Computer Programmer: Career Summary, Employment Outlook, and Education Requirements

Research what it takes to become a computer programmer. Learn about education requirements, job duties, average wages, and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Computer Programming degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Computer Programmer?

Computer programmers develop instructions, also known as code, that tell computers how to run software applications. They test software programs to make sure computers process them accurately, and they correct any problems with the code so it will function properly. Programmers can work for a company or as independent contractors, both positions having telecommute options.

The following table includes details about education, training, and certification requirements as well as employment-related information.

Degree RequiredAssociate's, Bachelor's
Training RequiredContinuing education to learn new technologies and languages
Education Field of StudyComputer science, programming
CertificationCertification in specific programming languages and products required for some employers
Projected Job Outlook (2014-2024)*8% decline
Median Annual Salary (2015)*$79,530

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Job Duties Will I Perform as a Computer Programmer?

As a computer programmer, you will translate software specifications, first into logical workflow charts and then into a programming language, such as Python or C++. Computers are able to follow these instructions, allowing software programs to be put to use. In addition to working on new programs, you will modify existing programs. Certain tools are available to automate some of the coding process and increase your productivity. Because of this, you may also assist software engineers in designing computer programs.

Some of the duties you may perform include checking for and correcting errors, updating and expanding programs, conducting trial runs and performing systems analysis. You may also rewrite programs and document the program development process. You could work alongside systems analysts, computer operators, software engineers and technical personnel to identify and resolve problems. You may help ensure that programs work as intended and operate efficiently.

What Kind of Job Outlook Is Expected?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of computer programmers was expected to decrease by 8% between 2014 and 2024. Individuals entering the field may face strong competition as companies employ more programmers in other countries at lower wages. To improve your job prospects, you might consider earning a bachelor's degree, as well as gaining certification, familiarity with programming tools and knowledge of multiple programming languages.

What Level of Education Is Required?

Although a bachelor's degree is required for many computer-programming jobs, some positions may only call for an associate's degree or a certificate. Your major will depend on what type of employment you plan to seek after graduation. The BLS states that employers in scientific and engineering fields prefer graduates of computer science, information systems, mathematics and engineering programs. More business-oriented employers may prefer graduates of finance, accounting, management information systems or business programs who have supplemented their education with computer programming courses. Since many employers prefer job applicants who have practical experience, you may want to consider participating in an internship while completing your education program.

Earning voluntary certification can help you become more competitive when seeking employment. Product vendors and professional organizations, such as the Institute for Certification of Computing Professionals (ICCP), offer certification for computer programmers. To earn the Certified Computing Professional (CCP) designation from the ICCP, you must pass a core examination along with two specialty examinations (www.iccp.org). You must also meet education and experience requirements. Since technology is constantly changing, you may also want to consider taking continuing education courses and attending professional development seminars to stay up-to-date with new advancements.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are a number of other jobs a programmer is qualified for. At the associate's level, one may become a web developer instead, focusing on website design and functionality. With a bachelor's degree, one can look into software development careers, in which people make computer programs. IT management is another option, which involves supervising a company's information-technology projects. However, this job typically requires extensive IT experience, along with at least a bachelor's degree.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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