Computer programming is a hot career field, and with potential salary of up to $100,000 — not a bad field to get into! While it is true that some programming languages can be taught without formal schooling, a degree is still one of the best ways to go to enter the field. Check out how to become a computer programmer, which degrees and skills you’ll need, and potential jobs you can get below.
How to Become a Computer Programmer
1. Start in High School
Starting early with foundational knowledge is key. Take courses such as algebra and computer science to create building blocks for yourself to learn later programming skills.
2. Get to Know the Role
There are plenty of resources online to help you get to know more about the role of the computer programmer. Check out job sites such as LinkedIn or Glassdoor. Try to get connected with current programmers and schedule an informational interview with them to find out more about how they got to where they are now.
3. The Best Training for You
Computer programmers have degrees in computer science, information technology, or computer engineering. Other options for studying include certificates or coding bootcamps.
- Get a Bachelor’s Degree:
Many employers require a bachelor’s degree. Common majors for computer programmers include mathematics, engineering, computer science, or information technology.
- Technical Institute:
Another option for formal study is through a technical institute which will earn you a certificate or associate’s degree. Compared to a bachelor’s degree, you will learn more specialized skills.
- Online Degrees:
If you are looking for flexibility or study-from-home options and a formal education, online study might be a great option for you. University of the People offers tuition-free, US-accredited online degree programs in Computer Science. Earn your associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree from home and become a programmer with minimal financial investment.
- Teaching Yourself:
This will take a lot of self-motivation, dedication, and hard work, but many people do it successfully. If you want to teach yourself, start by choosing a language to study, then make a plan for yourself.
4. Choose a Focus
You will need to specialize in one or more computer languages. Will you be programming computer software or phone applications? Are you interested in gaming software? Find a focus for your work and your studies and you will be much more desirable for future employment.
5. Obtain Certifications
Prove your mastery of a language and skill by seeking out and completing certifications. Software companies and professional computing associations will offer tests and certificates.
For example, edX has tons of online classes that provide certificates from top universities including Harvard, MIT, and Dartmouth.
6. Get an Internship
An internship is a great way to build experience, knowledge, and get your foot in the door of the industry. During an internship, you will learn specific programming skills and gain real work experience while increasing your professional contacts in the field.
7. Build Valuable Job Experience
Try out internships, both paid or unpaid or start with freelance programming work. If you still need more experience before you start applying, work on several self-guided programming projects.
8. Build a Portfolio
Work on independent projects to include in your portfolio. Include projects completed during your coursework and your job, with the company’s permission. Always keep your portfolio updated and available online if possible.
9. Make Your Resume Stand Out
Make sure your resume is free of mistakes and up to date with all of your skills. Highlight a section of relevant skills and interests that make you particularly qualified for the job.
10. Nail the Interview
Read all about the company you are interviewing for online beforehand and make sure you can answer important, company-specific questions. You may be asked to perform technical tasks as well, so make sure you know what skills they are looking for and brush up on them as well as your ability to work under pressure before the interview.
11. Keep Learning
The field of technology and programming languages is always changing. Keep yourself up to date by subscribing to industry newsletters.
What Does a Computer Programmer Do?
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Computer programmers write code for programs that will be on computers. The process starts with software engineers designing a program, and then the programmers turn it into something the computer can read. From there, the program can move onto the next stage in the process of creation. Programmers may be asked to reprogram several times after continued iterations.
Programmers are either applications programmers or systems programmers.
Systems programmers create operational software and will sometimes look at their systems to make sure they are compatible with other operational software.
Applications programmers might upgrade, create, or customize certain software programs to fit within a certain context.
Salaries and Outlook
Demand for computer programmers is high. According to Projections Central, over 100,000 positions are available each year for computer programmers, engineers, and network architects.
Salaries are higher than the average as well — a computer programmer can expect to make an average of $82,240.
