02-19-2014 03:08 PM
Inside the Mission sat down this week with Alan Chase, a senior mobile app developer at USAA, to discuss the upcoming launch of the revamped USAA AndroidTM app. He also let us in on what it’s like to be a mobile app developer at a bank that is a clear leader in mobile innovation.
Q: So let’s answer our members’ burning questions about the Android app. What’s new in the latest Android release?
A: Home screen widgets. We think — actually we know — members are going to like this. We also improved navigation. A lot of our competitors’ mobile apps still feature an experience that is a webpage view wrapped into their mobile apps.
For the USAA mobile app for Android tablet, we created a dual-pane approach. You can select an item from your accounts list on the left pane, and it will expand with greater detail in the right pane. The Android display puts us quite a ways out in front of our competitors.
On the mobile app, navigation still supports portrait and landscape format, but now there’s a slide-out menu that will allow users to jump around the app easily. A lot of GoogleTM apps are beginning to feature a slide-out drawer, and we’re following that trend.
Q: What is it like to be a mobile app developer at USAA?
A: USAA is really pushing innovation with groundbreaking features and capabilities. The organization was one of the first to allow qualified members to deposit checks with their mobile phones1 and to bring voice-enabled commands to its mobile apps. We have more firsts to come that I cannot talk about — there are some exciting things in the works.
It is cool to be in an innovative area. Mobile is changing every year. New mobile devices come out with new capabilities and features, so we can take advantage of those.
Q: Would you say that mobile development is a creative job?
A: It can be. We have our user interface designers, who create the feel of the app by designing images of what the interface should look like. UI designers develop the feel of the platform, study what Android has to offer and research what other apps are doing and what Google recommends. They create mock-ups of what the app should look like in Photoshop and other tools, and it is the developers’ job to implement their vision.
Oftentimes, what the UI designers have developed is more like guidance than law, and development of the early Android app was particularly creative. So, there is a lot of creativity in this line of work.
Q: Paint a picture for me. Who’s on your team and how do you work together?
A: We have a project manager who oversees the project’s budget and resources. As the tech lead, I am in charge of
all the technical aspects of its development. I work very closely with the project manager to tell him about our timeline and required resources.
As far as people, we usually have about five to 10 developers on-site who are full-time USAA employees. We have contractors on-site and off-site as well.
Our testers get to have a lot of fun. It is their job to try to break what the developers build. Our app is used by more than 2 million members who have the option of running the app on 14,000 different Android devices. Ultimately, they validate our apps, which helps to provide a high-quality end product. Their work increases our confidence in the final app.
We also have an analyst on the team who serves as a liaison between the technical team and the business community as well as a business manager. That’s what our team looks like.
Q: What made you decide to enter mobile app development?
A: I have been at USAA for six years and interned at the group before I began working full time. The opportunity to work in the mobile space arrived two years after I began working at USAA. I was one of the first Android developers here, and it was a very young space that was maturing. To see that we now have at least 20 Android developers here in the building is a cool thing. We’ve seen our app size and functionality features grow considerably. It is very intriguing, and I think a lot of developers would like to be in the mobile space.
We have Android, iPhone® and Windows®Phone apps. There’s healthy competition even among the developers for each platform, not just out in the industry but here within the walls of USAA. We jokingly give each other a hard time about our platforms, and it makes for a fun environment to work in. I do both iOS and Android development, and it’s hard for me to say which I like better. I have more experience with Android — it was my first mobile love, so to speak.
Q: What should prospective hires know about USAA?
A: Your career at USAA is what you make of it when you get here. It’s your attitude. It’s your desire to learn and to be engaged and a willingness to take on responsibility.
We had an intern who worked with us. As soon as he showed interest in taking on tasks and did so successfully, we were able to start giving him more challenging assignments. He succeeded in every one of them.
Really, it depends upon ambition and willingness to work hard. Once you get here, the sky is the limit as far as what you can contribute.
Q: What’s your educational background? Do you need a master’s degree to succeed in mobile app development?
A: I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Brigham Young University-Idaho. Computer science is focused not only on coding but also on the theory of how computers work under the hood, with the software side and a little bit of hardware. It was a fun degree, very challenging.
A lot of my team members have just a bachelor’s degree and then a lot of experience. It is imperative to become highly specialized. Many people acquire experience through on-the-job training. A master’s degree wouldn’t hurt, and it can help in several ways. Ultimately, a lot of experience goes a long way in this field.
Q: What do you like about working at USAA?
A: I appreciate USAA’s core values: service, loyalty, honesty and integrity. USAA’s mission is really honorable. It’s great to work for an organization that has high-standing values. To have that confidence and trust in the enterprise is really great.
1To use USAA Deposit@Home® and Deposit@Mobile®, you must be eligible for USAA auto or property insurance and meet other qualifications based on your account history with USAA Bank. Deposits may not be available for immediate withdrawal.
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