve been on CareerBuilder’s mobile development team for the past 9 months. I wrote our official Android app, which was a great experience. I also did a bit of iOS programming… which I’m less fond of. Regardless, I’ve realized that my true passion remains with web development. And so I naturally became “the mobile website guy”. I embraced this niche and life was good.

And then responsive web design came along.

If you haven’t heard of it, you really should check it out. It’s kind of a big deal. The basic concept is that your pages should be fluid, flexible, and “responsive” to whatever screen space is available. Done properly, this means you’ll never have to create duplicate versions of the same page, because each page will look great on any device.

A couple weeks ago, the mobile team had a meeting with some of our customer service people to review our mobile products. When it came my turn to go over the mobile website, one guy in the room eagerly stated that he never uses the mobile site. “Why would I use the limited mobile site when I can just scroll to the bottom, click the view full site link, and see everything?”

I was just confused. Why would anyone prefer a huge unwieldy page on a tiny mobile screen? Isn’t it worth giving up all that extra stuff for a better mobile experience? Since then, I’ve realized that my question is flawed. It’s not a matter of features vs. mobility. Our users wants both. The real question is, how can we reasonably offer all/most features to our mobile users?

Which brings me to one of the huge perks of responsive web design: you are no longer playing an unsustainable game of catch up with your mobile audience. You are no longer creating a desktop website, and then asking what features should be copied to the mobile site, and when you have time to do it. Instead, you create one set of responsive pages. Everyone gets all features, responsive design keeps things looking nice on big and small screens, and everyone is happy.

Of course, responsive isn’t a magic bullet that everyone should use. For some businesses, it still makes sense to have separately developed mobile pages. Us developers at CareerBuilder, however, have decided to go the responsive route.

So if we’re taking the responsive approach, and no longer making mobile-only pages, then why am I still on the mobile team? Well, I’m not.

Friday was my last day on the mobile team. Today I start on the job seeker development team, which is basically the team that does development for our public-facing website. I’ll be doing my best to lead the responsive approach on this team, which will still benefit our mobile users.

Looking Back

Now that our Android app has been out for a while, I figured I’d make a “looking back” post.

The app is doing very well. No major bugs. Daily downloads have increased, user engagement is up, and the ratings are higher. Unfortunately, the version we replaced had a well-established mediocre score, so it will take some time to nudge the average rating up.

One thing I’ve learned is to take the Android Market reviews with a thick skin and a big grin. Some reviews offer valuable feedback. Some don’t. For example, this 1 star review:

“I didn’t even get to enjoy one episode of a podcast before I was told that my ‘lite’ trial had expired!”

Our app doesn’t even have podcasts. Obviously, we got someone else’s bad review.

Here’s another 1 star review:

“There is no reason this application needs to be accessing my / your contacts = privacy issue. Uninstalled!”

The app loads email addresses from the user’s contacts to offer auto-complete for an email field. We are not harvesting emails, and we won’t use a single one until the user asks us to. I wish I had the opportunity to explain this to the angry reviewer… but then again, it’s still valuable feedback. Despite our good intentions, something we did looked scary. Perception matters. Lesson learned.

If you want to see the app for yourself, you can find it here.

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An Android App

Here it is! After 2+ months of development, I proudly present the all new version 2.0 CareerBuilder Jobs Android app.

CareerBuilder Android app screenshot 1
CareerBuilder Android app screenshot 2

This is my first published Android app. In general, I like Android development. It’s the only mobile app platform I’ve developed for, so it’s hard to say how it compares. I did see a lot of parallels to web development, though. Fragmentation is an issue, with a lot of devices being stuck on older versions of the Android platform. It was very reminiscent of catering to older browsers.

I never used the WYSIWYG editor to create layouts, opting for hand-crafted XML instead. My one gripe is that the XML is very verbose. There are three layout types that you can mix and match to craft whatever layout you need. It worked well enough for me, though there was the same sort of “how do I just get this thing to sit over here” learning curve that I also had with CSS back in the day.

A lot of things that you take for granted actually require a lot more thought once you dive in. Android devices come in all shapes, sizes, and resolutions, so the concept of density independence is crucial. The NinePatch is a really neat idea that helps a lot in this area.

Also, the simple act of rotating the phone can have big ramifications. By default, doing so causes the current activity (“page”) to restart, which can cause things like duplicate code execution or loss of state. This can be disabled, but the same problem occurs in other situations, like when another app takes focus, or if there’s an incoming call. I found it best to suck it up and write the (sometimes hefty) code to handle this seemingly innocuous issue.

I could go on about the pros and cons, but that’s enough for now. Looks like my next project is in iOS (possibly iPad focused) so when that’s done, I’ll be able to compare the two platforms.

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I’m Still Here

Alright, I know how cliched it is to say “hey, I know I haven’t posted in a while but I’m still around, just busy with stuff!”. Well, that’s exactly what’s happening.

I’ve spent the last 2 months or so on Android development. There was definitely a huge learning curve, as I’ve never done Android development before, and I haven’t touched Java since my second year of college (an unbelievable 12 years ago). But I really like it, and it’s starting to feel pretty comfortable.

More specifically, the project I’m working on is a complete rewrite of the CareerBuilder Android app. It’s coming along nicely and should be released this month.

Outside of the office, some buddies and I have started up a “company”. Notice the quotation marks. We’re not expecting early retirements, but it’s nice to have an outlet for ideas and to learn what we want to learn.

Update: The CareerBuilder Android app was released. Read my blog post about it.