How Long Does It Take to Become a Computer Programmer?
With so many possible paths to working in tech, there’s no single answer to how long it takes to become a computer programmer. But understanding the different requirements of each route, and assessing your own learning style and support system, can help uncover your best tech career journey.
Computer Science by the Numbers
To begin, let’s review some facts about computer scientists working in the U.S. today, and consider reasons that people establish careers in this fast-growing field.
Computer Science Job Qualifications
There are many options for how to prepare for a computer science profession. Some employers do not necessarily require that candidates have a degree or formal education to be competitive. Instead, many positions only require that applicants prove proficiency in coding or other essential skills. In addition to knowledge of coding, computer programmers and other tech professionals need to have soft skills such as communication, leadership, critical thinking, and teamwork capabilities.
Gaining experience in entry level positions and building a portfolio can help individuals advance into higher-level positions in the industry. A portfolio consists of actual code, apps, or web development projects they can show employers to prove that they can solve problems and implement solutions.
Education and Training
Computer programmers come from a diverse range of backgrounds. While over 65% of global developers held at least a bachelor’s degree in 2021, according to survey data from Stack Overflow, traditional university education is not the only path to becoming a computer programmer.
For instance, a number of programmers have an associate or bachelor’s degree in a non-technical field and then learn to code through a training program later in life. Many programmers don’t have a degree at all and have learned to code through other formats including training and certification programs, books, friends, colleagues, and online courses, forums, and resources.
Salary and Job Growth Projections
Computer programming can be a lucrative career. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median annual salary for experienced computer programmers in May 2021 was $93,000. According to the BLS, employment in computer and IT occupations is projected to grow 13% between 2020 and 2030, faster than average compared to all other occupations.
Paths to Computer Programming Careers
Let’s take stock of some of the many ways professionals become computer programmers today, and how long each path may take.
Traditional Four-Year Degrees in Computer Science
University programs can be highly competitive, and admission into these programs may require earning high grades in general high school STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) classes, including calculus, physics, and statistics classes. Most programs typically require four years of full-time study, with students who pursue their degree part time needing anywhere from five to six years on average.
In addition to being time-consuming, four-year degree programs at public in-state colleges cost an average of $10,560 per year — over $42,000 for the degree in 2020-2021, according to the College Board. Annual costs increase to 27,020 per year for public out-of-state institutions and $37,650 per year for private four-year colleges.
There are many benefits of earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science, including the breadth and depth of general computer science knowledge students acquire in the process and the general studies requirements in areas outside of computer science. However, computer programmers may not need to apply this knowledge in their jobs on a daily basis.
In addition, graduates will still need to network and pass coding interviews to secure their first jobs out of school. A bachelor’s degree in computer science does not guarantee a graduate a job in the tech industry, and even students with a degree will benefit from additional skill development (including coding interview practice) and networking opportunities outside of school, which can be accomplished through paid job training and apprenticeship programs.
Associate (AS or AAS) Degrees in Computer Science Plus Additional Education or Training
Some schools offer associate degree programs for students who want to learn some computer science skills. Associate of Science (AS) and Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree programs offer general education approaches that can help students prepare for information technology-related positions and can provide a foundation for further training.
Depending on the specific classes a student takes, students in these programs may learn coding languages, applications of data structures and other methodologies for creating software or apps, and uses for problem-solving algorithms. However, associate degree programs typically require students to pick their course of study without guiding them on what skills are in high demand, which can create risk for students making a financial investment in obtaining a degree.
To earn an associate degree, students typically must earn around 60 college credits at a local community college, technical school, college, or university. Some programs are available fully online. People who enroll full time tend to earn an associate degree in two to two and a half years, whereas students who enroll part time may take up to five or six years.
After earning a two-year degree, graduates often need to supplement their education with experience and additional training. Individuals may study on their own using resources online, transfer to a four-year degree program, or enroll in a specialized training program designed to bridge a graduate’s gaps in knowledge and expertise.
Self-Study and Independent Development
In theory, it is possible for people with no formal education in computer science to break into the industry through self-directed learning. Online resources exist for individuals to learn coding languages, UX design, and many other skills relevant to becoming a professional computer programmer.
However, developing these skills on one’s own can be exceptionally challenging, and requires a great amount of self-discipline. Self-taught learners also may lack the professional mentorship and soft skills development opportunities that can be found in computer science training and education programs.
Self-taught programmers have no set timeline, as success will depend on a person’s ability to independently find the resources they need, develop a portfolio of project work, and demonstrate their abilities to prospective employers all on their own. This process may take years of self-directed trial and error.
Coding bootcamps are short, intensive programs that offer accelerated skill-building for people hoping to start a new career in computer programming. According to a 2021 Forbes article, most bootcamps last three to four months and teach web-centric coding but often skip over core competencies such as comprehensive test strategy development, verifiable testing design, and Agile team organization. Given their limited scope, bootcamps can be expensive investments that may leave participants less prepared for the programming workforce compared with longer, more dedicated training programs.
Job Training Programs
Training programs can offer professionals an affordable, efficient, and reliable route to developing the skills and experience needed to be competitive for tech jobs. This route may be the best option for people who already have a degree and are looking to gain additional on-the-job experience, or to sharpen their skills in highly sought-after specialty areas.
Not all training programs are alike. Some programs are designed for working professionals looking to earn a certificate or gain a skill set while retaining their full- or part-time jobs, and these programs tend to take longer to complete than programs designed for full-time immersion. Other training programs require students to pay as much or more than they would pay to attend a traditional bootcamp.
Programs like Revature’s, however, offer paid training as financial compensation for associates while they learn to code. Revature’s hire-train-deploy model takes 10 to 14 weeks to complete, with training in both tech-focused skills (such as coding) and interpersonal skills (such as software team communication). Unlike bootcamps, Revature’s programs place associates into jobs with employment contracts following completion of the training sessions.
Start Your Career in the Tech Industry
Computer science offers a variety of training options. Understanding how long it takes to become a computer programmer or a similar IT professional can help individuals along their path.
To land their first tech job, most people need both education and experience, which they can gain through Revature’s specialized training programs. These programs can be crucial for individuals struggling to get hired due to lack of experience, even though they have a degree. They can also be essential for those lacking a background in tech who are looking to make a career change.
Learn more about Revature’s hire-train-deploy model, in which associates earn income while engaging in 10 to 14 weeks of training, followed by placement into an employment contract with a top technology company. Recent graduates and people from underrepresented groups in tech can access opportunities for technical skill development and paid on-the-job experience that can help prepare them for a long, meaningful career in tech.