What Does a Computer Programmer Do? (Plus Skills and Requirements)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published December 10, 2019

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

If you enjoy working with computers and solving problems, a career as a computer programmer might align with your skills and interests. These individuals use coding languages to create functional, navigable software programs. Understanding what this career entails may help you decide if it's right for you and formulate a plan to pursue your goals.

In this article, we define what a computer programmer does, share how much they make, outline the educational requirements and skills for the job and explain how to become 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 (SaaS). Computer programmers perform 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. When written well, programs run quickly and efficiently.

Related: Programming vs. Coding: What's the Difference?


Mastering programming 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. Some also use more contemporary languages like Python and Ruby.

Related: 50 Types of Programming Languages and What They Do


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 optimize the process instead of writing each line anew.


Testing and troubleshooting 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. These tests may be manual or automatic.

Related: 90 Troubleshooting Interview Questions


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. These are tools that simplify the building and testing processes. Most IDE options include code editors, libraries, debuggers designed to identify and fix errors and object modeling features.

Read more: What Is an Integrated Development Environment (IDE)?

How much do computer programmers earn?

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 their salary. On average, these individuals earn about $72,705 per year.

For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the link provided.

Related: 20 High-Paying Computer Science Careers


Computer programmer educational requirements

Most employers require computer programmers to have a bachelor's degree, fluency in several computer languages and optional certifications. Below is an explanation of the educational credentials and training required for many computer programming roles:


Education

Most employers prefer computer programmers to hold 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, techniques for quality assurance testing and computer networking and security principles. 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.


Computer programming certifications

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

  • 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 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 shows 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.

Related: 10 Types of Computer Programmers: Specializations and Duties


Skills for computer programmers

To excel as a computer programmer, it might be beneficial to focus on developing the following skills:

  • Analytical thinking: Computer programmers use strong analytical skills to translate complex instructions from developers and engineers.


  • Attention to detail: Because even a minor mistake can compromise a program, computer programmers pay close attention to every element as they work to ensure the quality of the code.


  • Computer languages: Although the languages that computer programmers use on the job depend on their employer and area of specialization, they typically master one or more.


  • Focus: Writing code requires concentration, especially when working toward a strict deadline, so it's important to be able to focus on their work and eliminate distractions to avoid making errors or compromising their productivity.


  • Problem-solving abilities: When determining the right way to translate developers' outlines and resolving coding errors, it's helpful for programmers to know how to identify problems, consider potential fixes and apply solutions.

Related: Computer Programmer Skills: Definition and Examples


Work environment for a computer programmer

Although most computer programmers work in teams with developers and other programmers, they often work independently. Some work at computers in 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.

Related: Q&A: How Many Hours Do Computer Programmers Work?


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 industries that you plan to specialize in, such as health care or finance.

  2. Master essential languages. Next, learn the computer languages you will need in the industry. Most employers require programmers to know languages like C++, JavaScript, Ruby and Python.

  3. Earn professional certifications. To become a more competitive candidate and increase your earning potential, consider earning a professional certification. Common credentials include distinctions in programming languages from reputable professional organizations.

  4. Prepare resumes and cover letters for entry-level jobs. You can then pursue an entry-level computer programming job for a tech company or business. In your application materials, explain your background using examples from your studies or previous jobs to highlight your problem-solving abilities and technical expertise.

Related: How To Write an Entry-Level Programmer Resume (Samples and Tips)


Computer programmer job description example

Below is an example of a job description for a computer programmer role at a fictional company:

Edison Technology Services is seeking an experienced programmer to join our growing team. We're 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're 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.


Benefits of becoming a computer programmer

Some benefits of pursuing a career in computer programming include:

  • Flexibility: This career often allows you to work from home and have some control over your work hours.


  • Advancement opportunities: Many people in this field leverage their experience to pursue more senior roles, like lead programmer, software developer and systems engineer.


  • Specialization: Computer programmers can refine their skills to develop a niche, like network architecture, security or firmware. 


  • Innovation: Computer programmers are often able to learn about, experiment with and test exciting new technology.

Related: Is Computer Programming a Good Career? Definition and Tips

Related careers

Here are some other professions you might consider if you're interested in working with computers and building effective digital products:

  • Network administrator

  • Software architect

  • Systems analyst

  • Web developer

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.



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