How to Become a Computer Programmer in California

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What is Computer Science?


With Silicon Valley located in California, the state has long been a central hub for computer science graduates who wish to be at the forefront of creating the cutting edge of technology. Computer science students have one of the widest post-graduation career pathways, with for-profit firms, government departments, and non-profit organizations all looking for talent in this area. In fact, computer coding, network maintenance, and data aggregation have become ubiquitous to all different types of industries, governing growth potential and knowledge distribution around the world. However, even though students who attend computer science programs will focus on acquiring a core set of coding and data governance skills, the applications of the work that they will be doing will vary dramatically depending on the industry that they work in and the goals of the organization that they work for. Students who hope to study computer science in California and eventually work in the state should be aware of the leading industries in the region that are more likely to provide a larger number of employment opportunities.

Of the fifty states in the United States, California has the largest economy by size, spanning agriculture, entertainment, and fashion. The state’s top industry is real estate and rental and leasing, which brings in more than $500 billion per year to the state. As with any fast-growing and large industry, start-ups and ancillary services begin growing to cater to the needs of businesses and owners that operate in the field. Computer scientists who are interested in streamlining services in the real estate industry will find themselves working for property management companies that see an increasing need to safeguard customer data and property technology startups that are trying to disrupt the way that real estate is run. Moreover, leading companies in technology and rental innovation, like Airbnb, have their headquarters situated in California, providing a large number of job opportunities for computer science graduates.

The second-largest industry in California is professional and business services, which brings in nearly $400 billion in revenue to the state every year. This industry will provide computer scientists with diverse opportunities, as many business-to-business and business-to-customer firms fall under this category, providing products geared at improving how projects and businesses are run. Firms ranging from a few people to many thousands of employees alike are in need of technical personnel, and almost no business functions well without an online footprint. As such, computer scientists interested in seeking employment in this industry will likely find themselves part of robust technology teams built to support the many data needs of professional businesses.


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Computer Science Education in California


The third-largest industry in California is manufacturing, which brings in around $320 billion in revenue to the state annually. Manufacturing is one of the industries that are seeing major disruptions from technology, where artificial intelligence, algorithm-driven supply chains, and smart factories are increasingly becoming the future norms of the industry. Computer scientists in California who seek employment in manufacturing businesses will most likely see themselves contributing to the future of how products are produced and distributed around the world.

Computer science is the study of computers and computational systems, where professionals focus on ensuring that different computers and databases can effectively communicate with one another. Computer scientists will find themselves spending more time working with software packages, either in terms of creating code for new software systems or debugging existing ones. In comparison, computer engineers may find themselves working more on the hardware side of technology, experimenting with and creating new computer parts and microchips to create faster processors and computers. Daily professional responsibilities for computer scientists can vary dramatically depending on their particular job title, but they are most likely to find employment in the technology department of a firm. Projects will typically focus on areas like cyber security, database systems governance, troubleshooting, integration of software, artificial intelligence, human-computer interaction, programming languages, software engineering, bioinformatics, as well as graphics and digital design. Depending on a computer scientist’s other interests, they can find a technology role in specific industries where they will be able to apply their skills with programming languages to drive change in how products are created and distributed.

Associate Degree in Computer Science (AS)

Computer science is a highly competitive and technical field, where employers often expect candidates to have proficiency with a wide variety of coding languages. As such, graduates with associate degrees in computer science may find themselves eligible for some entry-level positions, but employment options may be relatively limited. In particular, associate degree holders will find themselves mostly in supporting roles, reporting back to team leads and managers who have either more experience on the job or more technical training in their specific branch of computer science. Roles that graduates with associate degrees are eligible for include job titles such as computer support specialists, web developers, and IT support technicians. According to ZipRecruiter, a graduate with an associate degree in computer science will earn an average annual salary of $57,200 in areas like Los Angeles, with top earners earning up to $105,900 per year. Given that students can usually earn an associate degree in two years and work their way up to a bachelor’s or further postsecondary degree over time, starting with an associate degree in computer science can prove rewarding.

Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science (BS)

The vast majority of computer science degree holders can build fulfilling and lucrative careers with a bachelor’s degree in the field. Most employers will actively seek out job candidates who hold a bachelor’s degree in computer science for their entry-level positions, with options to work toward more senior roles on technology teams as employees gain more work experience. Students who hold a bachelor’s degree in computer science will find themselves employed in job titles like IT consultant, cyber security consultant, software engineer, network programmer, information systems manager, database administrator, multimedia programmer, systems analyst, and games developer, among others. The bachelor’s degree is one of the most versatile degree programs in the computer science field because it opens up so many possible career paths for students. According to ZipRecruiter, students with a bachelor’s degree in computer science can expect to earn an average of $74,900 per year in California.

