CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a computer programmer.
Is becoming a computer programmer right for me?
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Taking programming and computer science courses available in high school is valuable early preparation for entering the career. A focus on algebra, trigonometry, geometry, chemistry, and physics is also recommended for aspiring programmers. Paying attention to English, foreign language, and social studies classes is equally important, as these subjects are invariably part of the general education requirements for university acceptance.
While Associate’s degree programs and online and self-teaching curricula exist in the field, most computer programmers have a Bachelor’s degree. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recommends that students of the profession consider majors in computer science, computer information systems, or a related discipline. Prospective programmers who wish to write business, engineering, or scientific applications often take background courses or minor in one or more of those subject areas.
A Bachelor’s degree program in computer science teaches programming languages through the creation of algorithms. Among the most widely used languages taught are Java, C++, and Visual Basic. Programs typically include instruction in database management, computer networks, and operating systems.
Computer information systems curricula have considerable overlap with computer science programs, but are more oriented towards adapting and applying information to the operational needs of businesses and other organizations. In addition to computer programming, they address organizational structure and management; enterprise applications; and computer security.
Computer programmers may elect to specialize in a particular area of programming. Database development, for instance, involves writing programs that store, retrieve, and manipulate data for databases. Web development entails building applications that run over the Internet or over an organization’s Intranet. Programmers may also specialize in one or more computer languages. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, some job growth in the field may stem from new applications for mobile devices and for the healthcare industry.
Internship opportunities with computer programming, database technology, tech-based, and web-based companies are often available in conjunction with Bachelor’s degree programs. As well, some companies and consulting firms provide intensive training programs for their new-hires.
Computer programmers do not need to be licensed to work in the field. However, the profession does offer several voluntary certifications. The Institute for Certification of Computer Professionals confers the Certified Computing Professional and Associate Computing Professional designations. Microsoft offers a variety of credentials, including Microsoft Certified Application Developer and Microsoft Certified Solution Developer.
Product vendors and software firms commonly require individuals to complete a certification program to work with their products.
Because the technology industry is constantly evolving, individuals working in the field need to keep up with industry trends and innovations. To remain competitive, computer programmers must build competency in emerging languages and in updated versions of existing languages. An advanced degree may qualify programmers for more senior roles as software developers, computer systems analysts, or information systems managers.
Graduates with a Master’s degree in computer science are typically proficient in the following skills:
Utilizing software development tools to design, code, test, and debug programs
Designing and implementing algorithms
Leveraging existing software to develop new software systems
How to become a Computer Programmer
There is more than a single path to becoming a computer programmer.
A four-year Bachelor’s degree is preferred by many employers, as it demonstrates a broad range of experience with programming languages and concepts and exhibits problem-solving skills that are vital in this occupation. Most computer programming degrees, however, exist at the Associate degree level. Programming, therefore, is included as an integral component of Bachelor’s programs in related areas, such as computer science, software engineering, information technology, information systems security, and computer engineering.
An undergraduate degree in computer science is a common choice for prospective programmers. Students who earn a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) in this discipline learn the fundamentals of computer programming, as well as related mathematical and scientific principles. Coursework typically includes the design and analysis of algorithms; theory and techniques of discrete mathematics; computer organization and architecture; software development; and computer networks and internet-based communication.
Some individuals enter the computer programming field without formal education. Many of these self-taught programmers become very proficient and successful. In the absence of a degree, they may need to develop substantial specialized experience or expertise.
Because technology is constantly evolving, programmers must frequently update their knowledge and skills by taking courses sponsored by their employers or offered through colleges and universities.
Regardless of their educational track, programmers must be particularly logical and detail-oriented thinkers; able to work with abstract concepts and patiently conduct precise technical analyses, sometimes under pressure and tight deadlines.
There is one other necessary competency that is often forgotten by students considering programming as a career. It is not a particular programming language. It is the understanding of people and the ability to interact directly with users and non-technical personnel. There are frequently times when programmers need to explain to others why they can or cannot do something. They need to offer solutions, take direction, take criticism, listen to arguments, make apologies, and accept apologies. Programmers who learn the skill of communicating and marry that with their technical skill are the ones that stand out and thrive.