What Does a Computer Programmer Do?

Career Information

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A computer programmer creates the code for software applications and operating systems. After a software developer designs a computer program, the programmer writes code that converts that design into a set of instructions a computer can follow. He or she tests the program to look for errors and then rewrites it until it is  or error-free. The programmer continues to evaluate programs that are in use, making updates and adjustments as needed.

Quick Facts

  • Computer programmers earned a median annual salary of $77,550 in 2014.
  • Nearly 329,000 people worked in this occupation (2014).
  • Companies that write and test software employed most of them. Software publishers and finance and insurance companies employed others.
  • Jobs are typically full time.
  • This is a good job for people who like to work alone.
  • The job outlook for this occupation is poor. Employers will outsource many jobs to countries where wages are lower than they are in the U.S. This will cause employment to decline through 2024.

How to Become a Computer Programmer

Your chances of getting a job as a computer programmer will be better if you earn a bachelor's degree in computer science, mathematics, or information systems. Some employers will hire you if you have a degree in another subject such as accountingfinance and business, as long as you have taken computer science classes.

You may even be able to find work with an associate degree in computer science.

Since experience is as important as a degree is in this field, you should do internships while you are in school. Once you are working in the field, you will have to keep your skills up-to-date by learning new programming languages.

Certifications in various programming languages may also be beneficial.

What Soft Skills Do You Need to Succeed in This Career?

In addition to the technical skills you will acquire through formal training and experience, you will also need the following soft skills to succeed in this field:

  • Reading Comprehension: You must be able to understand written instructions.
  • Problem Solving: Programmers must identify problems.
  • Critical Thinking: When solving problems and making decisions, you should know how to weigh all your options so you can choose the best one.
  • Active Listening: This ability allows you to understand instructions from members of your team.
  • Attention to Detail and Troubleshooting: You must be able to find small mistakes in code and fix them.

Roles and Responsibilities

Are you wondering what a computer programmer does at work? These are some typical job duties taken from online ads for computer programmer positions found on Indeed.com:

  • "Develop, test and implement computer programs on multiple computer/operating system platforms"
  • "Help develop a new web-based information system (IS)"
  • "Perform all activities necessary for the definition, design, construction, testing and implementation of automated computer systems"
  • "Review programs on a frequent basis and make adjustments as are necessary to ensure proper working of the program"
  • "Confirm program operation by conducting tests; modifying program sequence and/or codes"
  • "Create and publish technical diagrams to support coding efforts"
  • "Integrate new functionality into existing applications"

What Will Employers Expect From You?

Here are some requirements from actual job announcements found on Indeed.com. Most employers also require proficiency in particular programming languages:

  • "Ability to work independently"
  • "Ability to comprehend and apply principles of modern algebra while analyzing data and generating reports."
  • "Able to work under pressure to meet timelines and handle multiple tasks and changing priorities."
  • "Must possess a high-degree of accountability of his/her work"
  • "Self discipline, as projects take several months to complete"
  • "Works well in a team environment"

Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

Related Occupations

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Software DeveloperCreates systems and applications software.$102,880HS diploma; bachelor's degree preferred
Computer Systems Analyst

Helps organizations use computer technology effectively.

$82,710Bachelor's degree in computer science or related subject
Web DeveloperTends to design and technical aspects of websites.$63,490HS diploma; many employers require an associate degree in web design
Computer Support SpecialistAssists computer users with problems they are having with software, hardware or peripherals.$47,610HS diploma + experience with computers

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 (visited February 3, 2016).
Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online (visited February 3, 2016).

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