Computer Programmer Career Path: Outlook, Definition, Paths
Computer and information technology (IT) occupations are well paying and in demand, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reporting higher-than-average salaries and projecting faster-than-average growth in this field overall.
Anyone working in the tech industry should have a strong understanding of what a computer programmer does. From education and training to work opportunities, the computer programmer career path can include a variety of job duties including writing, modifying, and testing computer code and scripts.
What Is a Computer Programmer?
First, what is a computer programmer? From web browsers to televisions, many objects in our everyday lives rely on computer programming to operate effectively. Computer programmers write the code that makes these objects’ software applications and operating systems work.
Software developers and engineers develop designs for computer and software performance. Then computer programmers create the instructions that guide the performance those designs outline, using programming languages such as Java and C#. After computer programmers write the code, they test it to ensure that the software functions appropriately, rewriting it as needed until the software or operating system performs as specified.
What Does a Computer Programmer Do?
Computer programmers typically work in an organization’s IT department or for a software company, either on staff or as independent contractors. They collaborate with IT employees as well as the end users of software applications and operating systems, writing the code that guides software systems and computing infrastructure and finding ways to improve how they function.
Computer Programmer Tasks
But what does a computer programmer do, exactly? Following are among the typical tasks of a computer programmer:
- Writing code, using a variety of programming languages, to direct the appearance and action of computer systems and applications
- Using code libraries, or pre-written instructions, as needed to program efficiently
- Customizing programs purchased from vendors
- Testing programming and troubleshooting issues to ensure proper function
- Updating and expanding on existing programming to enhance operation and meet an organization’s needs
- Addressing technology support issues that require programming modifications
- Attending workshops and conferences on computer programming-related topics
How to Become a Computer Programmer
Anyone interested in how to become a computer programmer should know that education and experience are key steps, with many employers requiring a combination of these elements when hiring professionals for this role. Aspiring computer programmers need an array of skills and knowledge, including of programming languages, and can earn certifications as well.
Proficiency at computer programming, often with specializations in one or more programming languages, is critical. Education and workplace training can help you master the skills you need and gauge whether the role is a good long-term fit for you.
Many employers require computer programmers to hold a bachelor’s degree in a subject such as computer science, IT, engineering, or mathematics. Others, however, focus more on experience-based training when selecting job candidates. If you’re considering how to become a computer programmer, it makes sense to keep in mind opportunities that provide training as well as on-the-job exposure, such as Revature’s hire-train-deploy programs.
There are dozens of computer programming languages that individuals can learn in preparation for a career as a computer programmer. Programmers typically are proficient in languages such as:
Because of the evolving nature of technology, computer programmers must continuously seek out experiences and training that help them stay up to date on programming languages and practices.
When learning about the computer programmer career path, it’s important to understand the certifications that a programmer might have. Individuals may have credentials in certain programming languages, vendor-specific products, or project management skills.
The companies and organizations that offer certifications common among computer programmers include the following:
- Microsoft offers Microsoft technology associate (MTA) developer certifications as well as Microsoft certified solutions developer (MCSD) certifications that allow programmers to focus on specific applications or operating systems.
- Google offers the certified professional cloud architect designation, indicating knowledge regarding the design and development of tools on the Google cloud platform.
- Amazon Web Services (AWS) presents certified developer-associate and certified solutions architect-associate designations that signify expertise in programming and designing functions, respectively, within the AWS cloud platform.
- Citrix provides entry-level certification for configuring and managing Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop tools.
- CompTIA offers security+ certification, designating training on security for applications, networks, and data.
- Cloudera provides certified developer for Apache Hadoop certification, focused on data mining.
- Oracle presents Oracle Application Express developer certification expert (APEX) and Oracle certified professional MySQL developer designations, signifying an understanding of Oracle products Application Express workspaces or MySQL database servers.
- Scrum Alliance offers its members certified Scrum developer certification, indicating an understanding of the process for facilitating teamwork in projects, as well as the more advanced Scrum master certification.
- Puppet Labs presents the Puppet developer certification, indicating knowledge of how to create Puppet IT automation software extensions using the Ruby programming language.
- Project Management Institute offers the project management professional certification to senior-level employees, designating skill at managing large-scale projects.
- Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) provides various levels of certification that designate knowledge of the ITIL framework for IT management.
Some tech training programs help individuals gain professional certifications. For instance, Revature’s 10- to 14-week paid training sessions result in associates gaining in-demand industry credentials. Following training, Revature places associates into employment contracts where they can immediately apply their learned skills.
Computer Programmer Salary and Outlook
Computer programmers’ median annual salary is more than double the median salary of all U.S. jobs the BLS tracks. In addition, the agency anticipates growth in the broader computer and IT jobs category over the coming decade. Bringing the expertise and background to excel as a computer programmer can help set you apart from others seeking these positions.
