To App, Or Not To App? That Is Not The Question

This rant is primarily for Trinidad and Tobago, but I'm sure it applies to other locations.

(Lovely) Person: So what do you do?
Me: I'm a software developer/programmer/coder/blah
Person: So you make mobile apps, right?

The last question is usually followed by "Can you make an app for me?" or "I'm working on an android/ios/windows/ionic/<platform-framework-combination>..." without me being able to reply. This scenario has been repeated so many times that I've learnt to just stay quiet until I can give an honest reply:

"Not really, I don't know much about app development. I can survive some web dev and I'm decent with other things".

Person: Oh... Ok...

We're Not All The Same. We Just Happen To Eat Lots Of Pizza For Some Reason

One issue I have with this mobile app development bombardment is thatit's a pretty myopic view of a software developer's capabilitiesand passion. Believe it or not, the idea of creating the next appwith millions of users doesn't excite me. Why? No particular reason, itjust doesn't excite me. Hey, all credit to those who do just that or aretrying to. Like most techies I'm no stranger to apps and I thinkregionally we got some ones to look out for (check outTapTag andBitBox). And it's not like makingkiller apps do not have their fair share of interesting challenges andsolutions. Anyinteresting project would get a developer excited. Even so, there is anunabated obsession with apps that just makes me feel like the entirecountry is living on the hype train. What really bothers me is notjust that I'm always asked if I make mobile apps (some just assume I doand just ask me which platform has my affinity), it's the quality of theapp they want to make. Like seriously, this situation is too common formy liking:

"Hey, hear me out. I got this cool idea for an app that does something another pretty well known app most likely created in the USA already does, but the company isn't registered here yet so I think I have a chance of being a better hustler for their market". Many don't even mention why they think their solution would be better. I just can't anymore

No Thanks

I Am Not Ranting... Not Purposefully, I Think

I understand why, a smart phone is in almost everyone's hands and apps are therefore pervasive. Plus the world is enamoured with startup companies making more apps. I get it... but if we're so passionate about technology why can't we address some other issues we have with it in T&T? If you want better apps let's try to work these things out - net neutrality, viable ecommerce for small businesses and (quality) open data. I wouldn't mind the app hype if the entire ecosystem was there. Doesn't help that the most app makers don't even try to address the gaps. For some reason a million regional software developers care about music and have to make an app for it (we Caribbeans do love our music though). Again, it's all good. Just not me.

Yes, I Am Ranting

As a culture we tend to consume and not value indigenous creations. People in T&T seek validation from abroad. It's why the next Usain Bolt will probably never come from our twin islands. It was admittedly part of the motivation for me to study abroad (not the main reason but I'm still guilty). And it's probably why most developers just create something that's already out there, "give the masses what they know they want". It makes the average route for a developer here pretty boring: either get involved with some enterprise software presumably built on .NET or make some consumer app that is "heavily inspired" from another app but more than likely isn't a significant improvement from the original. Now someone doesn't have to go that route, but the average developer will and we could make things better for her/him. If you're a citizen demand more from your government and businesses to access their information and services through IT. If you're an organisation, make IT more than just some operational chore but as a key component to your productivity and output. I know those suggestions are "fluffy" (look at this article about being a leader in IT, the word "innovation" appears more than "technology" or "the" or "Schmetterling") but I feel strongly that our main hindrance to "app heaven" is in our attitudes, not creative abilities.

Before We Close

"I bet this guy hasn't made apps before" - Been through some Android tutorials and used PhoneGap about 3/4 times. So not never but not a lot, I wouldn't call myself an app developer for the projects I've done.

"What if you have to make an app for your job? You'll be screwed" - Probably not. Like good professionals, I learn new skills all the time. If I have to make an app for some person/solution, I'll thoroughly learn how to create a usable app.

"The author is a hipster, or maybe C programmer - they're always angry" - My hipster/mainstream taste is pretty balanced - my YouTube history is full of Drake, Nujabes and Lamp (Japanese indie jazz band, damn amazing). I know some C but I'm not a C programmer, I seldom have a use for it.

"Since you don't make apps, what do you actually do?" - I have gotten lots of PJs for web scraping and I've made a couple of APIs with Node.js + MySQL/Mongo. Other little scripts come up here and there. I'm learning how to make games with Phaser! I'll be sure to blog about it if any of my games make it to <your-platform-of-choice> app store 😉.

Happy apping everyone!