How to Become a Computer Programmer in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a computer programmer. Learn about degree requirements, salary 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 Does a Computer Programmer Do?

Computer programmers work with software developers and engineers to turn ideas for programs into code, using computer languages such as C++ and Java. They write and troubleshoot new programs and applications for errors, fix mistakes in the code, and update and maintain existing programs or software. They may also create and use code libraries to make programming easier. As a computer programmer, you would have a strong knowledge of areas such as computers, electronics and mathematics.

There are a number of important skills needed. Find out about these skills along with career information by reviewing the table below.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Computer programming, computer science, computer information systems
Key Skills Concentration, attention to detail, analytical, problem-solving
Certification Certification is voluntary
Projected Job Outlook (2014-2024) 8% decline*
Median Salary (2015) $79,530*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is a Computer Programmer?

Computer programmers are technical specialists who write a logical sequence of instructions or 'code' that can control a computer. This code produces a predetermined output from a given set of inputs. Programmers' work consists of writing the base code then conducting a cycle of test runs, corrections, revisions and more test runs until they've eliminated most errors or 'bugs' and implemented the desired feature set. They also often diagram a program's work flow during the design phase. Finally, they maintain program code and resolve problems as they occur.

The category is roughly divided into two types, application programmers and system programmers. Application programmers write programs that perform a specific category of tasks. System programmers write programs that maintain and control computer networks, databases or operating systems.

Step 1: Get a High School Education

You can prepare to become a computer programmer by taking whatever programming or computer science courses are available at your high school. You could also benefit from taking courses in algebra, trigonometry, geometry, chemistry and physics. Such classes as English and social studies would get you ready for the general education requirements in college.

Step 2: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Most computer programmers have a bachelor's degree. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), you may consider majors in computer science or computer information systems, among others ( However, if you want to write business, engineering or scientific applications, then you might want to take background courses in those subjects. Many schools will allow you to study them as a minor.

A bachelor's degree program in computer science will teach you about using different programming languages through the creation of algorithms. Java, C++ and Visual Basic may be among the languages you learn to use. Courses might also cover database management, computer networks and operating systems.

Programs in computer information systems have considerable overlap with computer science programs, but the former are more oriented towards adapting and applying information to the operational needs of businesses and other organizations. Courses address organizational structure and management, enterprise applications and computer security in addition to computer programming.

Step 3: Choose a Specialization

You may consider specializing in a particular area of programming, such as database development or Web development. The first involves writing programs that store, retrieve and manipulate data for databases. The second entails building applications that run over the Internet or an organization's Intranet. According to the BLS, new applications for mobile devices and the healthcare industry and an increase in computer systems being built into non-computer products may cause some job growth for computer programmers.

Step 4: Participate in an Internship

Gaining experience in the industry can help you acquire entry-level jobs. The BLS states that employers look for applicants with relevant experience and programming skills. You may find internship opportunities through your bachelor's degree program. Some companies, like consulting firms, will put you through intensive training programs upon hiring. Previous experience can also prepare you for voluntary certifications.

Step 5: Consider Certification Options

You don't need to be licensed to work as a computer programmer, but you'll have many options to choose from for voluntary certification. For example, the Institute for Certification of Computer Professionals confers the Certified Computing Professional and the Associate Computing Professional designations. Microsoft also offers a variety of certifications, such as Microsoft Certified Application Developer and Microsoft Certified Solution Developer.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Computer network architects have a related career that only requires a bachelor's degree. These professionals design communication networks, from small-scale connections to large-scale cloud infrastructure. Computer systems analysts also only need a bachelor's degree. They work with organizations to improve the efficiency of computer systems. Becoming a computer and information systems manager is another option. They work in IT departments to coordinate an organization's computer-related projects. While a bachelor's degree is standard among IT managers, they typically have extensive work experience as well.

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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