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What is a Computer Programmer?

Depending on your specialization and skills, you may be considered to be one of several professionals. You understand, inside and out, he workings of a computer, computer program or an app once it’s been released. If you have delved into the most basic foundation of a string of code, you know that it’s just a long bunch of letters, numbers and symbols that means something to you and the computer.

With your interest in computers and computer programming, you may have the skills you need to become a computer programmer, software developer, system administrator, or database administrator.

Normally, you would attend a postgraduate program (community college, bachelor’s, or masters), You will be required to complete a set number of credit hours for any degree level for which you are striving. This field, most commonly referred to as “IT,” is highly sought after by students, employees, and employers. Depending on how experienced you are, you may be hired to program, create software, or manage software or an entire database.

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Steps to Becoming a Computer Programmer


Step 1: Find A Program

Before you even begin the enrollment process, you need to study the computer science programs of different schools in which you are interested. Read each school’s description of their programs so you know you’re choosing the program that’s right for you.

You’ll have to meet basic requirements, such as graduating from high school or earning your GED before you’ll be considered for enrollment into any postsecondary program. If you have any holes in your high school education, you’ll need to correct these. You need a strong math foundation to help you be better-prepared to handle those college level computer programming classes.

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Step 2: Earn Your Degree in Computer Science

Once you’re in, it’s time to take general education classes (history, English, math, psychology, biology, and others). You’ll also have to satisfy several prerequisite (required classes that must be completed before you are admitted to computer science classes). If, for instance, you took biology, you may also need to take another science class. Or, if an earlier science grade wasn’t as high as you had hoped, taking a second science class may help. You can do the same with math classes. Take calculus, geometry, or trigonometry. These will all help you as a computer science major and may be a requirement in some programs. You may even be able to take a computer science class without declaring that as your major. This would give you a step up on your requisite major courses once you do declare.

If you have already earned a bachelor’s degree in another major, you may need to check and see if you’ll be allowed to major in computer programming in your old college. This would save you the trouble of transferring or losing your general education credit and having to earn it again. If not, you may need to request admission at another college and go through the transfer process.

Every college and university requires students in every major to make satisfactory progress in their classes. “Satisfactory progress” means that you will earn a minimum GPA in this program. You will also be required to complete your courses the first time you take them (this is due to limited enrollment slots in computer science programs across the country).

Your overall or cumulative GPA can’t dip below 2.0 (common for most universities and colleges). You’ll also have to take a minimum number of credits per semester (12, usually).

Step 3: After Graduate

After graduating with a bachelors, you can start working in your field right away. Whereas there are positions that require a master’s degree in computer science, and that degree is becoming more popular among employers, the majority of positions still only need a bachelor’s degree in computer science.

The most useful thing you can do after you graduate is to get an internship. These are available in paid and unpaid formats. If you can find an internship at a large company, even if it’s unpaid, it may be the best decision you can make for your career without going back to school.

What Do Computer Programmers Do?

“Computer programming” describes only one aspect of this profession; computer programmers write code. Some computer programmers will only write and test code in specific programming languages, the more computer languages and computer operating systems you become familiar with the better your opportunities will be. When you think of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, you begin to realize that both men went far beyond the boundaries of computer programming. Jobs went on to found Apple, along with Steve Wozniak; Zuckerberg founded Facebook. At first, all three of them wrote computer code. But they all had some pretty big dreams. Using their skills, education and knowledge, they went on to create something that their imaginations and dreams had only conceived of.

As a computer programmer, whether you work for someone else or you own your own company, you analyze the needs of your clients. Next, you design software, develop, then test it. You’ll work with other computer programmers on the projects you’ve landed or been assigned. Computer programmers write code, using one of several computer programming languages, such as Java, C++, or Python. You may develop games or mobile apps or develop new websites.

Computer programmers may develop software or work as a database developer, systems analyst or other software developers. Once you enter this field, you may choose to stay in the field or move on to other aspects of technology work.

Skills to Acquire

Aside from the specific programming skills you’ll need to be a successful programmer, you’ll need to acquire several other skills that will support your programming ability.

Five most suggested skills:

  • Problem-Solving
    Finding out what is causing a problem with a program you’ve written, then correcting it.

