A Love Letter to Android. How and why I fell in love with Android… | by Zachary Allegretti | Jun, 2022

How and why I fell in love with Android development

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I remember unboxing my first smartphone when I was 16 years old. I left the AT&T store with a white Samsung Galaxy S3. The experience of unboxing and setting up a smartphone for the first time was magical to my teenage self. I honestly don’t remember why I didn’t choose the iPhone, but my decision set me down a path that would affect me for the rest of my life.

Circa 2014, Android had a strange reputation. While the refined experience of iOS appealed to everyone, Android seemed to attract nerds and tech junkies. Although KitKat moved things in the right direction, Android was still rough around the edges. But with this roughness came some quirks that made Android stand out to me. At the time, the Android market was still very much contested. A brutal arms race to capture the massive international market for Android devices pushed smartphone manufacturers to innovate in unique ways to make their phones stand out among the crowd. I became informed with the following the latest developments in the Android market. I’d spend countless hours watching tech YouTubers review the latest devices, researching specs on the state-of-the-art processors, and squinting at camera comparisons between the newest flagships.

As a computer science major, it’s no surprise that I was interested in building Android apps of my own. After finishing my intro to OOP course as a freshman, I downloaded Android Studio on my Thinkpad and dove straight in. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was excited to learn. This was a time before Kotlin and frameworks like Flutter had taken off, so Java and XML were the core building blocks of Android. Fortunately, I had some (albeit little) experience with both of those things.

After many hours of trial and error, I managed to put together a simple scientific calculator app. It wasn’t anything impressive, but after spending a semester doing recursion and basic OOP, I thought that building something I could use was the coolest thing in the world. I didn’t have much time to invest since I was busy with school, so I was pretty limited with what I could do. When summer break rolled around, I had plenty of time to take a real deep dive into the Android world. I didn’t just want to learn the basics. I wanted to try something new and build something unique. I decided to combine two of my passions: fencing and coding into one project. Fencing is one of the more niche sports in the US, so there were a plethora of unique apps I could build.

I ended up building a companion app designed to help referees. Along with scorekeeping and timekeeping, the app included an instant playback feature that allowed users to record parts of the match and watch them over. I was proud of the final product because no other apps on Google Play had this feature. I wanted to share my creation with my friends and fellow fencers, so I ran some closed beta tests amongst my peers. I received a lot of positive feedback, so I released the app publicly through the Google Play Store.

Representatives at job fairs took notice of my passion. Personal projects show initiative and unique skillsets for recruiters, so I had a much easier time attracting attention from companies looking for interns. I landed an internship at Progressive, where I was able to work on their mobile app. Although it wasn’t as glamorous as a FANG internship, I still learned a lot about building and deploying apps at scale in an industry setting.

I continued to build Android apps throughout my time at university. Upon graduation, I launched three different apps on Google Play. I gained knowledge of various Android tools and libraries, including Firebase, Google Fit, Volley, and Realm. After graduating, I was thrilled to get the opportunity to build Android apps at Google.

My passion for Android development stems from the opportunity to have a substantial impact on a massive scale. Smartphones have permeated almost every aspect of everyday life. They are deeply personal gadgets that we carry with us every minute of every day. Just about every major company and service has a mobile application. App development enables developers to contribute to this meaningful relationship we have with our phones.

Android possesses a substantial share of the global smartphone market. Of the billions of active smartphones worldwide, roughly 70% run Android. The potential influence that even a single developer can have in this ecosystem is irresistible. A plethora of today’s unicorns built their success through mobile apps.

I’ve always loved front-end development. Although I have immense respect for backend work, nothing compares to the thrill of designing and building the actual end-user experience. I’ve always loved expressing myself artistically, but my clumsy hands could never paint, draw, or sculpt anything worth showing off. Front-end work allows me to express myself using my mind instead of my hands. I may be awful at holding a paintbrush, but I know that I can type. I believe that a beautiful website or mobile app can be considered a form of art.

Some people incorrectly say that mobile front-end is easier than backend development. In reality, both are challenging in their ways. It doesn’t make any sense to compare them in terms of difficulty. The mobile space provides several unique obstacles. For example, developers must consider network instability, battery usage, memory space, OS version, and various screen sizes and densities. Engineers must consider all of these factors when designing complex solutions.

Even though innovation in the hardware space has slowed, the software space continues to evolve. Every year, a new version of Android gets released, bringing new features and APIs for developers to leverage.

Android also has tons of resources for developers to take advantage of to build innovative experiences. The Android SDK has come a long way over the past decade. Countless libraries and APIs exist to push the bounds even further. Even the release process has become surprisingly streamlined thanks to the effectiveness of the Google Play Developer Console, which offers everything you could need for a single lifetime fee of $25. For solo projects, I could effortlessly run alpha and beta tests, track crash and installation rates, and create customized store listings.

After joining Google, I’ve experienced how apps scale at the highest level. Google TV has over 5 billion installs. Working on this level of scope has been immensely difficult. A bug impacting 1% of users means millions could be affected, so all submitted code requires thorough review and testing. Developers must account for every edge case, including commonly forgotten ones such as accessibility, translations, underpowered, and outdated devices. Undergoing these rigorous standards has helped me learn and grow as an Android developer.

Once I fully master Android development, I’d love to try building iOS apps at some point. Even though I’ve never really gotten invested in the Apple ecosystem, having a solid understanding of the platform would force me to go out of my comfort zone and learn about unfamiliar technologies with similar challenges.

My journey as an Android developer has been one that I’ll cherish forever. I plan to continue working on Android for as long as I can. If you are looking for a new career path or a new side project idea. Consider looking into Android app development. The opportunities are limitless in the constantly evolving mobile space.

Thanks for reading.

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