Master's Degree in Computer Science (MS or MC)

Due to the highly competitive nature of the computer science field, many students will choose to complete their master’s degree in computer science to become more competitive in the job market and become eligible for some of the more specialized roles that technology firms hire for. Students with a master’s degree will often enjoy either a higher starting salary for similar job titles held by those who only have a bachelor’s degree or hiring into more niche roles that need their technical expertise. Certain sub-fields of computer science, like artificial intelligence and machine learning, will often require hires to have a master’s degree in the field as a prerequisite. Other roles that master’s graduates will find themselves in include computer and information systems manager, computer and information research scientist, software development engineer, computer network architect, information security analyst, computer systems analyst, and database administrator. According to ZipRecruiter, the average salary for workers with a master’s degree in computer science in California is $76,800 per year.

PhD Degree in Computer Science (PhD)

Most computer science roles will not require graduates to have acquired a doctorate but doing so may allow candidates to become eligible for certain highly technical positions within the field. In particular, computer scientists interested in becoming college professors will need to complete their PhD in the field before they are eligible to teach the next generation of students who are interested in becoming computer scientists. Other common job areas for doctorate holders in computer science to find employment include becoming a computer scientist, computer systems engineer, or computer network architect, as well as working in research and development roles. Computer scientists with a PhD will typically be tasked with designing and developing an entire organization’s computer-based tools, which can include a lot of rigorous work with coding languages like C++, Java, Python, SQL, SML, and more. According to Payscale, graduates with a PhD in computer science will earn an average of $127,000 per year.

Become a Computer Scientist in California


To become a computer science professional in California, one must first finish their post-secondary degree. While a bachelor’s degree or higher will open up more job opportunities, those with an associate degree can also build fulfilling careers in the field. Given the breadth of the computer science field, job seekers should first determine the type of work that they are interested in doing. For instance, those who wish to work in web development should look to businesses that focus on this kind of service or even consider becoming a freelance web developer. Other positions, like systems and network support analysts, will often be found at larger organizations that require a full-time support team. In particular, certain specialized fields of computer science may require candidates to have received special training while in school before they become eligible for those positions. This often includes areas like cyber security, software development, data science, and artificial intelligence, where graduates will need to take targeted electives to acquire the right types of coding and troubleshooting skills to succeed.

California does not require most computer scientists to obtain other licenses to work in the field. The state doesn’t even require a post-secondary education, though employers are likely to. Depending on if a candidate wishes to work in a government department or with other types of sensitive data, workplaces may have citizenship requirements and conduct background checks. The exception would be for those interested in working in the cyber security space, where 60% of jobs require some type of additional license or certification. Examples include certifications for Certified Ethical Hacker, Certified Information Systems Security Professional, and Licensed Penetration Tester.

Careers for Computer Science Graduates


  • Software Tester:
    Software testers are in charge of checking that a piece of software has been quality controlled and is ready for deployment. This includes running automated checks on the code, as well as manually checking parts of the code for any bugs.
  • Cyber Security Analyst:
    Cyber security analysts are tasked with protecting a company’s network from cyber-attacks, which can lead to the loss of sensitive information and irreparable damages. Daily, cyber security analysts will research IT trends, create contingency plans, review suspicious online activity, create protocols for company employees like anti-phishing guidance, and report security breaches.
  • Technology Director:
    Technology directors are also called IT directors and are tasked with managing, strategizing, and executing the IT infrastructure within an organization. This means ensuring that the company is deploying the correct amount of and types of hardware and software to achieve its business goals, communicating closely with management and technology teams to ensure all aspects of technology are aligned with growth.
  • Data Scientist:
    Data scientists enjoy careers full of analysis, using their statistical, analytical, and programming skills to collect and interpret large datasets. They are then tasked with communicating important findings and trends with business teams to help create data-driven solutions to complex organizational challenges.
  • Big Data Analyst:
    The trend in many industries is to use big data to elucidate underlying industry changes to forecast and front-run any future challenges and opportunities that may come. Big data analysts are tasked with gathering data from a variety of sources, building company data warehouses, and writing algorithms to extract and analyze data to improve business functionality.
  • Web Designer & Developer:
    Web designers and developers help create websites that clearly communicate a business’s products to customers who may wish to gather more information or buy something. Web developers will be in charge of not only the aesthetic aspects of website design but also many of the technical elements as well.
  • Network Analyst (WAN/LAN/etc.):
    Network analysts are in charge of ensuring that data is being sent properly via WAN/LAN networks. They are in charge of identifying any network congestion and helping to troubleshoot connectivity issues by helping departments maintain network security, configure remote routers, establish firewalls, and provide engineering support.
  • Security Consultant (Cyber Security):
    Cyber security consultants help companies, governments, and non-profit organizations understand the different online threats that their systems face and take steps to mitigate them. Usually, cyber security consultants have deep knowledge of the area, and will both provide advice to clients on how to defend their network systems, as well as initiate targeted attacks with the client’s permission to see if any weaknesses can be exploited by malicious outside parties.
  • Computer Science Professor:
    Computer science professors will teach courses in specific disciplines within the field of computer and information sciences. They will generally also conduct academic research in an area of the field that interests them and may also teach elective courses connected to their personal research areas. They will also collaborate with colleagues at universities to forward combined research interests.

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