  • Focus
    Focusing only on one task at a time so you don’t mix up assignments.

  • Efficient laziness
    Find the quickest way to accomplish a difficult task. This allows you to complete assigned work without wasted effort.

  • Perseverance
    Sticking with a tricky piece of code until you get it right.

  • Independence and self-motivation
    Feeling motivated to complete assigned work; you may work alone (independently). If you work from home, you need to learn to stay on-task.

  • Technical skills
    Learn Java, SQL, Oracle, Microsoft C#, JavaScript, Linux, .NET Programming, C++, XML, and/or Python. Write and test code from multiple computer languages. Write code from scratch, create computer code and more.

  • Communication skills
    Communicate effectively with co-workers (other computer programmers, software developers, web developers) and clients.

  • Collaboration
    Work/play well with other team members and colleagues.

  • Creativity
    Know when to step back and look at the entire project.

  • Research
    Delve into ways to complete a task more efficiently.

Alternative Paths

If you already have a university degree in computer science and you don’t want to earn a second degree, yet you want to move into computer programming, you do have some options. These alternative methods can allow you to enter into a computer programmers role as this field is hurting for qualified and experienced programmers.

  • Begin working on small projects that teach you how to think using just logic. Instead of creating a new website, for instance, begin working on small exercises that teach you the programming process. Buy a data structures textbook and work on the exercises there. Work on exercises that teach you how to work in several programming languages. If you noticed, none of this requires you to go back to school. With a basic understanding, you may be able to move into a paid internship or learn the ropes in one of these positions within your current company. If you find that you have the ability to learn the material and you’re still interested in this field, then returning to school may become an option.

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  • Return to school, get admitted to a CS program and earn a certificate. This tells employers you have an understanding of the techniques used in computer programming. Focus on earning specific IT certifications for beginning computer programmers:
    • Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) - Valued by employers
    • Network+ - Design and manage wireless networks
    • CompTIA A+ Technician – Entry-level certification – Gain you’re a+ certification so you can maintain operating systems, PCs, printers, laptops, and mobile devices
    • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) Begin working to verify that computer systems are secure from an exterior attack.
    • Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) This mid-level certification means you have the know-how to build new, innovative solutions in different technologies such as private cloud, server infrastructure, desktop infrastructure, enterprise apps and devices, business intelligence, data platforms, SharePoint and messaging communication.

Computer Programmers Career & Salary

Where Might You Work?


Once you earn your computer programming degree, you can work anywhere you want. Here’s a list of potential employers:

  • Con Edison, the electric utility company that powers New York City’s five boroughs and the business areas of Westchester County.
  • Amazon, which hires software engineers to tackle tech issues.
  • DW Investment Management LP. Here, you would work for an SEC registered investment advisor.
  • HBO, Inc., which relies on computer programmers and computer programming to help it deliver the best experience possible.
  • Codeacademy. Here, you would be standing at the front of advances in online education.
  • FactSet Research Systems, Inc. This company provides financial information and analytics to professionals. It needs new, talented technical programmers.
  • Facebook, one of the first social media websites. Computer programmers enable Facebook to give users the ability to communicate and share with others.
  • Dow Jones & Company. Here, computer programmers enable the company to have and maintain an up-to-the-minute website.
  • Mini Circuits. This organizations creates and distributes integrated circuits, modules and subsystems designed for high-performance radio frequency RF and microwave applications.

Most computer programmers work for larger companies and here are a few other top employers seeking computer programmers, engineers, software developers, and interns:

  • General Motors
  • JPMorgan Chase & Co.
  • Capital One
  • IBM Corp.
  • General Electric Corp.
  • Procter & Gamble
  • Nationwide Insurance
  • Honda
  • Microsoft
  • Google
  • Battelle Memorial Institute
  • U.S. Air Force
  • Marathon Petroleum Corp.
  • Eaton
  • Abbot
  • Liberty Mutual
  • American Electric Power (AEP)
  • Anheuser-Busch
  • Expedia, Inc.
  • Ford Motor Co.
  • Lockheed Martin
  • Intel Corp
  • Accenture

As you can see, the businesses are varied, from vehicle manufacturing to financial operations to social media sites. Your new skills will be in high demand.

