“Believe one who has proved it. Believe an expert.”
Android continues to grow in popularity as a mobile operating system. With this constant growth in popularity comes a demand for skilled, specialized platform and application developers rather than just generalists that are currently provided by outsourcing firms. This article describes a business opportunity where a collective of proven experts can be used to fulfill this need for specialized developers. A key aspect of the proposed solution is the provision of proven expertise by certifying and guaranteeing the level of specialization of developers in the collective.
The Android operating system is the fastest-growing operating system in the mobile space and has even surpassed the iPhone in market share. A key reason for Android's growth is that manufacturers have recognized the benefits of this operating system. With Android, mobile phone manufacturers do not have to spend resources to create and maintain their own version of a mobile operating system. Another reason for the success of Android is its sponsorship by Google, which through its sheer market power provides significant financial support and credibility.
Android is also popular with developers because it makes development easy. It uses a well-known programming language (Java) and there are no prerequisite membership barriers to its development environment. However, it is arguable that Android’s greatest strength is that it is open source. Developers from all corners of the world have open access to the full source code. Even though the majority of contributions to the Android operating system come from Google’s Android team, the body of Android developers outside of Google produces an ever-growing quantity of Android software, turning Android into a very attractive platform for mobile consumers and producers.
Although Android is uniquely positioned and has a competitive edge over rival, proprietary mobile operating systems, there remain important challenges faced by Android developers and the software development firms that employ them. In this article, we describe these challenges and then propose a solution that we intend to develop as a business opportunity. Our solution changes the current environment by offering a match-making platform that brings together a collective of specialized Android developers and software firms. We will demonstrate that the power of a collective is more compelling than the current solutions available to individual contractors and outsourcing firms.
A firm typically bases a hiring decision on a developer’s resumé, portfolio, and interview. Even still, a firm cannot know for certain if the developer has the skills necessary and will perform effectively. Equally, the developer does not know if the firm will be a good fit for their needs. Accordingly, many firms hire new developers only if one of their own developers vouches for the candidate, who also has a source of inside knowledge through which to assess the job on offer. While this strategy is perceived to work well (since the firm and the developer rely on the trust relationships between the firm, the established developer, and the candidate), reality is less clear. It can be difficult for firm’s to assess whether a recommendation is based on friendship, skill set, past performance, or other factors. For example, many firms offer bonuses to established developers as an incentive to recommend candidates from their networks, which may in fact complicate the situation. There remains a need for firms to accurately assess a candidate’s skills and there remains a need for developers to prove their expertise.
In the context of Android, an additional challenge is that many freelance developers do not wish to work exclusively or permanently for a particular firm. In fact, many wish to be strongly associated with the Android project, rather than with any firm using it. In some cases, this comes from an affinity for the principles of free/libre open source software, including a desire to see their contributions remain in the public domain. The incentive to contribute to open source might be for future, if not immediate, monetary gain (Lerner and Tirole, 2002). These freelance developers offer their development services for hire, but the challenge for firms is to determine which freelancers would be a good match to work for their particular firm.
Generally, firms have three options:
Hire developers as permanent employees.
Hire freelance developers on temporary contracts.
Hire an outsourcing firm that employs teams of developers.
Firms gain flexibility by outsourcing or hiring freelancers on contract, however they may lose the benefit of having a consistent team of developers that work together regularly. Of course, the options above are not mutually exclusive. Firms may supplement a permanent team of developers with freelancing and outsourcing solutions.
A challenge with outsourcing development work is that much of the work will be assigned to generalist developers, who may require additional training or management oversight to meet the project’s requirements. Large outsourcing firms provide a good solution for well-defined projects, where the task breakdown is deterministic and project management is only a matter of execution. Most firms building on top of the Android platform (i.e., changing the operating system source code to suit their particular needs) do not match this profile because the Android platform is still undergoing many major changes, therefore very hard to create predictable execution plans for these projects.
The authors are in the early stages of developing a solution to this problem as a business opportunity. We intend to develop a network of Android freelancers, project managers, planners, and software manufacturing firms that base their products and services on Android. This network, which we call the Android Freelancer Network, will function as a collective that connects software development projects to the most suitable developer or team of developers.
The key aspect of this solution is its ability to prove the expertise of the workers with respect to Android. This proof is provided through visible referrals, certification programs, commit history, and other measures of expertise and past performance. The platform will analyze the contributions to the Android platform, both for individuals and firms, and maintain a database to track their performance. The platform will also provide details of members’ interactions and feedback, along with lists of skills required to perform certain tasks with Android.
Our business will sell memberships to this network, which will connect parties together in a way that demonstrates their level of expertise and track record with other members. Further, we will provide project planning and maintenance services to help members that might have a detailed plan on how their solution should be built and maintained. Compared to outsourcing firms providing generalized expertise, the unique feature of the Android Freelancer Network is its ability to provide the best matches between freelancers and firms based on the developer’s proven expertise and the firm’s requirements.
For firms, this solution will reduce a project’s costs and risks by finding the right people to produce and execute a project plan given the firms’ requirements. Firms can be confident that their product requirements are going to be met since they are matched with experts that can prove they have worked on areas of Android defined by the firm’s requirements. Freelancers with proven expertise are more likely to design solutions that match the firm’s requirements than generalists or developers whose experience is unproven.
For developers, this solution will reduce their search costs and help them find the best fit for their skills. The ability to prove their expertise is a unique and proprietary method to analyze their prior contributions and reputation with the Android platform. Also, developers will only be subject to membership dues if they find jobs through the network.
In this article, we described the attractive features and challenges of the Android operating system as a complementary asset to mobile software and hardware manufacturers. The high demand for Android developers has created a market where generalists can pose as Android experts, which is a problem for both freelancers and the firms looking to hire them. We outlined our business opportunity, the Android Freelancer Network, which will match developers and firms based on their expertise, past performance, and current requirements. The power of this collective is its ability to attract and maintain a specialized pool of professionals with proven Android expertise. This solution addresses problems facing both developers and firm and will contribute to the growth of the Android operating system.