Most businesses depend on computers in order to carry out their daily operations, which may involve a number of different computer applications. Computer programmers are the people who write the applications that make computers useful. These highly skilled people are in high demand and should be for years to come. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, the expected job growth between 2010 and 2020 is about 12 percent, and the median pay in 2010 was $71,380.
Most companies require a minimum of a four-year degree in computer science, information technology or a related field. Many local colleges, universities and technical schools offer such programs at a reasonable cost, providing the basic skills necessary to become a good computer programmer. Professional training companies also offer targeted classes in block form, but a degree opens more doors.
Computer programmers must be logical thinkers, since they must take written specifications from business analysts and turn them into computer code. While there are some programmers who do not do well working with others, interpersonal communication skills are a must for most programmers, as they must work with analysts, project managers and users to make sure their programs work as they are supposed to.
Programmers write the code that becomes a computer program. While they write in languages that are largely English-like, special program called compilers turn that code into machine language, comprised of 1s and 0s. Coding a program typically takes time and requires an attention to the detailed specifications provided by the analyst. Organization on the part of the programmer is important, as a well-written program will be easier to trouble-shoot and maintain in the future.
Programmers typically perform alpha testing on their own programs before turning them over to a dedicated testing unit. Programmers typically perform unit testing, or testing of each program or module individually to ensure that it works as advertised. Then they perform the initial system or integration testing to ensure that the entire system works and produces the desired results. When the programmer is satisfied with her work, she passes it on to the testing group for more thorough testing.
Programs are not set in concrete, as business processes change and errors in coding are discovered. Maintenance is not the most favorite job for computer programmers, but it is a necessary one. Most companies place their programmer trainees with an experienced programmer doing maintenance. That way, they learn how to write good programs, as well as pitfalls to avoid. Maintenance is typically where a new programmer "pays her dues."
2016 Salary Information for Computer Programmers
Computer programmers earned a median annual salary of $79,840 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, computer programmers earned a 25th percentile salary of $61,100, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $103,690, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 294,900 people were employed in the U.S. as computer programmers.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor: Computer Programmers
- CareerPlanner: Computer Programmer Job Description
- JobDescriptions: Computer Programmer Job Description and Career Opportunities
- U.S. News: Best Jobs – Computer Programmer
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Computer Programmers
- Career Trend: Computer Programmers
Alan Hughes has more than 30 years of experience in IT including mainframes, programming, client/server, networks, project management, security, disaster recovery, information systems and hardware. He holds a master's degree in applied computer science and several certifications. He currently teaches information technology at the university level.