What is Computer Programming?
The internet has become almost ubiquitous in today’s society, and there has been a distinct uptick in the demand for a variety of technology products. From computers and smartphone applications to streaming and online shopping websites, companies are looking to hire computer programmers to create and deliver the most updated content to their customers. Computer programming is a rich field that covers a variety of technical needs, including writing and testing code for computer applications and programs, troubleshooting existing systems issues, or even helping organizations monitor data security. Due to the versatility of computer programming degrees, students in the field can find employment with a wide range of organizations including technology firms and startups, academia, government service, healthcare, food delivery, shared economy startups, and more. As more and more businesses and organizations pivot to online E-commerce solutions, a growing number of industries are looking to hire computer programmers to support the services they provide, so students who enjoy working with numbers and computers should be excited to know that there will be a large number of potential employers looking for their skills upon graduation.
Programming has become an important cornerstone in the STEM field and many community colleges and universities have begun offering degrees and certificates in the field to support the needs of students interested in entering this field. Schools in Alabama are no exception, with many well-established institutions of post-secondary education offering accredited degrees in either computer science or computer programming. Degrees in management information systems or sciences are also popular in the state of Alabama. While most degrees focus on preparing students generally for a career in programming, with courses focusing on competencies like coding, students may be able to select a more focused route by pursuing additional electives in fields like game design. However, most employers looking to hire a programmer in Alabama do not require students to have completed a specialization and will accept applications from students with computer science or computer programming degrees.
Computer Programming Education in Alabama
Associate Degree in Computer Programming (AS)
Since computer programming is a highly technical field, students will need to receive some level of post-secondary training before they can be marketable to employers. On the bright side, students will be able to find entry-level positions with only an associate computer programming degree, meaning that students will be able to pursue a relatively stable and lucrative career with only two years of additional training beyond high school. Students who graduate with their associate degree in computer programming will have opportunities to work as computer support specialists, information security specialists, web developers, and computer programmers. According to Payscale, students with an associate degree in computer programming go on to earn an average salary of $62,546 a year, which is a very attractive financial payoff for the time and monetary investment. Students should be aware, though, that higher-paying entry-level computer programming employers will tend to prefer employees with a bachelor’s degree over those with an associate degree. While on-the-job promotions are possible with this degree level, many students prefer to use their AS in computer programming as a steppingstone toward helping them finish their bachelor’s degree in computer programming.
Bachelor's Degree in Computer Programming (BS)
Of the different levels of higher education degrees available for computer programmers, a bachelor’s in computer science degree is by far the most versatile. Most employers will require applicants to have at least a bachelor’s in computer science if they are looking to hire for a well-paid entry-level position or a mid-level coding position. Students who graduate with a bachelor’s in computer programming can find gainful employment in a variety of different industries that all hire for computer programming and computer science job titles. Common positions include software tester, computer engineer, data scientist, systems analyst, software developer, user interface designer, mobile application designer, and artificial intelligence engineer, among others. According to Payscale, the average worker with a bachelor’s in computer programming earns $73,699 a year, which is a handsome step up from the earnings of workers with only an associate degree in the field.
Master's Degree in Computer Programming (MS or MC)
Although a master’s degree in computer programming and computer-science related certifications are only rarely a prerequisite for working in the computer programming field, having a graduate degree can allow candidates to stand out amongst bachelor’s degree holders. In fact, holding a master’s degree in computer programming can be especially helpful when applicants are applying for positions with some of the most competitive technology firms in the world, such as Microsoft and Google, as well as when workers are looking to find a position in deeply technical departments, like those that deal with coding artificial intelligence algorithms. Completing a graduate degree in computer programming is again an income booster, with Payscale noting the average worker with a master’s degree in computer programming earning $98,461 a year. More importantly, most master’s in computer programming degrees can be finished in one or two years while netting a lifetime boost to a worker’s salary, which can be a large draw.
PhD Degree in Computer Programming (PhD)
Completing a doctorate in computer programming is seldom a requirement for finding employment for a private company or a government agency. However, for students looking to remain in academia and pursue careers as professors of computer science and computer programming, completing their Ph.D. in the field at an accredited institution is very important. Over time, students with a doctorate in computer science will earn the highest average annual salary among all the degree types, which is around $126,745 according to Payscale. Compared to other types of computer programming degrees, where their daily job description will typically include writing and testing code, students who pursue a doctorate will find themselves in jobs that require more research and teaching to advance the frontier of computer science.
Become a Computer Programmer in Alabama
Step 1: Determine the type of training and education you want
Step 2: Earn your undergraduate or even graduate degree in computer science with an emphasis in programming
Step 3: After you graduate, get and internship in the technology field
Step 4: Consider certifications and or a master's degree to advance you knowledge and career opportunities
Computer science covers a broad range of fields and job focuses and, for the most part, students should begin taking electives in the area that most interests them while they are still in school. For instance, students who are interested in algorithms and complexity, which can be useful for pursuing jobs in technology, finance, and marketing companies post-graduation, should look to pursue more electives delving into how to program algorithms. Related work experience, often gained through internships undertaken while students are still in school, can help job candidates stand out in the fields of information management, intelligent systems, operating systems, and platform-based development. Many companies offering positions in these areas will provide on-the-job training to acclimate students with little experience or a general computer science or programming degree to the needs of the team.
