Computers as machines are not much good without the software that makes them do the numerous tasks for which they are intended. The job of the computer programmer is to write sets of instructions called programs to do whatever task that an end user needs. They also do the behind-the-scenes programming involved for complex web pages that not only display but process information as well.
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- Computer Information Science (Bachelor's)
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- MS in Information Technology /Database Administration
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- Bachelor of Science in Software Engineering
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- Bachelor of Science in Information Technology - Software Application Programming
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At a Glance
Other Job Titles: Computer Systems Analyst
Salary Range*: $41,000-$114,000; Median $71,000
Education/Training Required: Associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree
Desired Skills/Aptitude: Analytical, troubleshooting, ability to focus, attention to detail
Certification/Licensing: Many certification options; no licensing requirement
Locations with Best Opportunities: Colorado, California, Washington, D.C., North Carolina
Employment Outlook: Increase by 12% through 2020 (fast as average)
Opportunities for Advancement: Can advance to management or high-level business analyst positions; can advance to be lead programmer on large-scale projects
What a Computer Programmer Does
Computer programming involves writing machine instructions (software) to make a processor produce desired results. Programmers write these instructions in whatever programming language the server can translate such as PHP, Java, C++, HTML, ASP, and Visual Basic. This writing process is also called coding.
Besides writing code for new software, they also:
- Gather user requirements for new software or changes to existing software
- Correct errors that arise from the use of software
- Make modifications to software to perform some new task
- Test software to ensure it produces what it is intended to
- Write software documentation and user’s manuals
- Train users on software
- Provide support for users when certain error conditions occur
Computer programmers are the link between a business problem and making a computer provide a solution to it. Thus, programmers will typically meet with business leadership to gather their requirements for solving their problem through software.
The workplace of a computer programmer is almost always in an office setting. Some programmers may have to travel to remote customer sites on occasion. A normal day for a programmer involves sitting at a computer for many hours while writing new programs or making changes to existing ones.
Part of a programmer’s day may also be spent in meetings with management listening to proposals for the development of new software or modifications to existing systems.
Usually a day does not go by where there is a software error that needs to be investigated. Software errors are usually reported by users to the company’s help desk where the problem is prioritized and assigned. Software errors will always be directed to the programming department and assigned to a programmer for investigation and correction. Typically, if a programmer was the author of a program, help desk problem reports will come his way if the error is associated with his software.
Education and Certification
Computer programmers gain entry into the field by completing either an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree in computer science or information technology. Those with associate’s degrees can increase their opportunities by finishing their bachelor’s degree.
Those who complete bachelor’s degrees in information technology oftentimes have a concentration in business with computer programming classes. Those with computer science degrees usually work for scientific and technology companies while those with information technology degrees can work for a variety of businesses. The latter might work for insurance companies, hospital business offices, and financial investment companies.
Certification is not a requirement to enter into this field however it does open the doors to working on projects of increasing complexity and higher pay. There is no one certification that fits all. Software vendors such as Microsoft offer a long list of different certifications such as in the different programming languages, networks, and systems programming. Programmers are not required to be licensed.
Software technology changes constantly. Programmers usually need to know more than one programming language and be aware of any new changes in the field. It is for this reason they should enroll in continuing education programs to keep their skills up-to-date.
*Salary Source: BLS May 2012