My week started off with a bang! I had a chance to run down to Mobile Monday where I caught up one of Calgary’s sharpest, Jonathan Kohl. He’s a Calgary based consultant with a keen focus on mobile application development, policy and strategy. I had the opportunity to ask Jonathan a few questions this is where our conversation went…
How long have you been working with mobile devices, applications, etc?
I started in the wireless industry in 2004 working on remote data management, and I moved from working on web apps to testing various wireless communication protocols, and then on to working with embedded devices using cellular phone technology. I transitioned to working on smartphone apps, landing an opportunity to work on a mobile medical app in 2009. That’s when I got hooked on mobile apps for smartphones and tablets. I’ve been in that space ever since.
Can you describe some of the most exciting projects you’ve worked on?
Mobile medical apps because they are incredibly rewarding when you get it right. You feel an enormous sense of pride that you are using new technology to do good in the world and improve some people’s lives. The other ones are side projects that I work on with friends. Right now my friend Aaron West and I are creating a simple social iOS app and we’re having a blast doing it.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve had to over come in the mobile space?
A lot of organizations have been very slow to adopt mobile devices or even consider mobile apps. We are undergoing this enormous shift in technology, and it can be frustrating to see them not realize the enormous potential they have to be leaders in their field with mobile app development. So there is a lot of education on why and how to use the technology and it takes a lot of time. Meanwhile, the market is moving on and they are getting left behind.
On the other side, you have a lot of undercapitalized mobile startups who have great ideas, they live and breathe the technology and the social aspects, but they are severely underfunded. This is a big problem in Alberta, and I’m often asked for help in this area when it comes to business planning and trying to fund great app efforts. A lot of fantastic people and app ideas die on the vine here because of a lack of investment. A lot of us have been talking about this for years and how do we solve the problem. There is the odd bright spot, but it is a really difficult challenge to get funding for mobile projects locally.
Some points to consider when designing, programming and testing your mobile app. A lot of apps just plain old suck. They let people down, they crash, they don’t work as advertised. In the first wave of mobile app development, people just created and put as many apps out there to see what might stick. However, we are overwhelmed with choice on our devices, so we also have to create apps that are engaging. They are useful, they are interesting, and we keep going back and using them over and over. The quality and stability of an app is an enormous part of that equation, so I hope people come away with some ideas on how to build apps that are more useful, reliable and engaging.
I’ve done a lot of work in the software testing field, and I pioneered a lot of approaches for effective testing on smartphones and tablets, building on my knowledge from similar technologies in the past. I realized that there weren’t many resources out there for people who were trying to figure out how to test on mobile devices. It is a huge shift from testing web or PC apps, and it’s easy to get it wrong at first. With the enormous platform our users have to complain about our apps either through social media or ratings on app stores, development teams feel an enormous pressure to create a quality app without a lot of time and resources. People kept asking me to share my experiences, so I started sharing them publicly with talks and papers, and then I decided to share as much as I could with as many people as I could with the book.
Now as I help people with mobile strategy (what do we do for a mobile presence?) and with design for their mobile apps (what mix of features and user experiences do we create?) I have a lot of demand for sharing my ideas on how to design mobile apps. One complaint about my testing book and courses is that now the testers in an organization are the only ones who know how to deal with building great mobile apps, but they have little influence on the design. Could I share more about that so we can build quality and great experiences in? I am writing a follow-up book on designing mobile apps called “Tap into Mobile Application Design“. You can’t test quality into a product, and creating something reliable, that works when people are on the move, and has the right mix of features needs to be designed in, so I am trying to help people address that.
Before we wrap things up, I noticed that your running workshops in Australia and New Zealand, how did you land these gigs?
I’ve been an independent consultant for close to nine years, and I’ve been writing technical articles and speaking at software conferences for most of that time. In 2007 I became a professional trainer, so I’ve been at it for a while. I have tried to be consistent in feeding the content monster with ideas and experienced based from my own experience in a variety of topics over the years, so that tends to get some attention after a while. There is a growing demand from organizations to learn more about how to develop great mobile apps, so I get approached by training companies to offer courses. So far I’ve developed a course on testing mobile apps from scratch – I did all the curriculum development using instructional design and adult education techniques, and it is immersive. The feedback from attendees has been great, and the word of mouth and social media promotion is creating demand. I work with SQE Training in North America, and Software Education in New Zealand and Australia approached me last year and asked if I could run the course for them.
We are in an interesting period of economic uncertainty, but a huge shift in technology and massive growth with mobile devices. There aren’t a lot of people who have experience with mobile app development as well as working with organizations who have different tools, approaches, people and skills, so I get a lot of queries for training and consulting as well as the hands-on work that I do from all over the world. I still prefer the local work though, so if I have a choice, I try to work with Calgary companies as much as I can. They can benefit from what I absorb as I work with all sorts of interesting organizations in different places.
Jonathan, you’ve got tons on the go and we commend the work you’re doing in our community and around the world! You’re in a position many Calgary developer dig and we appreciate your openness about your successes and struggles. If anyone is interested in hearing more from Jonathan personally, he’s giving a lecture February 12 around lunch hour for FREE! Here’s the Eventbrite link to register and I hope to see everyone there.