Components of a Successful Career As a Computer Programmer
Examples of Interview Questions
1. What programming languages do you know, and what is your proficiency in each?
2. What is the most important part of the programming process?
3. How do you keep up with current trends in the field?
Occupations and Salaries
1. Software Engineer: $76,807
2. Software Developer: $70,703
3. Senior Software Engineer: $114,696
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Other Computer Science Career Options
1. Web and internet programmer, such as Front-End, Back-End and Full Stack Developer
2. Mobile Applications and Software Programmer
3. Database Programmer
4. Programming Analyst
5. UX/UI Designer
6. Data Scientist
7. Algorithm Developer
8. Cyber Security Specialist
9. Information Systems Architect
10. Games Developer
Fact or Fiction?
Myth 1: It’s too late for me to become a programmer
Truth: Anyone at any age can learn a new skill, and programming is no different. Start slow by learning one language and see how it goes. You might surprise yourself!
Myth 2: I need heavy math skills to become a programmer
Truth: You don’t need specific math skills to program, just great logic and problem solving. Programmers will typically deal with math, but they don’t need to know how to perform math equations themselves.
Myth 3: I need to learn the “best” programming language
Truth: There’s no such thing as a “best” language, and there’s no barrier to becoming a programmer if you don’t know the specific languages. Choose what type of programmer you want to be first, then learn common languages used.
Skills You Need
1. Problem Solving & Troubleshooting:
Sometimes, the code just doesn’t work. It’s up to the programmer to figure out why, and to write and run new code that works.
2. Self Motivation:
While computer programmers will often work on teams, they spend a lot of time writing code on their own, so that means self motivation is extremely important in making sure the job gets done.
Computer programmers are often in charge of their own timeframes and task management, so programmers must be independent.
When the code doesn’t work, computer programmers must be able to keep on trying until it does. Computer programmers are asked to work on the same program for a long time and will need perseverance to get through each stage.
5. Strong Memory:
Computer programmers need to be able to remember code structure and simple codes for when they are writing their programs.
6. Computer Knowledge:
Programmers must love computers and understand them inside and out. To learn more about computer science, check out this article: What is Computer Science?
7. Web Development Skills:
8. Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence:
The industry is shifting a lot of focus to AI and machine learning these days. Keep yourself informed and educated on this new tech to stay relevant.
9. Data Science:
Data science is a rapidly growing area consisting of using data to solve business problems and form strategic growth of a company. Learn a bit about data science and you’ll go far.
The Best Computer Programmer Degrees
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The degree which is most likely to lead you to success in the field is a degree in computer science. This degree can lead to many opportunities such as a programmer, IT consultant, IT manager, games developer, multimedia developer and more. Similar degrees that can also lead to a career in computer programming include computer engineering, software engineering, and information technology.
This degree typically takes two years to complete and will offer an introduction to the field. Coupled with a good resume and some programming experience, this degree can be enough to earn you an entry-level position in computer programming.
A bachelor’s degree is longer and offers a fuller breadth of studies compared to an associate’s degree. This degree will typically take four years and is a prerequisite for more computer programming jobs today. Having a completed bachelor’s degree, when compared to bootcamps or certifications, will put you far ahead of other applicants.
3. Master’s Degree in Computer Science:
People will either continue straight from an undergraduate degree to a graduate degree in computer science, or they may spend time away from studying before starting higher education. Some students may choose to study a master’s degree in computer science to narrow their studies if they came from another field, while some students may earn a master’s degree in order to get ahead in the workforce. Master’s degrees in computer science are a great option for those looking to get into higher level positions within the field. Further study can lead to research or higher education teaching as well.
Computer Programmer Schools
If you’re looking for flexible, online study, look no further than University of the People. This US accredited, high quality, online university offers tuition-free Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees in computer science, all taught by top professors. The best part is that you can study from anywhere, on your own time.
Other options for learning computer programming are boot camps, local community colleges, and private or public, traditional four-year universities.
All you need to do to become a computer programmer is to earn a degree, choose a focus and keep learning and improving your skills. With perseverance, self motivation, and a readiness to learn you can be well on your way to a successful career in computer programming.