10 Types of Computer Programmers: Specializations and Duties

Updated June 24, 2022

The computer programming industry is diverse and hires professionals who have a range of skills in various specializations. Those who work in computer programming often choose a specialty that they apply in their preferred industry, such as health care software development or network administration. Learning about the different types of specializations in computer science is a good first step toward choosing the right specialty for you. In this article, we explain what computer programmers do and list nine types of computer programmers with descriptions and duties to help you decide which programming specialty best suits your skills.

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What does a computer programmer do?

A computer programmer is a computer scientist who develops specialized software, hardware, databases or networks. Programmers can work in various industries where they make customized programs that serve specific purposes. For example, a computer programmer in the health care industry may design databases to manage patient records securely. Another programmer in the health care industry may create new computer hardware that supports the development of complex surgical equipment. In other industries, computer programmers may develop mobile games, or they might design web interfaces for business websites. Since programmers can work in such diverse roles, their responsibilities vary widely.

Related: Q&A: Is Computer Programming for Me?

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10 specializations in computer programming

Here are 10 specializations in computer programming to consider, with descriptions of their typical job duties:

1. Hardware programmer

Programmers who work on computer hardware design, develop and test the electrical components that make up a computer's physical systems. For example, they write codes that tell the computer to turn on or off when a user presses the power button. They code these instructions into the computer's hardware so it performs the intended process when users interact with the keyboard, mouse or touchscreen interface. Here are some typical duties for hardware programmers:

  • Compose detailed specifications for hardware systems

  • Research electrical and system designs

  • Evaluate communications between interface and software

  • Design and develop structures like CPUs, microprocessors, circuits and disk drives

  • Test hardware for performance and make adjustments as needed

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

2. Web developer

A web developer is a programmer who specializes in designing and creating web pages. They use software to create web pages that have attractive designs and function as intended. Some web pages may offer more interactivity than others for users. For example, an educational web page for children with many interactive features may require a higher level of complexity to program than a standard business website. Developers use programming languages to design websites that express the function and style that represents the brand of the site owner. Some typical duties for these professionals include:

  • Meet with users to understand their needs

  • Collaborate with clients to design effective web pages

  • Design web pages and write codes to implement them

  • Update web pages as needed

  • Schedule and conduct routine web page maintenance

3. Software developer

Software developers focus on creating programs that allow actions to function in a computer system. In computer science, a function is a portion of code capable of running an action, such as filtering information in a database. Other examples of software functions may include programs that allow users to open files, edit documents, save data or print pages. Every program has a unique design and function, and software developers often specialize in working with clients to understand their needs so they can create custom programs. Here are some responsibilities for these professionals:

  • Meet with clients to understand needs and goals

  • Design software prototypes and use them in demonstrations

  • Determine software performance standards and assess programs for compliance

  • Update software as needed to maintain performance expectations

  • Collaborate with analysts and software engineers to improve programs

Related: 17 Reasons Why You Should Learn Computer Programming

4. Database developer

Similar to software developers, database developers use codes to construct programs. Databases allow users to store large amounts of data. They also let users analyze, interpret and organize the data they store. Developers who work on databases have specialized skill sets in programming languages specifically for database programming. Since these programs typically serve users in particular industries, many businesses hire database developers to create custom software that specifically addresses their data storage and processing needs. Here are some examples of the daily responsibilities of these professionals:

  • Collaborate with clients to understand their data storage and analysis needs

  • Design and implement new databases that meet the specifications of clients

  • Perform routine maintenance to update and improve existing database systems

  • Test databases for performance and adjust as needed

  • Analyze clients' existing database systems to identify areas for improvement

5. Quality control specialist

Quality control specialists review codes for errors. They ensure codes are secure and functional for implementation. For example, a bank may hire a quality control specialist to review the code of new software they plan to use for their customers. It's important for the bank to hire a professional to review the code's security so unauthorized individuals can't access their customers' private financial information. These specialists play an important role in digital security. They can also ensure the functionality of codes so programs work as intended, protecting businesses and their customers from unexpected crashes and delays.

Here are some typical responsibilities for quality control specialists:

  • Review codes for errors or security concerns

  • Run test codes and analyze them for functionality concerns

  • Compose reports to suggest improvements to the software development team

  • Collaborate with software developers to improve the quality of codes

  • Respond to crashes or security breaches to investigate causes and repair systems

6. Network system administrator

A network system administrator ensures that computer networks operate securely. Professionals in this role may program systems that prevent security breaches into private computer networks. For example, a business may hire a network system administrator to set up a network for their office that prevents unauthorized visitors from accessing the company's internal Wi-Fi. Here are some common responsibilities for these professionals:

  • Assess an organization's network security needs and determine what size network they require

  • Prepare and install network hardware and software

  • Repair and upgrade network software as needed to ensure functionality

  • Evaluate network performance and identify opportunities to optimize its operations

  • Add employees to the network and troubleshoot connectivity problems for network users

Related: 11 of the Most In-Demand Coding Languages

7. Front-end developer

A front-end developer is a programmer who focuses on the final product that users interact with when encountering a computer program. Their role emphasizes usability for those who use computer programs. A front-end developer considers the users' needs and integrates good design elements with functional features. For example, front-end developers may design and program webpages so that they're attractive and easy to navigate. Additionally, they may use their skills to remove bugs and technical problems from webpage codes. Some duties for front-end developers include:

  • Conduct user tests to identify how users interact with webpages in real time

  • Collect data about user preferences when interacting with prototypes

  • Design pages and update them based on user needs and client expectations

  • Perform routine maintenance and update webpages as needed to remove bugs

  • Create tools and features that make webpages more efficient and easy to navigate for users

8. Back-end developer

Back-end developers are counterparts to front-end developers because they write the components that front-end developers use in their designs. For example, back-end developers create databases, servers and computer applications to host the data and functions needed to operate front-end features. These server-side professionals use coding languages to develop the structures that allow front-end features to function. Back-end developers may perform daily duties like:

  • Collaborate with front-end developers to understand their designs and their technical support requirements

  • Build codes that manipulate data so functions operate as intended

  • Test codes and debug them as needed

  • Perform routine maintenance to improve codes and update them to meet new front-end specifications

Related: 6 Types of Programming Jobs

9. Full-stack developer

Full-stack developers combine the roles of back-end and front-end developers. These professionals have skills that allow them to work in both client-facing and server-facing positions. Programmers in this role create the systems that support the function of front-end interfaces. They also design interfaces for users. Since full-stack developers perform both responsibilities, they need a combination of interface design, coding and technical development skills. Here are some tasks that full-stack developers perform in their roles:

  • Design usable interfaces that support user navigation and interaction

  • Write functional codes that implement the features the interface uses

  • Create structures to store back-end data and maintain program security

  • Test programs and debug as needed

  • Maintain programs by responding to crashes and initiating updates for improvement

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