How to Become
a Computer Programmer
Education Pathways, Skills, and Certifications
Computer programming has been around for years and has evolved into the popular field it is today. It is a growing industry with many career opportunities.
The most common way to break into this profession is to complete a bachelor’s degree program. But that may not be the most suitable path for everyone. There are many paths you can take, including coding boot camps and online courses, to learn how to become a computer programmer.
In this article, we provide answers to the most commonly asked questions about careers in computer programming.
What Is a Computer Programmer?
A computer programmer writes and tests lines of code that allow computer applications and software to function properly. They convert program designs created by software developers and engineers into a set of instructions that computers can follow.
What Does a Computer Programmer Do?
Computer programmers work closely with web and software developers. They also play a part in the initial phase of software planning, creating models and flowcharts on how code is to be written, and designing applications or system interfaces. They are also tasked with ensuring all applications and programs are up to date.
These responsibilities are further elaborated on below.
Programmers make applications and other kinds of computer programs from code. They use their problem-solving skills to make sure that the code works properly and is easy to use.
They also regularly write new code for existing programs, improving their functionality and installing updates. These updates can be just as tedious as creating the original software because everything has to be tested all over again.
Even with all the time and effort, it takes to write the code, errors often slip through. This means that programmers are constantly troubleshooting. Because it’s so time-consuming, entry-level programmers are often hired to perform maintenance. To effectively maintain code, you will need to have attention to detail and a heightened sense of urgency.
Protects Programs from Cyber Security Threats
Programmers also fix vulnerabilities that might leave a program open to cyber security threats and data leaks. They either write new security code or update the existing code. To excel at this part of the job, you should have strong analytical skills and be able to set up defenses and countermeasures.
Computer Programmer Education Pathways
Once you’ve decided to become a computer programmer, the next step is to decide which education path is right for you. The three main routes to becoming a computer programmer are outlined below.
Computer Programming Degrees
Earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science or Information Technology is the most common choice. The curricula for such programs provide an in-depth understanding of programming and equip you with industry-standard skills.
Although course requirements vary by university, a computer programming degree generally requires you to complete general education in coding, mathematics, and user experience. If you’re looking to become an expert in a specific programming subtopic, you should consider going the extra mile and getting a Master’s Degree in Computer Science.
Computer Programming Bootcamps
Bootcamps are great alternatives to higher education. They are crash courses covering all the essential topics in a short period. Joining one of the best coding boot camps is a good option if you are looking to add a skill set or switch careers.
Computer Programming Courses
Computer programming courses are available online and on-site. These courses are a good choice if you are starting with the basics and prefer to split your learning into separate courses.
The online learning platform edX is a good resource for learning computer programming. The platform has a selection of courses for different levels and different time frames. These courses are taught by lecturers from top institutions, including NYU, Harvard, and top companies such as IBM.
How to Become a Computer Programmer: A Step-by-Step Guide
There is no single way to learn computer programming. The best way is to find a method that works for you. Like any other profession, understanding what it takes to be a programmer is your first step.
To make things easier, we have a step-by-step guide to help you.
Begin in high school
Taking and excelling in specific classes in high school will help build the foundation to becoming a computer programmer. Classes like algebra, mathematics, and computer science are good choices.
Know what you are getting into
Understand the role of a computer programmer. There are many resources online with information about how to get a career in tech. These can help you decide if this career choice is the right one for you.
Choose your pathway
As we have mentioned, there is more than one way to be a computer programmer.
Choose the route and specialization that is most suitable for you.
Build a portfolio
Use your internship or independent project experience to start building a portfolio as soon as possible. By gaining real work experience, you are improving your chances of employment in the long run.
Seek further education
Step up your game by taking a course, a master’s degree, or attending a boot camp to learn more about your field. These will also keep you up to date with the industry standards. With refined knowledge, you can start looking into professional certifications.
Top Computer Programmer Skills
The most successful programmers are those who combine their technical knowledge with soft skills such as teamwork and good communication. Below are some of the top computer programming skills you will need.
Proficiency in More Than One Computer Language
Code is written in top programming languages such as SQL, Java, C++, or Python. While you do not have to know every programming language, it is helpful to be proficient in at least two.
Many aspects of computer programming require an in-depth understanding of mathematics. You will especially need to have a thorough grasp of algebra and arithmetic.
File Organization Skills
Arranging and organizing your files is a skill that all computer programmers should have. More than just being able to code, you need to make sure that your files are understandable to everyone, even new teammates.
