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Computer Programmer Career Guide

What is a computer programmer?

A computer programmer, or coder, writes code that tells computers what to do. They turn ideas from software engineers into programs we use every day, like apps and websites.

Duties and responsibilities

A computer programmer’s main job is writing and fixing code. They use languages like Java, C++, and Python to bring software designs to life. A big part of their job is solving problems to make sure software runs well and fixing bugs when they pop up. They also test software to keep it running smoothly and secure it against hackers.

Work environment

Computer programmers usually work in offices, spending lots of time on computers. They often team up with other tech pros, like software developers, especially on big projects. Many can work from home or as freelancers because their work is mostly online.

Typical work hours

Most programmers work full-time, around 40 hours a week. Sometimes, they work more when there’s a deadline or a tech issue that needs quick fixing.

How to become a computer programmer

To become a computer programmer, follow these steps:

Step 1: Get a degree

Start by getting a bachelor’s degree in computer science or something similar. You’ll learn about programming, computer systems, and databases, plus get into software engineering and algorithms.

Step 2: Get hands-on experience

While studying, try to get real experience through internships, part-time jobs, or contributing to open-source projects. It’s about using what you learn in class in the real world, which is great for learning more and impressing future employers.

Step 3: Learn multiple programming languages

Knowing several programming languages is a must. Start with common ones like Java, Python, or C++, and then learn others based on what interests you, like Swift for iOS apps or JavaScript for web development.

Step 4: Understand software development

Get to know the software development process well. Learn everything from figuring out what the software needs to do to designing, coding, testing, and maintaining it. Being familiar with methods like Agile or Scrum is also really useful.

Step 5: Get certifications

Certifications aren’t always necessary but can be really helpful, especially in a tough job market. Getting certified by big tech companies or in specific programming languages or tools can make your resume stand out.

Step 6: Apply for jobs

After you graduate, start looking for entry-level programming jobs. Use your degree, internship experience, networking, job boards, and university career services to find opportunities.

Step 7: Keep learning

Stay up-to-date with new trends and technologies in your field. Consider doing a master’s degree, getting more certifications, attending industry events, or learning new programming languages to keep your skills sharp and stay competitive.

How much do computer programmers make?

A computer programmer’s salary can vary depending on several factors. Coders in big cities and those with advanced degrees or extensive work experience often get paid more. The type of industry also matters, with programmers in areas like application software development or data processing usually earning more.

Knowing in-demand programming languages or having specialized skills can boost pay. Bigger and more profitable companies tend to pay more as well. Some programmers also receive bonuses, which can add to their overall compensation.

Highest paying industries

  • Software Publishers: $115,160
  • Computer Manufacturing: $111,990
  • Data Processing & Hosting: $95,730
  • Consulting Services: $94,500
  • Insurance Carriers: $93,110

Highest paying states

  • Washington: $126,920
  • California: $112,190
  • New Jersey: $106,790
  • Massachusetts: $97,610
  • New York: $96,280

Browse computer programmer salary data by market

Types of computer programmers

Computer programming has different specializations, each focusing on various aspects of technology and requiring specific skills:

  • Application programmer: These programmers create software applications, ranging from business tools (like databases and accounting software) to entertainment software (like games). They often need to know languages like Java or Python.
  • Systems programmer: They work with operating systems or network software, often using languages like C or C++ to work with the deeper parts of computer systems. Their main job is to keep computers running smoothly and efficiently.
  • Web programmer: Web programmers, or web developers, code websites. They might work on the front end (designing the site and user experience) or the back end (working on server-side programming). 
  • Mobile application programmer: With smartphones’ popularity, these programmers are in high demand. They design and code apps, using languages such as Swift (for iOS) or Java and Kotlin (for Android).
  • Game programmer: These programmers focus on video game development, which can include working on the game engine, graphics, interface, and more. They often need to know about scripting languages, animation, and game physics, and have a creative touch.

Top skills for computer programmers

To succeed as a computer programmer, you’ll need a mix of technical and soft skills:

  • Proficiency in programming languages: It’s crucial to be skilled in various languages like Python, Java, C++, C#, and SQL. Each language plays a different role in software development. 
  • Troubleshooting and problem-solving: Working with code often involves encountering glitches and errors. Quickly figuring out and fixing these problems is key to keeping projects on track and creating high-quality software.
  • Understanding computing systems and networks: Knowing how computers and networks work helps in designing and coding software. This knowledge is essential for creating efficient code that works well with the system’s capabilities and limitations.
  • Excellent collaboration and communication skills: Despite the stereotype of lone programmers, teamwork is a big part of the job. They need to work with others, share ideas, and explain technical stuff to people who aren’t tech-savvy.
  • Concentration and adaptability: Coding requires a lot of focus, as you’ll be working on detailed code for long periods. A good programmer is always learning and adjusting to new tools and languages.

Computer programmer career path

Senior or lead programmer

One of the first steps up is to become a senior or lead programmer. This role involves more responsibility, not just in coding but also in guiding junior programmers. You might also coordinate between departments to ensure that business goals and software development are in sync.