Computer Programmer Salary
While factors such as education, experience, and location can affect an individual’s salary, the median annual salary for experienced computer programmers in May 2021 was $93,000, the BLS reports. By comparison, the median annual salary for all occupations in the U.S. at that time was $45,760.
The bottom 10% of computer programming earners had annual salaries of less than $47,560, while the highest 10% of earners had annual salaries of more than $155,240.
When comparing annual salaries according to type of employer, computer programmers employed by software publishers had the highest median annual salary, according to the BLS. Computer programmer median annual salaries by job sector were:
- Software publishers — $102,370
- Finance and insurance — $99,260
- Manufacturing — $98,320
- Computer systems design — $79,860
Computer Programmer Job Outlook
Greater emphasis on cloud computing as well as on collecting, storing, and securing data are driving the projected demand for computer and IT jobs between 2020 and 2030, the BLS reports. It projects a 13% increase in jobs in the field overall. The average projected job growth for all occupations during that time is 8%.
However, the BLS projects a 10% decline in computer programmer roles in the U.S. between 2020 and 2030, as programmers in this country compete with programmers working remotely in nations where wages typically are lower. But the BLS points out that the high cost of managing projects with overseas programmers can offset any savings that companies realize through paying lower wages, leading some companies to bring those jobs back to the U.S. Many employers will still be in need of high-quality computer programmers. The BLS anticipates 9,700 computer programmer jobs will open each year to replace programmers who transfer into other positions or leave the workforce.
Computer Programmer Key Skills
Aside from knowledge of programming languages, among the other skills and aptitudes that computer programmers typically rely on are:
- Analytical skills — to understand complex instructions and determine the code to write to implement the designated features
- Communication skills — to interact with other IT professionals on programming projects and communicate with end users and corporate officials about a project’s details and status
- Attention to detail — to closely examine code as it is written or tested, checking that each line is correct to ensure proper appearance and function
- Collaboration — to partner with colleagues from multiple departments to fix issues to meet the needs of end users
- Ability to focus —to be fully attentive when spending multiple hours writing the detailed code that powers technology tools
- Creativity — to devise solutions that correct programming issues that may not have an immediately obvious answer
- Curiosity — to be open to learning from mistakes and staying abreast of changes in technology as well as new and updated languages and work processes
Computer Programmer Career Paths
Computer programmer roles typically rank in one of three levels: entry, middle, or senior. These levels go beyond just a professional’s experience to also designate the skill they bring to the job.
Computer programmer career paths progress from entry-level roles to senior-level positions as professionals gain knowledge and programming skills, take on more complex assignments, and work with increasing autonomy.
Entry-Level Computer Programmer
Through approximately the first two years of their work, computer programmers generally are considered entry level. Their work typically focuses on programming tasks that are more focused and less complex than those of mid-level and senior-level programmers. Some general characteristics of entry-level computer programmer positions include:
- Undergoing an extensive onboarding process to learn an organization’s programs and processes
- Using simple programming languages to create and maintain the function of applications and systems
- Debugging simple programming issues
- Focusing on routine tasks that involve a specific function within an application
- Learning more efficient processes through trial and error throughout development cycles
- Submitting work for review to senior-level computer programmers
Mid-Level Computer Programmer
Computer programmers generally reach mid-level status after about two to four years of experience. Mid-level computer programmers tackle progressively more advanced assignments that allow them to take more initiative in solving problems and fixing errors in critical functions. Following is a general description of the role of the mid-level programmer:
- Using established programming languages with greater ease than entry-level programmers
- Working more autonomously, requiring only occasional close direction and major changes
- Programming functions that are increasingly important to applications’ performance
- Handling multiple projects of varying difficulty simultaneously
- Relying on more efficient processes to save time while minimizing errors
- Understanding which questions to ask and where to find answers
Senior-Level Computer Programmer
Typically, after about five years on the computer programmer career path, programmers reach the senior level. As senior-level computer programmers, they not only handle complex, critical projects but also serve as mentors to entry- and mid-level programmers. Senior-level programmers also can turn their deep understanding of programming and technological processes into the foundation for other roles, such as becoming the chief technology officer (CTO) of a startup.
Typical work associated with senior-level computer programmer roles includes:
- Programming applications and solving issues autonomously
- Handling the most complex, mission-critical projects
- Using multiple programming languages and customizing them as needed
- Relying on the most efficient actions and processes to successfully complete projects
- Coaching entry- and mid-level programmers
- Building and conducting tests for programming processes
- Communicating with clients about the progress of work
Payscale reports that in May 2022, computer programmers with five to nine years of experience had a median annual salary of about $71,000, progressing to a median annual salary that exceeded about $88,000 with 20 or more years of experience.
Begin Your Tech Career with Revature
If you’re ready to set out on a tech career path, starting with a combined focus on training and experience, explore Revature. You can build on your education by learning in-demand technology skills and putting them to work for organizations in the real world, earning a salary as you complete your training and projects.
Discover how Revature can help you reach your goals in the growing tech industry.
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