A few exceptions would be students looking to work in highly specialized sub-fields like computer programming, where specific skills and some certifications can be very helpful or even required for career advancement. For example, students who are interested in working in graphics, gaming, and design should take courses in the field to ensure that they gain mastery over the programs and code that are considered the industry standard. While most entry-level jobs will not require students to have completed certifications before being offered a position, students may be asked during interviews if they have expertise in a related area. Those who have not taken elective courses or interned in areas like software engineering or game development may find themselves at a disadvantage compared to candidates who have these types of work experiences. For graduates looking to enter the field of information security, certifications can signal professionalism and a deep grasp of industry knowledge to employers. Workers who pursue programs like the ISACA Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) certification, ISACA Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) certification, and the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification can prove to employers that they have the requisite systems and legal knowledge to keep their organization’s data safe.
Best College Programs in Alabama for Computer Programming
Many well-known post-secondary institutions in Alabama offer competitive programs in computer science and computer programming. In general, however, degrees in computer science are more popular than those that focus on computer programming. These are some of the best computer programming and computer science colleges in Alabama.
- Herzing University:
According to Universities.com, the only university in Alabama that offers a degree in computer programming is Herzing University in Birmingham, Alabama. In particular, Herzing’s computer technology department offers several options ranging from certificates to bachelor’s degrees. Students at Herzing can pursue either an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree in general computer programming. For students who have a clearer picture of what they wish to do after graduation, they can undertake a certificate or associate degree in computer systems networking and telecommunications.
More Alabama schools have offerings in computer science. Top programs in the state are as follows:
- The University of Alabama in Huntsville:
The University of Alabama’s Huntsville campus offers three general computer science degree programs, graduating a total of 132 students between its bachelor’s and master’s programs in computer and information sciences in 2019. The university also stands out for its offering of degrees in computer and information systems security and management information systems.
- Troy University:
Troy University is a public university located in Troy, Alabama that offers three general computer science programs. In 2019, more than 130 students graduated with either a bachelor’s or master’s degree in computer and information sciences. Although the school also offers a degree in management information systems, it’s not as popular, with only one student graduating with a bachelor’s in the field in 2019.
- The University of Alabama at Birmingham:
The University of Alabama at Birmingham is a large, public four-year university with a competitive computer science department that served nearly more than 200 students between the bachelor and doctorate level in 2019. The school offers studies in general computer and information systems, computer and information security, information science, and management information systems.
- The University of Alabama:
The University of Alabama is the flagship of the state’s public university system and offers degrees in general computer and information sciences and management information systems. Both tracks are popular, graduating around 100 students every year.
Careers for Computer Programming Graduates
- Software Application Developer
Applications for mobile devices and computers allow consumers to access different programs and packets of data, like games and word processors. Software developers are the computer programmers who code and design these applications, which can then be sold directly to the general public or as part of a commercial software package to corporate clients. These applications can be directly downloaded from the internet or sent between users from the same organization using an intranet.
- Web Developer
Websites allow users to gain information about a subject, firm, or product and are one of the most important avenues for web-based businesses to interact with potential consumers. To that end, web developers are hired by a variety of firms and organizations to design and build websites, taking care of planning the aesthetics and handling any technical needs, such as controlling the site speed and how much site traffic a webpage can handle. Web developers can sometimes be known as full-stack developers if they are skilled enough to handle both back-end and front-end development.
- Computer Programmer
Most businesses leverage the internet and many computer technologies in their everyday work, and computer programmers are the ones who ensure that an organization’s systems are functioning correctly. Computer programmers can also be called software engineers or systems programmers. Their daily tasks include designing new software programs, integrating existing computer systems with new software, training teams to use upgraded software, helping to maintain operating systems (like messaging systems), and debugging any technology issues that arise.
- Computer Systems Analyst
Computer systems analysts are important members of an organization’s technology team who help decide whether existing technology systems are aligned with the organization’s agenda and goals. In particular, computer systems analysts will take a look at the organization’s existing computing capabilities and determine whether they need to build out or purchase new programs or applications. If a firm is expanding to a new line of business, computer systems analysts will help ensure that existing IT capabilities can handle the new corporate responsibilities and recommend any new upgrades that need to occur.
- Computer Systems Engineer
When computer programs, systems, and applications stop responding, it is a computer system engineer’s job to troubleshoot and resolve the issue. Computer systems engineers help resolve application problems, system administration issues, and network malfunctions, helping to create a stable technology environment. Other responsibilities can include helping to scale computer systems, maintaining systems security, and porting data from others.
- Database Administrator
Database administrators help ensure that an organization’s database is accurate and secure. Daily job functions include allowing organizational data to be easily accessible and understood by people from other teams, helping to maintain data consistency across different areas of the database, allowing multiple users to access databases at the same time, and being the main point of contact for any data recovery needs.
- Software Quality Assurance (QA) Engineer
Most applications, software, and databases will undergo regular maintenance and upgrades. It is a software quality assurance engineer’s job to review technical design documents to fully understand the technology that is going through maintenance, provide a clear timeline for test plans, and coordinate testing activities across teams that will be impacted. Software quality assurance engineers may also need to perform debugging and corrective actions throughout the testing and product development process.
- Chief Technology Officer (CTO) or Chief Information Officer (CIO)
A chief technology officer or chief information officer is a member of a firm’s senior management team and is in charge of ensuring that an organization's IT systems are in line with and powerful enough to support any growth objectives. A CTO is in charge of managing technical resources, such as the company’s data security and network plans, while a CIO might have a more streamlined and focused role on the company’s information storage and retrieval systems.