Careers

Learn About Being a Computer Programmer

What does a computer programmer do?

Computer programmers write the code that powers software applications. They use a variety of computer languages to develop, test and fix programs. Some specialize in certain types of applications, such as mobile programs or software as a service. Computer programmers are responsible for the following tasks:

  • Translating program designs into code: Programmers work closely with software engineers and developers who create plans for applications. They turn these designs into code that computers can follow to execute the programs.

  • Mastering computer languages: Because they spend most of their working hours writing code, computer programmers must be fluent in at least one language. Most use basic languages like C++, Java and JavaScript regularly, and some also use more contemporary languages like Python, Ruby and Swift.

  • Borrowing from code libraries: Because computer programmers write hundreds or thousands of lines of code at a time, they often seek more efficient ways to create programs. Most computer programmers refer to code libraries, which contain common lines of code, so they can avoid writing each line anew.

  • Testing and troubleshoot programs: In addition to writing code, computer programmers also test their programs to ensure that they work correctly. If they find errors, they use troubleshooting methods to find and resolve issues.

  • Using integrated development environments (IDEs): To write and test in a standard setting that improves productivity and focus, computer programmers use IDEs as they work. Most IDE options include code editors, libraries, debuggers designed to identify and fix errors and object modeling features.

Average salary

Most computer programmers work full time. Their earning potential depends on their experience, qualifications and areas of specialization. The size, type and location of the company where they work could also affect salary.

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $58,208 per year
  • Some salaries range from $14,000 to **$131,000** per **year**

Computer programmer requirements

Most employers require computer programmers to have a bachelor’s degree, fluency in several computer languages and optional certifications.

Education

Computer programmers typically need a bachelor’s degree to work in the field. Most opt to pursue a computer science major, which helps them master foundational topics like advanced math, statistics, programming methods and computer languages. Coursework typically includes classes in databases, data mining, machine learning and operating systems. Some bachelor’s degree programs allow students to focus on areas like data analysis, information security or project management, which may help them become competitive candidates for specialized positions.

In many cases, computer programmers take additional courses or continuing education classes to further their knowledge or learn new languages. Organizations like the C++ Institute, Oracle University, the Python Institute and the Ruby Association offer online computer language courses and examinations.

Training

Programmers can complete boot camps, which are intensive programs that teach students a variety of coding languages, how to perform quality assurance testing and computer networking and security. Boot camps could last anywhere from six weeks to six months. Once a candidate completes a training program, they can usually qualify for entry-level positions. 

Many employers require newly hired computer programmers to complete company-specific training sessions. These programs typically help new employees learn the company’s workflows, technology and procedures. Because many computer programmers work remotely, these training programs are often available online.

Certifications

Some employers require computer programmers to have certifications that prove their mastery of various languages. Some of the most common certification organizations include:

  • Apple: Programmers who code for Apple products can benefit from the company’s Swift Certification, which requires passing an exam.

  • C++ Institute: Professionals who use C++ can consider pursuing the entry-level ++ Certified Associate Programmer certification or the advanced C++ Certified Professional Programmer certification. The former covers computer programming concepts and C++ syntax, while the latter includes templates and problem-solving.

  • Oracle University: Most programmers can benefit from Oracle’s Java certification, which helps candidates master this popular language. Candidates have to pass an exam to receive the credential.

  • Python Institute: Programmers who use Python can benefit from Certified Entry-Level Python Programmer, Certified Associate in Python Programming or Certified Professional in Python Programming credentials. Each demonstrates an increasing mastery of Python.

  • Ruby Association: Those who code with Ruby can consider pursuing the Ruby Association’s Certified Ruby Programmer Silver or Certified Ruby Programmer Gold credentials. Both require candidates to pass a 50-question exam.

Skills

To excel as a computer programmer, you need the following skills:

  • Analytical thinking: To translate complex instructions from developers and engineers, computer programmers need strong analytical skills. They must comprehend how to read program designs and how to turn them into code that computers can process.

  • Attention to detail: Because even a minor mistake can compromise an entire program containing thousands of lines of code, computer programmers must pay close attention to every element as they work.

  • Computer languages: Although the languages that computer programmers require on the job depend on their employer and area of specialization, they typically need to master one or more. Computer programmers can learn languages like C++, JavaScript, Python, Ruby, Swift and others in post-secondary classes or through certification programs.

  • Focus: Writing code requires constant concentration, especially when working toward a strict deadline. Computer programmers must master the ability to focus on their work and eliminate distractions to avoid making errors or compromising their productivity.

  • Problem-solving abilities: Whether they are writing code or troubleshooting segments, computer programmers need advanced problem-solving abilities. When determining the right way to translate developers’ outlines and resolving coding errors, they have to know how to identify problems, consider potential fixes and apply appropriate solutions.

Computer programmer work environment

Although most computer programmers work in teams with developers and other programmers, they often work independently. Some work at computers in open office settings, but many telecommute. They may work from home or from their own offices, where they rely on chat apps and workflow programs to communicate with their teams.

Because they often work alone, computer programmers may maintain a range of hours. Some must adhere to their company’s standard hours, which may be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Others may choose to work during evenings or on weekends as long as they meet required deadlines and quotas.

How to become a computer programmer

To become a computer programmer, consider the following steps:

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree: First, get a degree in computer science to build a foundation in developing, programming and testing. Consider taking extra classes in areas that you plan to specialize in, such as healthcare or finance.

  2. Master essential languages: Next, learn the computer languages you will need in the industry. Most employers require programmers to know C++, JavaScript, Ruby, Python and other languages specific to various focus areas.

  3. Earn professional certifications: To become a more competitive candidate and increase your earning potential, consider earning a professional certification. Some of the most common credentials include CPA and CPP certifications from the C++ Institute, PCEP, PCAP and PCPP certifications from the Python Institute, Java Certification from Oracle University, Swift Certification from Apple and Ruby Silver or Gold certification from the Ruby Association.

Computer programmer job description example

Edison Technology Services is seeking an experienced programmer to join our growing team. We are seeking a computer programmer to write, test and maintain mobile software. The ideal candidate has at least three years of professional experience, a bachelor’s degree in computer science, and fluency with C++ and JavaScript. If you are a focused and analytical problem-solver, we would like to discuss this role with you. We offer comprehensive benefits, remote work and the potential for internal promotion to software developer or team lead positions.

Related careers

If you have strong computer skills, consider one of the following related careers: