A career as a computer programmer is rewarding in that it offers high pay and various opportunities for professional growth.
But because computer programming is such a competitive and specialized field, students are required to earn a certificate or degree to be considered qualified and competitive job candidates in today’s job market.
Computer Programming Degree
To be considered by hiring managers, those pursuing a computer programming career are generally expected to hold at least a bachelor’s degree in their field. Of course, many different majors will suffice and are dependent upon a student’s career goals. When choosing what type of bachelor’s degree to earn for a computer programming job, students should first outline their career goals to choose the proper specializations in their degree.
Many other bachelor’s degrees will prepare students for a career in computer programming. Many universities offer similar bachelor’s degrees that provide a background in computing, with different names or further specializations. Popular options include computer science and/computer engineering.
Talking with a career counselor and other professionals available to students in the university’s resource center can help students narrow down the classes, majors, and minors to pursue.
Many computer programmers receive graduate or master’s degrees to increase their experience, earnings, or competitiveness in the job market. While it is not necessary to earn a graduate degree to become a computer programmer, specific jobs require a higher level of specialization for candidates to excel in the position.
Bachelor’s degrees for computer programming jobs take roughly four years to complete. They can cost anywhere between $20,000 and $100,000+ depending on the university, whether the program is an online computer programming degree, and other requirements specific to the degree.
While tuition for a degree in computer programming may be expensive, it certainly pays for itself over time. Computer programmers earn an average of $89,190 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Moreover, there are many different opportunities for growth in adjacent careers available to successful computer programmers.
These options are discussed in greater detail later in this guide.
How to Become a Computer Programmer
There are a few different paths to becoming a computer programmer. Most students pursue a bachelor’s degree in science and major in a relevant area, such as computer science or mathematics.
Other students obtain a certificate or attend a computer programming bootcamp to prepare themselves for a career in computer programming.
Some students choose to pursue an associate’s degree in computer programming from a community college.
Earning a bachelor’s degree is the most comprehensive path to becoming a programmer. Bachelor’s degrees geared toward computer programming provide students with an industry-standard curriculum and high-caliber professors who are experts in their field.
However, bachelor’s degrees are also the most time-consuming and cost-prohibitive route to becoming a computer programmer. Therefore, they are not an option for everyone. Instead, many students also choose to earn a certificate, attend a bootcamp, or earn an associate’s degree in computer programming.
Certificates and bootcamps often meet the requirements to become a computer programmer, as long as the student has clearly outlined their career goals. Since certificates and bootcamps are more specialized than a bachelor’s degree in computer programming, it is important to ensure that the curriculum matches the specific career that a student is working toward.
An associate’s degree can also fulfill the job requirements to become a computer programmer, especially if the student gains experience.
Computer programming certificates, bootcamps, and associate’s degrees require much less time commitment. Students can complete most computer programming certificates in one year or less. Some certificates can even be completed in one month.
Earning an associate’s degree takes about two years in total. If a student has existing credits from another institution, these may transfer and count toward the total classes needed for graduation.
Bootcamps and certificates for becoming a computer programmer are also much more affordable. The average cost of a coding bootcamp comes in at about $13,000, while computer coding certificates offer a much wider range of cost—from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Associate’s degrees can cost as little as $3,000.
Students should research any scholarship opportunities before enrolling in a computer programming degree, certificate, or bootcamp. Scholarships are sometimes available to qualified students that can mitigate the cost of the education.
Certificates also provide continuing education opportunities for existing computer programming professionals.
Certificates can also be a worthwhile route for professionals who already have computer programming experience and are seeking to stay up to date on trends or dive deeper into a specialization.
Bachelor’s degrees, associate’s degrees, bootcamps, and certificates are available for campus-based and online learning. This flexibility has drawn in more students interested in becoming computer programmers, especially those looking to pivot in their career or have other time commitments, such as raising a family.
What Does a Computer Programmer Do?
Computer programmers translate the code written for the web, software, and other development projects into a readable language for computers.
This translation brings the program to life and enables user interaction with the interface. Computer programmers not only write but also test these programs.
Computer programmers can develop anything from video games to security needed for online banking. Ensuring that these programs follow best practices and top-of-the-line security measures is an essential part of a computer programmer’s job description.
Computer Programmer Job Description
Individuals who earn a degree in computer programming enjoy an array of options available to them.
There are many career paths that one can follow upon earning a degree in computer programming. One of the most appealing attributes to a job as a computer programmer is the availability to work in various industries—from cutting-edge tech companies to nonprofits, government, and more.
Computer programmers develop, maintain, and test computer programs. As the age of information continues and the world relies more and more on technology, there continues to be an increase in the need for computer programmers.
Once computer programmers gain experience in their field, they become qualified to grow their careers in many different directions.
Experienced computer programmers are often found in fields such as:
- Software development: Developing software can be a lucrative and intellectually engaging career option for computer programmers. Payscale reports the average salary for a software developer is $72,426 per year.
- Web development: As companies continue to migrate into the online space, web developers enjoy the opportunity to work in almost any industry imaginable. Web development is another lucrative career option with an average salary of $60,117, according to PayScale.
- Database development: Maintaining the security and operational functions of databases is the focus of database developers. Database development pays an average of $75,513 per year, according to PayScale.
- Mobile app development: Another career on the rise as companies look to tech for their survival, the average salary of a mobile app developer comes in at $72,975, according to PayScale.
- Computer systems engineering: Network and administration maintenance is the main focus of a computer systems engineer. PayScale reports that the average annual salary for a computer systems engineer is $80,445.
- Software engineering: Computer software engineers enjoy a wide variety of work, from development and design to maintenance, to improving existing software. And software engineering pays well, too—an average of $87,293 per year, according to PayScale.
- Systems analyst: these tech gurus do more than solve problems—they identify the criteria to evaluate computer systems. And their hard work pays off, with an average annual salary of $66,813, according to PayScale.
Becoming a computer programmer offers graduates the ability to grow in their careers in many different exciting directions. Gaining experience as a computer programmer is a transferable skill. It provides professionals with exposure to the technology field that helps narrow down the best fit for growth in their career.
Computer programming is a rewarding and lucrative career path for those who enjoy solving technical problems and maintaining high-level computer operating systems. There are a variety of jobs available, too—computer programmers can often work in any industry they desire since most companies have joined the digital space (and will continue to).
Not only is computer programming satisfying and lucrative, but it also offers flexibility to work remotely from anywhere in the world. This flexibility, along with intellectual stimulation and multi-industry job opportunities, adds to the profession’s high ranking in job satisfaction. In fact, US News ranked computer programming as the 11th most satisfying job.
Moreover, computer programming jobs are in high demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that computer programming jobs are expected to grow by 9 percent in the next decade.