In case you missed our chat with MasterCard’s Garry Lyons [LINK], we spoke about creating engaging financial and retail apps for today’s mobile devices -- including inspirational advice for software developers taking part in the Intel® App Innovation Contest 2013 [http://aic2013.intel.com].
To round out the discussion, we also touched based with Dave Butler, VP and Senior Business Leader at MasterCard, who runs the company’s worldwide OpenAPI platform.
Marc Saltzman: Many people see MasterCard as a financial services provider, but your colleague Garry Lyons told me MasterCard has always been a technology company.
Dave Butler: We were recently at a developer-centric conference at the Moscone Center [in San Francisco] and they had a huge presentation wall – one side for Android developers and the other side for iOS developers. We had a MasterCard stand right on the corner of the area set aside for the Android presentations. I lost count of the number of developers that came up and said “Why is MasterCard here? You’re a credit card company.” It’s a great opening line for me because I can explain that our company does not issue credit cards. What we do is to facilitate the use of cards in payment transactions. We handle the transactions taking place between the key players -- we run a payment network, a network that is second to none in terms of capacity, speed and availability. We see it as a tremendous technology asset that is at the core of our business.
MS: Speaking of technology, you wrote in a recent blog post “We’ve become spoiled by the continuous burst of innovative new apps that make our smartphones, tablets and computers even more useful and entertaining.” What would you be looking for from app developers creating compelling finance- or retail-focused mobile apps?
DB: As a developer, I think that the OpenAPI [https://developer.mastercard.com/portal/display/api/API] movement is tremendously exciting because there’s now a good chance that I can find an existing service close enough to what I actually need when I’m building a mobile application.. In other words, instead of reinventing the wheel, I can find someone who already built what I need. Yes, I might have to pay to use the service, but it’ll be a lot cheaper than building it myself. It means that I can focus on the crucial task, which is building the client side of my mobile application. By using API services, I don’t have to divert so much of my attention away from the user-interface, and I can really go to town on the user-experience, which, frankly, is how people will judge my app anyway. MasterCard is giving people access to that payment network I just described and to other related services. By doing so we are encouraging and enabling people to think about brand new types of applications. Other companies are also offering OpenAPIs. So developers are no longer so constrained, forced to spend a fortune to build their own services. From MasterCard’s perspective, if we do a good job with our OpenAPI, developers can get cost effective access to our services, services that can be the core to innovative mobile apps that deliver tremendous value to people with great user experiences.
MS: How important is the trend of developing cross-platform apps using HTML5?
DB: I think it comes down to the user experience that you’re delivering. If you’re building something like a graphically-intensive game where you need an instant, high-speed response, not burdened by unnecessary latency, then you’re probably going to have to build a native app -- regardless of what platform you’re developing for. If you’re building a more general application, we’re rapidly approaching a time where most web browsers on smart devices are fast enough to create a good HTML5 experience. Devices are getting a lot more powerful and I think the web browser will be the go-to platform you develop applications for unless you have special requirements.
MS: What can today’s developers learn from older programs or technologies that could help improve their apps?
DB: Hmm, that’s an interesting one. The big thing is to realize that change is rapid in this business. Maximizing your productivity as an architect and a developer is always going to be key. If you are already familiar with a set of technologies that you can hook together and get a solution out the door, then when it comes to being successful, it’s probably a good idea to go with what you know. However, there comes a time when new technologies can deliver a quantum leap in capabilities. I think all of us in this business have to assume we’ll be learning a lot of new technologies during our careers. I am familiar with a good set of tools and technologies. But I also keep my eyes open for new developments. And then we also have to deal with disruptive events such as the appearance of the iPhone. But while the technologies might change, I haven’t seen the need for the basic stuff I learnt in the beginning – testing, simplicity in code, etc., going away. So stay nimble and realize that while some of what you are doing now will soon enough be considered old you get to keep some of the knowledge and experience you pick up regardless.
MS: What is the single best piece of advice you can offer an app developer who is just starting out?
DB: Just keep learning. If I want to pick up a new technology, I try to code a side-project just to get familiar with it and then I can feed that into my professional life.
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