Computer Programmer Salary and Job Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average computer programmer makes $89,190 per year. Unfortunately, BLS also projects that the employment of programmers in the United States will decline nine percent by 2029. One possible reason is that the trend of hiring computer programmers from other countries limits the growth of domestic jobs.
Entry-Level Computer Programmer Job Requirements
Most entry-level computer programmers have a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science or a related subject. Some employers may be open to hiring those who have different degrees but with relevant experience in specific programming languages.
To qualify for an entry-level programming job, you should know how to write code, troubleshoot design issues, and debug software. You also need to be able to work as part of a software development team and perform administrative tasks as needed.
According to ZipRecruiter, the average salary for an entry-level computer programmer was approximately $43,000 as of May 2021.
How to Prepare for Your Computer Programmer Job Interview
Attention to detail and a knack for problem-solving are common attributes of computer programmers. Make sure your resume is free of mistakes and updated with all your skills. It is helpful to highlight a section of relevant skills and interests that qualify you for the job.
Read about the company and job you are interviewing for beforehand and make sure you can answer important, company-specific questions.
You may be asked to perform technical tasks as well. If you are, remember to double-check your work. Rechecking shows the interviewer you have a professional mindset and are focused on doing high-quality work.
Your computer programming job interview may include both general and technical questions. It will be beneficial to prepare yourself for both. Some example questions are listed in the following section.
Computer Programmer Job Interview Practice Questions
- Do you have any professional certifications?
- Which programming languages are you most proficient in?
- What is the one challenge you face when integrating new code into an existing application?
- Describe your process for debugging an application.
- How would you use linear data structures?
Computer Programmer Certifications
Computer programming certifications give you an upper hand and the possibility of increasing your earning potential. Some companies may also require their computer programmers to be certified in the products they use.
There are various programming certifications available online or through universities. These certifications range from entry-level to advanced. Below are some of the certifications for you to consider.
Google Certified Professional Cloud Architect
Google is known to heavily invest in cloud technology. The Google Certified Professional Cloud Architect credential displays your technical expertise in using the Google Cloud platform to design, develop, and run apps.
This is an entry-level certification and is a prerequisite to professional-level candidates.
Project Management Professional (PMP)
The Project Management Institute manages this certificate. It is designed for experienced professionals in various fields and proves you can handle large-scale projects.
To be certified, you must have 35 hours of PMP-related training. You can apply for the training with or without a bachelor’s degree but you need a certain number of project management experience hours to qualify.
Oracle Certified Professional MySQL 5.6 Developer
This is a professional-level software engineer certificate that proves your expertise in designing and developing applications for MySQL database servers. It will be a good addition to your portfolio as it tests your fundamental understanding of MySQL applications.
The exam covers standard MySQL topics, including design, architecture, syntax, modifications, and applications.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Computer Programmer?
Earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science will take up to four years, whereas studying at a boot camp will require a 12- to 24-week commitment. Educate yourself on the differences between coding boot camps and degrees before deciding which path to take.
While online courses are unlikely to provide comprehensive education, they’re a great way to sharpen specific programming skills. Just know that most courses range from two hours to two weeks in length. Many of them come with a certificate of completion that you can show a prospective employer.
Why You Should Become a Computer Programmer in 2021
We are living in an era of evolving technology. Although employment for programmers is projected to decline, the third LinkedIn U.S. Emerging Jobs Report notes that the tech industry as a whole is in need of skilled labor. Computer programmers who can adapt to emerging technology will have a competitive edge in the job market.
The report also notes that remote work is on its way to becoming mainstream. This plays to the advantage of computer programmers, who can work from anywhere as long as they have a computer and an Internet connection. This also gives them the flexibility to be self-employed or freelancers.
Being a computer programmer does not necessarily require a degree, which is great because that can sometimes be a prohibitive requirement. Instead, you can look into other means of professional training that will help you qualify for employment.
Computer Programmer FAQ
Some daily tasks include testing programs for errors, fixing faulty lines in computer codes, and writing the codes in a variety of programming languages. Programmers are also expected to update and expand existing programs and use code libraries to simplify writing.
There are three main pathways to being a computer programmer. You can decide to complete a four-year bachelor’s degree, attend bootcamps, or sign up for online courses.
Aside from other soft skills, a computer programmer should be proficient in one or more programming languages, adept in mathematics, and have good problem-solving capabilities.
With the constant advancement of technology, one of the benefits of being a computer programmer is the employment options. Programmers have the choice to work for a company or for themselves. Computer programmers also have the advantage of being able to work from anywhere, which helps them maintain a work-life balance.