So you want to take a gap year. That’s great news! But how do you make money to ensure the fun can last as long as possible? Meet Mark Humphrey, the man coding his way around the world on the endless gap year of glory.
Who are you and where do you work?
My name is Mark Humphrey. I’m a 37-year-old originally from Perth, Australia. I’ve been pretty much on the road for the past 18 years. I lived for several years in San Francisco, USA, then in Italy for several more years. I also lived in Sydney and Queenstown, New Zealand for a while. For the past eight years I’ve been living in Stockholm, Sweden. I come home to Australia every summer to visit family and to travel north to camp and fish.
I have worked as a bartender for the past 15 years, and have done many other things. I released three albums as a musician, wrote a book, and have nearly completed a feature film amongst other things. In the past two years I have focused my attention on programming, specialising in Java and Android.
I have done some contracts as a programmer, but spend most of my time working for my own one-man company, Rusty Telegraph, in every hour I have not working my day job.
Why do we know you? What have you created?
I’m still just getting started with my Android programming career, but I’ve already got quite a bit done. Last year I was contracted to rewrite one of Sweden’s biggest iPhone apps for Android. The app, named ExQuizit, was billed as ‘The World’s Biggest Quiz’, featuring 12,000 questions and a good interface. The app did well, and has sat near the top of the Swedish game charts for many months. I also did a fairly successful free app, an egg timer named ‘Good Eggs’ which I built merely as an experiment to see if free, ad-driven apps were a good business idea.
In recent times, I’ve spent all my time on my fishing app, which is my real passion, as its a fusion of my two favourite things: fishing and computer nerd-ism.
Why should we care about your app? What makes it different?
Fishing is one of Australia’s favourite pastimes. I think the figures are that one in five Australians goes fishing each year, and that one out of every two Australian houmes contains some kind of fishing gear. On top of that, Android phones are being adapted like crazy by Australians. But, in my opinion, there hasn’t been any strong development of good Android fishing apps for Australian fishermen. It’s been largely ignored.
I’m not sure about what the iPhone/iPad app store has to offer, cause I’ve never checked, but I know that nobody has put together a truly interactive Android fishing app for Australian fishermen. It’s a pretty basic concept: catch a fish, record it, and share it with everyone else. In time, as our database grows, people can see which fish are being caught where, how and by whom. At the moment the system I’ve built is fairly elementary, but in time I’ll add a lot of analytics, and you can soon hopefully start saying, “Right. Here’s the data. I want to catch this, so what should I do and where should I go?” In just a week since a release, people are already sharing, so the ball is rolling. I’m quite sure that in a short time a real community will develop and people will be able to see what everyone else is up to.
On top of that, I’ve included a species database that has so far taken me over 15 months to write, and I’m not even halfway done. I think it’s already as comprehensive as some of Australia’s best-selling fish guides, but it’s gonna end up a lot bigger than any of them. And because I have no costs in reproducing an app, I can sell this info for just a fraction of the cost of a printed book.
What challenges did you face when you were developing and how did you overcome them?
As far as my subject matter goes, my hardest challenge was working out which fish species to focus on. Australian waters contain nearly 5,000 species, of which many hundreds are commonly caught in different parts of the country. I’ve currently covered over 220 of what I believe are the mostfrequently caught Australian species, with plans to double that number. And it’s still just a drop in the ocean. The Australian ecosystem is just so diverse. Everything has a different name in a different place, so I had to work out how to satisfy users in different states with the same data.
Technically, the biggest pain in the butt was probably working with Facebook. The app is Facebook integrated, but Facebook keeps changing its Android APIs, deprecating stuff really dramatically, so you have to keep adapting. Also, just before I believed I was done with the app, Google updated its Maps API and I had to completely start from scratch to work with that.
On the other hand, people say that Android’s biggest problem is fragmentation, but I think that’s nonsense. It’s easy to support almost all devices and Android versions. It took me more than a year to build my species database, half a year to program the app, but only a couple of days to add layouts and resources to make the app work from the oldest, smallest 2.7 inch phone to the latest, most advanced 10 inch tablet.
What platforms do you develop for?
At the moment, I only work with Android. I’m a massive fan of that ecosystem, and I love most everything about Google and how easy it is to integrate what it offers into my own development. I have a great relationship with one of Europe’s more successful iOS development companies, so if I ever felt my app had to be remade for Apple, then I could use them. And they can use me in turning iOS apps into Android apps, which they’ve done.
