Computer Programmer Skills: Definition and Examples

Updated March 10, 2023

Computer programmers need to have a wide range of skills to perform the many responsibilities of this challenging and rewarding role. The most effective programmers combine technical capability with soft skills such as communication and the ability to work as part of a team. Aspiring computer programmers need to be able to demonstrate both types of skills.

This article covers the most important skills for programmers to have and how to present them effectively when seeking employment.

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What are computer programmer skills?

Computer programmer skills are methods and processes that provide computers with instructions on what actions to perform. Collectively known as “code,” these instructions are written by computer programmers to solve problems or perform specific tasks.

Programming generally results in a specific set of actions or the creation of a tangible result, whether it is a software application, a web page or even just an image displayed on a computer screen. Computer programmer skills often combine creativity with technical and analytical elements. In many ways, programming represents a perfect merging of art and science.

Examples of computer programmer skills

As with many other fields, computer programmer skills can be grouped into hard and soft skills. “Hard skills” refer to measurable abilities that are developed over time through practice or study. “Soft skills,” on the other hand, are abilities that enable people to fit into a working environment or work effectively with others. Here are some of the most important skills to have as a computer programmer:

Proficiency with programming languages

Code is written in programming languages such as SQL, Java, C++, or Python. Programmers aren't expected to know every programming language in existence, but it would be beneficial to be proficient in at least two languages to increase your employment and career opportunities. Most programmers typically decide on an area of specialization and then learn the programming language that is most appropriate for that field.

Learning concepts and applying them to other problems

The ability to learn concepts and apply them to other problems is an essential skill for programmers. This is especially useful when writing cascading style sheets (CSS), for which styles are applied to a web page's top-level, and then cascade to the other elements on the page.

Mathematical skills

Many aspects of programming require an understanding of math beyond the basic level. To become proficient at programming, you will need to have a thorough understanding of algebra and arithmetic.

Problem-solving capability

Code is often written to solve a problem. You will need to have the ability to identify problems and come up with the most efficient ways to solve them via programming.

Communication skills

Programmers generally spend most of their time working solo in front of a computer. However, many situations require you to communicate with other programmers and team members, especially when working on large or complex projects. Excellent communication skills will enable you to work effectively with others and to share ideas and solutions.

Writing skills

As a programmer, you will also need to communicate your work or processes to other people from time to time. Often, processes and results will have to be communicated to other workers who may not have the level of programming knowledge that you have. Therefore programmers need to have good written skills.


The most effective and successful programmers have a talent for figuring out how something is done and finding ways to do it more efficiently. A healthy degree of inquisitiveness will help ensure your consistent growth and development as a programmer.

Related: Learn About Being a Computer Programmer

How to improve computer programming skills

Whether you are a novice programmer or a working professional with years of coding experience, it is important to constantly learn, improve and add to your skill set. Here are some suggestions on how to improve your computer programming skills:

1. Self-motivation

You will need to have a certain degree of self-motivation to keep on growing as a programmer. No matter how much experience you have, there is always something new to learn and some new way to accomplish tasks more efficiently. The ability to motivate yourself will keep you on the path to constant learning and discovery, which is essential for programmers.

2. Pay attention to details

As a computer programmer, you won't be able to rely on spelling correction tools to catch your mistakes. Even small errors in the code can have significant effects on the outcome, so you will need to be attentive to the smallest details. You should also make it a habit to check and double-check your code, which greatly reduces the chances of potential errors getting through.

3. Staying organized

Programming can be very daunting, even for the most experienced professionals. Keeping organized in every aspect of your work will enable you to break up complex tasks into more manageable segments. Proper organization will also help you keep track of your work so you will know how to solve any problems that may occur.

Computer programming skills in the workplace

Computer programmer skills have numerous applications in workplace settings. Many programmers work alongside software developers, and their functions sometimes overlap. Programmers may be tasked with designing programs, for example, which is typically a developer's responsibility.

  • Planning software: Programmers may use models and flowcharts to detail how the code should be written.

  • Designing and creating applications: These could be as simple as mobile applications for smartphones or complex computer operating systems that could take several months or even years to complete.

  • Writing programs: Programmers may use a variety of computer languages for these tasks, including C++, Java, and many others.

  • Update and expand existing programs: Some programs may require modification or the addition of new features.

  • Writing and debugging code: Programmers often must debug code in response to detected errors.

  • Simplify programming: Programmers may use computer-assisted software engineering (CASE) tools to automate the process or code libraries to speed up and simplify programming.

Related: Technical Skills: Definitions and Examples

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How to highlight computer programmer skills

Computer programming can be a highly competitive industry, so it is advisable to highlight your skills at every stage of the appearance process. A strategic focus on your skills will showcase your qualifications as the right candidate for the job and give you an edge over the competition.

1. Highlighting skills on your resume

Your resume should include a detailed list of all your skills that could be valuable to the job. You should, of course, include proficiency in programming languages and experience with software and hardware systems, but remember to include a rundown of your soft skills as well. Qualities such as excellent communication skills and the ability to work as part of a team are essential for any programmer and should be featured prominently on your resume.

2. Highlighting skills on a cover letter

Your resume should contain a comprehensive list of your skills and additional details for each as necessary. The cover later, on the other hand, is where you will provide prospective employers and hiring managers with a quick rundown of your most valuable and relevant skills. You will have another opportunity to expand on these skills in the body of your resume, so keep your list of skills concise and to the point in your cover letter.

3. Highlighting skills during a job interview

Be prepared to communicate your best skills as early in the interview as possible. You will want to make a favorable impression quickly, so make sure to mention your most valuable and most relevant skills first. You can then provide more information on soft skills and tangentially related skills as time permits. This strategy helps reinforce your image as the right programmer for the job.

Related: 15 Computer Science Jobs That Pay Well

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