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Mobile apps provide bright spot in dreary job market

| Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Jasmine Goldband
Software engineer Bill Koch of Wexford, chief architect Casey Helfrich of Friendship and software engineer Mike Derrick of Shadyside show off their EMS Navigator app on their smartphones in UPMC’s Technology Development Center in Bakery Square. The app is used by ambulance and helicopter ambulance responders. Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review

UPMC began its Technology Development Center three years ago with two workers.

Today the number of employees is nearly 100, and iPhones and Androids are a big reason.

“We don't have a particular mobile department anymore because everything has a mobile aspect,” said Casey Helfrich, chief architect at the center, which designs many UPMC-related mobile applications. “I would say in the hiring we've done, about 30 percent ... has been specifically for mobile development and expertise.”

That doesn't surprise Michael Mandel, president of South Mountain Economics LLC and chief economic strategist at the Progressive Policy Institute in Washington.

Mandel co-authored a study, released in October, that said mobile applications resulted in nearly $10 billion in revenue in 2011, mainly through job creation. More than 500,000 jobs have been developed nationwide since the Android Market and Apple iTunes application stores opened in 2008, the study reported.

Mandel said banks provided one of the biggest growth areas for applications because of demand for mobile banking and the need to make it secure. Other companies hiring for mobile development included the military, entertainment firms, pharmaceutical firms and hospitals.

Pennsylvania ranked 10th on Mandel's study, in terms of revenue generated by applications, and he said Pittsburgh — with universities such as the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon — is an especially app-friendly area.

At Carnegie Mellon, students and faculty help design university-related and other applications. One example is Tiramisu Transit, which tracks bus arrival times and occupancy.

The app won several awards and more than 60,000 people have downloaded and installed it since its launch in summer 2011. Its impact was enough that Tiramisu was spun off as a company and will look for ways to generate income beyond research grants.

“(The feedback) is great from a research perspective,” said Aaron Steinfeld, associate research professor at Carnegie Mellon and part of the team that developed Tiramisu Transit. “Not only are we discovering new things but we're having a positive impact on people's lives.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-8527 or dgulasy@tribweb.com.

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