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How to Become a Programmer

Growth Trends for Related Jobs

The Path to a Programming Career

Looking for a way to use your tech skills in a career? Computer programming is the perfect mix of creativity and linear thinking that lets you design anything from phone apps and video games to software programs. You can even program on a freelance basis to give yourself more flexibility to be home with your kids.

Job Description

Programmers handle the behind-the-scenes work that makes computer applications and software programs magically spring to life when consumers use them. But there's really nothing magical about it. Long before companies roll out those programs, computer programmers write all the code that makes the programs work. Programmers usually specialize in a specific computer language, which affects how the code is written.

A typical project starts with a software developer or engineer deciding what the program should do. The programmer then uses those designs to write the code that tells the computer what to do. Programming requires attention to detail, problem-solving skills and linear thinking to create accurate code that works.

A big part of programming involves testing the code to make sure it works correctly and fixing errors once spotted. You might work on brand new programs or work on updates and expansions for existing programs.

Education Requirements

Education requirements for computer programming vary, depending on who's doing the hiring. Most programmers head into the job search with a computer science degree in hand. A bachelor's degree in the field is most common, although associate degree programs that focus specifically on programming without general education courses may also land you a job in programming.

If you want to work in a specific field, gaining experience or taking classes in that area helps prepare you. Want to create accounting software? You need some knowledge of the accounting principles you're programming into the product. The same goes for health care, inventory management, education or any other specialty area. You don't need a degree in those fields, but some background in them makes you an attractive candidate.

Given the speed of change in the tech field, your education isn't done once you earn your degree. Continuing education to keep up with the latest industry trends is important. You can also earn certifications for different programming languages.

Computer programmers make a median yearly salary of $79,840 or roughly $38.39 per hour, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median salary simply means that about half of all computer programmers make more than that figure and half make less. Among computer programmers, the 10 percent on the low end of the pay scale make less than $45,570. On the upper end, the highest 10 percent make more than $130,360.

The industry you work in also affects your salary. Software publishers typically pay the most with a median salary of $93,380. Finance and insurance positions come in next with a median salary of $87,930. Manufacturing programming positions come in at $79,870, and computer systems design and related services have a median pay of $79,030.

About the Industry

Computer programming typically takes place in an office setting working individually at a computer. Some larger projects may involve working with a team of programmers. Programming is a versatile job because you handle all of your work from a computer. That means you can essentially work anywhere, opening you up to the possibility of working remotely.

Years of Experience

Computer programmers can hit the ground running right out of college. Many people start in programming positions immediately upon graduation. Doing an internship to gain real-world experience can help you land that first job.

You also have room for growth as a programmer. You can learn other computer languages to open up new opportunities. Some programmers eventually transition into software developer positions. Others move into managerial positions within the companies that develop the software programs.

Job Growth Trend

Despite constantly changing technology, the job prospects for computer programmers seem to be on the decline. The BLS projects a 7 percent decline in jobs in the United States between 2016 and 2026. That's because some companies outsource programming to remote workers in other countries, where wage expectations are a lot lower than in the U.S.

Staying competitive in a tightening job market increases your odds of realizing your programming dreams. People who have at least a bachelor's degrees in computer science tend to have the easiest time finding jobs. You can also make yourself more attractive to hiring managers by learning more than one computer language and learning as much as possible about the latest programming trends.