Personally, I’m focused on building great Android apps. If my Android fishing app turns out to be as successful as I hope, I honestly have no real desire into rebuilding it for iOS just to make more money. I’m not a super entrepreneur just trying to get rich, I’m just a part-time programmer with a real passion for what I’m building myself.
What are you working on right now?
I have several things on the go right now.
Firstly, I’m still working very hard on the fishing app. It’s my real passion. I’ve covered 220 species in my guide, but I need about 400 or so to really have everything covered. So I’m writing every day. The app has also just been released, and needs to be refined. The data being shared will be more effectively organized and analytics will be introduced soon. Also, the fishing hints and tips included in my app are also being expanded.
As I live in Sweden, I’m basically rebuilding the app for that country in Swedish. It’s not so hard, as there aren’t nearly as many commonly caught species there. So, all I have to do is full up a database of 50 species or so, translate everything, and then get that up and running for the Swedish summer. I expect that one to do very well. Swedes really love apps, and the market here is unusually large considering the population.
Furthermore, the quiz app I built last year is now being re-released on iOS to feature a completely interactive, online play-your-friends-live-over-the-internet game mode. It will probably be a huge success, so I’m getting to work on the Android version of that in the next month.
On top of that, I have a bunch of ideas, only limited by time. I am, after all, a full time bartender that programs in my spare time, so things move more slowly for me than they do for a full time professional
What do you think about the rise and rise of App Stores? How has it influenced your titles?
The rise and rise of app stores has completely influenced me. Although I’ve been a computer nerd at heart my whole life, I’ve also been a manual labourer my whole life. Although I’ve had record deals and written novels, I never made any real money off ‘art’, or from anything that involves sitting in a chair.
However, I’ve got some friends that have started to make a good living off apps, and it seemed like a dream. The idea that you can sit in your own space and create something that somebody wants to pay good money for sounds like a great deal to me.
So to answer that question, it’s influenced me so strongly that I’ve gone from a fairly unmotivated guy just getting by to a person that works a normal full time job and then puts in another 50 hours a week programming. I just love it, and I definitely feel it’s the right path for me.
What’s your favourite app that you didn’t create?
Being an app designer/programmer, I obviously love a lot of apps.
I really like ‘Skyscanner’, which as a traveler makes everything incredibly simple as I search for cheap flight, hotels and car hire. I also like ‘Flipboard’, cause it’s just so damn clever at giving me every piece of news information I want in the best way. My favourite app for fun is ‘The Moron Test’, which gives me hours of entertainment every time I show it to someone new.
It’s not just an app, but as a whole idea I think the best tech idea ever is ‘Spotify’. The fact that you can have most every song in the world at your fingertips, legally, with the artist getting paid for just a few dollars a month is just wonderful. I would love to be the guy that did the same for the film industry.
I wouldn’t have minded coming up with that whole ‘Facebook’ idea either.
What phone do you use? Why?
I have a Nexus 7 tablet, an Asus Transformer Prime tablet, a couple of cheap Chinese tablets, a cheap old Huawei phone, and a Galaxy Nexus phone.
As an Android developer, I am best off using Nexus devices. My Galaxy Nexus I have a really soft spot for, cause it’s so damn tough. I’ve smashed it to bits a million times. Recently, I was fishing in New South Wales and I dropped it into the ocean. It took me a minute to retrieve it. It didn’t work for a week. Then I pulled it apart, cleaned it with isopropyl alcohol and dried it for a day in a bag of rice. Turned it on and everything worked except for the data/internet. The next day I dropped it again and smashed it apart. Put it together and everything was like new again. I love that phone.
My next phone will likely be a full-HD phone like a HTC One, though I’d like to hold out and get hold of the next Nexus phone if it comes out soon enough.
What advice do you have for budding Aussie developers out there?
The greatest thing about developing for Android is that it’s almost completely free, can be done from anywhere, and you can be as simple or as complex as you want to be with your projects.
You’re probably never going to come up with and develop an idea that’s never been done before, so think simple and try to do something you’re interested in better than it’s been done before.
I don’t think there’s as much money in it for an independent developer as some imagine, so you really have to be motivated by your passions and interests more than the idea of financial gain.
Tell us the best joke you know.
I accidentally called 911, so I set my house on fire so I wouldn’t look stupid.
Hiker image via Shutterstock