Potential Career Paths

Information Security Analyst
These professionals are responsible for maintaining the security of their company’s data. This may mean that they keep tight control of database permissions or they may conduct penetration testing on either the network or directed toward employees to make sure all private company data remains secure.

Game Designer
Game designers use their expertise and knowledge of programming libraries and databases to create an exciting gameplay experience. If you have a job at a larger game company, you might end up with a focused responsibility, like making sure the fighting mechanics work. You might also test the end product and work through last minute bugs. In today’s market though, you might just as easily go into business for yourself, creating a few great indie games with a friend before going on to found your own company.

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Mobile Applications Developer
In this position, you will be responsible for making a dynamic end user program that can be used with mobile systems, whether that means laptops or phones. You might create a system that allows a company’s clients to access their information securely or allow their vendors to pull up important data when they visit a location on their route. Either way, you’ll need specific knowledge related to mobile programming that is constantly shifting, evolving, and improving.

Additional Computer Programming Careers
Software Programs Developer, Software Developers, Computer Systems Analyst, Computer Systems Developer, Computer Programs Designer, Computer Programs Engineer

Computer Programmers Career Salaries

Occupation Entry-Level Mid-Career Late-Career
Computer Network Architects $83,000 $111,000 $131,000
Computer programmers $56,000 $70,000 $86,000
Computer Systems Analysts $56,000 $72,000 $85,000
Data Engineer $77,000 $104,000 $114,000
Data Architect $69,000 $110,000 $133,000
Information Security Analyst $60,000 $82,000 $102,000
Security Engineer $72,000 $101,000 $117,000
Information Systems Analysts $56,000 $71,000 $86,000
Game Designer $53,000 $77,000 $99,000
Web Developers $51,000 $67,000 $80,000
Data Scientist, IT $85,000 $109,000 $136,000
Mobile Applications Developer $61,000 $88,000 $108,000
Systems Administrator $51,000 $64,000 $76,000

Career Outlook

As of 2014, the prediction was that about 302,200 computer programming jobs would soon be available for computer programmers, just in the United States. Two years later, the employment outlook for computer programmers was projected to decline about 7% between 2016 and 2026. This doesn’t mean that there will be no jobs. It only means that the jobs that are out there won’t be as plentiful. However, the jobs that are available are more diverse than ever.

Remember, you can program computers from anywhere, even from your home or the corner coffee shop in your community. This means that employers who are responsible for hiring computer programs are aware that this profession can be accomplished on a telecommuting basis. The prospects for freelance workers are improving as websites crop up all over that allow you to connect with clients through the internet, and vice versa.

Advancing From Here

Once you’ve earned your degree in computer programing and gotten some experience in this job role, you’ll be able to choose where you go from here. You can work as a software engineer, for instance. You may land a position in information security, systems software, software applications, web development, computer programming, information systems, or systems software.

If you can get cleared for a security clearance, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) needs skilled software engineers who will support cyber operations and additional intelligence activities. Working with other programmers, you’ll develop innovative and creative solutions to some rough challenges as a software engineer. You’ll put your technical skills to the test, use your imagination, and accumulated expertise in helping to develop, support and execute the intelligence mission of the CIA.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What do entry-level computer programmers do?

Entry level programmers will work with code such as HTML, Java, and C++. They also help to improve existing programs by editing, updating, and expanding content.

How to advance your career in computer programming?

Many computer programming jobs do not require a degree. Certificates, networking, continued education, and industry experience will help you advance tour career in computer programming. 

How long does it take to become a computer programmer?

Typically professional certificates can be completed in under 6 months. An associates degree can be completed in about 2 years. If you choose to get a bachelors degree in computer science, that will take around 4 years to complete.

How do you switch your career to computer programming?

You do not necessarily need a degree but the fastest way to become a computer programmer is to obtain a degree in computer science or a related certificate. On the job training is another way to get a job as a computer programmer. 

What skills do you need to become a computer programmer?

Computer programmers should have a lot of patience, a strong desire to learn, and problem-solving skills. Computer programming requires skills in math, technology, and science.

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