What it Takes to be a Developer

Being a developer is a fairly unique pursuit. It is difficult and at times demoralizing. You will have doubts and 99% of you will face some failures.

DISCLAIMER/UPDATE: In the 3 years since this was written Corona has become an SDK that I not only don’t recommend but strongly advise against. I’m not going to talk about the many reasons why publicly, I just can’t advise anyone to use it in good faith. Look at Platino – it is what I am using and evangelizing for games, for apps I push Titanium. (Which Platino works with, by the way.) Need more info? Contact me.

Recently I have been thinking about my own life; hard work, sacrifices, commitment, determination, loyalty, passion, patience and persistence – these are the things that matter to me. These are qualities I possess that I believe are very important in achieving my goals.

These are qualities that are sometimes forgotten by developers – especially new developers and those who are obsessed with making the next Angry Birds.

There will be success stories – the apps that explode overnight and make a good amount of money – it does happen, however this is not the norm and you cannot rely on it.

If you are serious about making a living developing applications you need to be willing to fail sometimes, or at least not succeed as wildly as you would like.

A recent article I read discussed how making a living from apps seemed only to be possible for the top 1% – I believe this is bollocks.

I can tell you right now how to make apps and live off the sales – it’s hard work but it is certainly achievable.

Let me break it down for you, step by step;

1. Get the CoronaSDK

Yeah, I’m pimping Corona – I do that a lot – but there’s a reason for that. Are you going to spend three months writing an app in Obj-C you could create in Corona in two, maybe three weeks? No – and if you answered “yes” then you aren’t going to be able to do this without a solid bank balance to sustain you while you waste time. Time is valuable.

Think of it in terms of hiring a developer – you hire someone to make an app using Obj-C and Xcode, it takes at least three times as long as in Corona. Let’s say you pay your developer $60 per hour and your app would take 120 hours in Obj-C; that’s $7200. With Corona that’s $2400.

Hiring a developer or doing it yourself – value your time. It is the only way to build your income.

2. Focus on Ongoing Passive Income

Passive income – it’s what everyone wants, to make money while they sleep.

You need to focus on passive income because the only alternative is focusing on a huge payout, which you cannot rely on.

You need this focus because money matters – but sustainable income is more important than a quick cash infusion if you’re trying to build something on your own while also affording the costs of living. An infusion covers you short term, that’s it – you need to build multiple revenue streams. (In this case, multiple apps.)

3. Work 80 Hours a Week

This is the make or break point – some people cannot or will not devote this much time to pursuing a career as a developer – but it’s a must, at least in the early stages.

The way to survive and eventually thrive as a developer if not through luck or copious amounts of cash for marketing is to keep making apps.

A good app that gets no extra attention, no costly marketing and no Apple love can still make money – even if that money is only $20 a week.

If you create an app a month (320 working hours) you are up to $240 a week within your first year. Enough to live on? No, but it is a solid start. That’s $960+ a month, or $12,480 a year.

4. Build On Success

To turn that $1000 odd a month into more money you need to build on what you know works. Do you have an app that sold well? Make a sequel. Make something similar, then make a sequel to that as well.

Not all apps are going to be winners – you have to learn to perfect your art.

5. Get Motivated

You need motivation to survive, especially early on. In my experience you can do this in three ways;

– Do the Math

Refine your skills, manage your time, learn what sells well for you. You can triple your income in a matter of months. Maybe you can’t live off $36,000 a year but that’s a very impressive passive income and perfectly attainable if you put the work in when Corona allows you to create apps so much faster than other SDKs.

– Find a Reason

Sometimes you’re going to need a reason to work rather than having “fun”. I’m not saying don’t have fun, fun matters too – but weigh it up. If it comes down to getting drunk with your friends while watching the entire Harry Potter box set because you have a thing for Snape, well, you need weigh that up too so that you’re able to say “Sorry Snape, when I’m filthy rich I’ll watch you sexily redeem yourself.”*

My reason is two-fold; firstly I love the idea of residual, passive income and secondly I want more time to devote to improving the Corona community – not having to take on a “real” job gives me more free time to do that.

– Think Personally

Most of us have someone, maybe multiple people, we’d like to make proud. Think about that and let it motivate you – it’s one of the easiest ways to find the energy to keep going and avoid burnouts.

Sometimes thinking about that person, or those people, can inspire you more than anything else. It’s all too easy to forget about that when you’re busy working around the clock but try and spare a minute here and there, it really does help.


Devote yourself to making as many quality apps as you can over a period of time and be committed to the long term. You can’t all be overnight successes but you CAN be successful in this business if you are willing to do the work; you don’t need to be the top 1%, you just need to give 100%.

Peach Pellen 

*This is purely an example. I’ve never watched the entire Harry Potter box set in one night. I think that would take like 20 hours. Also, I’m not that obsessed with Snape, although I do think Alan Rickman is awesome and one of only two men who can pull off hair like that.

Leave a Comment