Software architect

Moving into a software architect role means focusing on developing software systems and designing complex application structures. This often includes working with others to turn business needs into tech solutions.

IT project manager

If you’re organized and a good leader, becoming an IT project manager could be a great move. You’d manage all parts of a project, like planning, budgeting, and making sure everything is done well, on time, and within budget.

Data scientist

For those who are deeply technical and analytical, becoming a data scientist is an appealing advancement. This role blends programming skills with statistics and machine learning to analyze complex data and find data-driven answers.

The field of computer programming is rapidly evolving, driven by technology advancements. Key trends include:

  • Demand for specialized skills: There’s a high demand for programmers skilled in areas like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and big data analytics. Proficiency in versatile programming languages like JavaScript, Python, Java, and C++ is particularly sought after.
  • Impact of the Internet of Things (IoT): The rise of IoT has broadened the scope of programming. As it continues to grow, programmers with these skills will be in demand.
  • Cybersecurity focus: With increasing online activities, cybersecurity skills are becoming essential. Ethical hacking and data protection skills are increasingly valued as businesses prioritize the security of their platforms and data.

Employment projections

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 10% decline in computer programming jobs through 2031. This decrease is largely due to outsourcing some programming jobs to countries with lower wages. However, there are still niches and evolving tech areas where skilled coders can find rewarding career opportunities.

Computer programmer career tips

The tech world changes fast, and keeping up is crucial. Read articles, follow tech influencers, attend webinars, and join forums to stay informed about new languages and trends.

Obtain relevant certifications

Certifications like Microsoft Certified: Azure Developer Associate, Oracle Certified Professional Java SE 8 Programmer, or AWS Certified Developer show your skills and can help advance your career.

Enhance problem-solving skills

Being good at solving problems is critical in programming. View challenges as learning opportunities and keep improving your approach to problem-solving.

Improve documentation skills

Good documentation makes your code easier to understand and maintain. This skill is vital for large projects and teamwork.

Build a professional network

Networking can lead to new opportunities. Engage with peers and professionals in groups like the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), IEEE Computer Society, or Programmers Guild.

Invest in continuous learning

The field is always evolving, so learning should never stop. Attend workshops and tech conferences, take online courses, read books and blogs, and participate in coding challenges to keep your skills sharp.

Where the computer programmer jobs are

Top employers

  • IBM
  • Microsoft
  • Google
  • Amazon
  • Oracle

Top states

  • California
  • Washington
  • Texas
  • New York
  • Massachusetts

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • LinkedIn
  • ZipRecruiter
  • Monster


What skills are necessary for a computer programmer?

They must have proficiency in various programming languages, strong problem-solving abilities, logical thinking, attention to detail, and good communication skills. It’s also beneficial to be familiar with database management and be able to work in a team-oriented environment.

What personal qualities are beneficial for a computer programmer?

They often possess patience, persistence, and a strong desire to tackle and solve complex issues. An inherent curiosity and desire for continuous learning is also a common characteristic due to the rapidly evolving nature of technology.

What kind of education is typically required for computer programmers?

Most positions require at least a bachelor’s degree, usually in computer science, information systems, or a related field. Courses that individuals often study include computer science, computer languages, algorithms, and mathematics.

What is a typical work environment like for a computer programmer?

They often work in office settings. This job tends to be highly collaborative, requiring regular interaction with project managers, fellow programmers, or clients. Work hours can be regular, although deadlines may necessitate longer hours. Remote or freelance work can also be common in this field.

What tasks does a day in the life of a computer programmer entail?

Programmers spend much time writing, testing, and maintaining detailed instructions, called programs or codes, that computers must follow to perform their functions. They might also update or expand existing programs, debug programs by testing for and fixing errors, and use code libraries to simplify writing.

How crucial are programming languages to computer programmers?

Very. Different languages are used for different tasks, so the more they know, the more versatile they will be. Regularly used languages include Python, Java, C++, and SQL.

What types of industries employ computer programmers?

They can be found in various industries, including computer systems design and related services, software publishers, manufacturing industries, financial institutions, and educational services. Any industry that requires software development might employ computer programmers.

Is continuous learning important for computer programmers?

Yes, continuous learning is vital in computer programming. Technology and programming languages evolve rapidly, making it important for professionals in the field to stay current with these changes. This often involves self-study, attending industry workshops and conferences, or pursuing advanced degrees or certifications.

Are certification programs valuable for computer programmers?

Certification programs can be a valuable addition to their credentials. They can officially recognize industry competence and proficiency in specific programming languages or aspects of the job. Many employers value these credentials, and they can aid in professional advancement.

What kind of programming projects are beneficial for building a computer programmer resume?

Creating a diverse range of projects showcasing your skills can benefit your resume. This can include everything from building a website, designing a game, or developing an app. Any project that demonstrates your proficiency in different programming languages, problem-solving ability, and creativity will be valuable.

How does a computer programmer stay organized when managing multiple projects?

Successful programmers often employ strong time management and organizational techniques to manage multiple projects. This can include breaking projects down into manageable tasks, prioritizing these tasks, and using time management tools. Documentation skills are also crucial for keeping track of changes and for future reference.