How To Become a Computer Programmer

Programmers craft everything from operating systems to software applications used on every device. There are many career opportunities that require programming knowledge and experience and many degree options to learn these essential skills. Find out how to become a computer programmer today by exploring the degree requirements, salary expectations, and career advancement opportunities.

What Does a Computer Programmer Do?

The work of a computer programmer is to take the design from a software engineer and convert it into a logical series of instructions that a computer can follow, otherwise known as writing programs. Computer programmers then use programming languages to code these instructions, common languages being Python or C++. The primary goal of a computer programmer is to write various programs.

Computer programmers may also work with existing programs to modify, repair, or update them. For larger projects, computer programmers may use computer-assisted software engineering (CASE) to help automate the coding process. For smaller environments, computer programmers may use “programmer environments” that help increase productivity. For computer programmers to produce more reliable, consistent, and productive programs, some use libraries of basic code that can be customized or modified to a specific application.

Many computer programmers have begun assuming some of the responsibilities once designated to software engineers, thanks to advancements in software design and the automation of some programming functions.

Work Environment

The work environment of a computer programmer is usually a professional office. This field has a growing number of remote and hybrid work opportunities. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), approximately 2% of programmers are self-employed professionals.

Though the typical work week for a computer programmer is 40 hours, some may work 50 hours a week. Computer programmers may experience back discomfort, eyestrain, and hand or wrist problems due to long periods spent at the computer. Some computer programmers who travel to various work locations may also have to consider their travel time when calculating the hours they work in a week.

How Long Does It Take To Become a Computer Programmer?

The first step in the process of how to become a computer programmer is to train for the position. For most job seekers, this means enrolling in a bachelor’s degree in computer programming. In most cases, a job seeker can train to become a programmer in about four years. There are, however, opportunities to train in one or two years. Explore the degree options, common courses, and other features of this career pathway.

Degree Options

A bachelor’s degree is usually required for computer programmers. Some employers may also accept a two-year degree or certificate. Programmers up-to-date with the latest technology, as well as those with relevant work experience, are sought out by employers.

Some positions, particularly as a self-employed worker, don’t require any degree. For professionals looking to train without enrolling in a degree program, there are many short-course and boot camp opportunities for online, flexible training.

Many employers encourage a master’s degree in computer programming for senior-level positions and management opportunities. Postgraduate education can be completed fully online for a flexible, convenient learning environment for professionals to advance their career opportunities.

Some programmers will be asked by their employers to partake in development seminars or continuing education classes to keep up with technological advances and any other emerging programs. Vendors and software firms usually offer certification programs that can help professionals find employment.

Common Courses

Many computer programmers have degrees in information systems, mathematics, and computer science. Others choose degrees in accounting, finance, or other areas of business.

Bachelor’s degree programs in programming include many specialized courses along with general education requirements. Here are a few examples of programming classes that are featured in bachelor’s degree programs:

  • Data structures
  • Enterprise application programming
  • Java programming
  • Cybersecurity
  • Cloud computing
  • Foundations of operating systems

Not every program covers these topics, so a prospective student learning how to become a computer programmer needs to compare course requirements and offerings before enrolling in a bachelor’s degree program. Participation in internships and relevant programming skills are extremely important to employers when hiring computer programmers. Most degrees feature hands-on programming opportunities to tackle real-world problems before graduation.

Essential Skills

Problem-solving skills, creativity, working well with abstract concepts, communication skills, and being able to work in teams are essential qualifications for computer programmers. Many positions require professionals to be detail-oriented, capable of handling multiple projects, and meeting deadlines independently. For industry professionals who eventually want to advance to managerial positions, business skills are also an important qualification.

Computer Programmer Salary and Job Outlook

There are about 152,610 computer programmer positions, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Many computer programmers work for computer system designers and other related services, while others work for software publishers, research centers, colleges, and computer manufacturers.

Average Salary

According to BLS, the median pay for programmers was $93,000 in 2021. The top 10% of earners had an annual wage of about $155,240, while the lowest 10% of annual wages were $47,560 and under. The middle 50% earned between $62,840 and $122,600, according to BLS data.

Job Outlook

BLS projections show a decline of approximately 18,300 jobs between 2020 and 2030, which is about a 10% decline. Job prospects will be best for computer programmers with a bachelor’s degree and relevant work experience.

Due to people learning how to write and implement their own programs, offshore outsourcing, and advancements in programming language and tools, jobs for computer programmers will decline.

Since programs are transmitted digitally, programmers can work anywhere in the world, giving employers the incentive to hire workers in countries for lower wages. The work of a computer programmer can be made routine once a programming language is mastered, meaning the need for professionals who are localized and specialized in the industry will lessen. Local programmers will still be necessary for many employers for different circumstances.

Those who retire or leave the occupation will create jobs for incoming professionals. Programmers must also update their skills as much as possible due to changing technological advances and sophisticated tools that are quickly emerging. When applying for jobs, professionals looking for an extra edge should also obtain a language-specific or vendor-specific certification.

Advancement Opportunities

Advancement opportunities for industry professionals can include supervisory roles or promotion to a lead programmer position. Computer programmers can also advance to programmer-analysts or systems analysts after acquiring enough business experience. Some professionals can even become computer software engineers by becoming experienced with a language or operating system and receiving the necessary training.

Job opportunities will be best for programmers who are experts in a specific area so they can work as consultants for outside firms or be a more competitive candidate for specialist positions. Programming experts with many years of experience may advance more easily as well as have more job opportunities than those without such experience.

Explore Computer Programmer Degree Programs

Review the steps on how to become a computer programmer today. Explore bachelor’s degree programs in programming and related fields to follow this career pathway. These steps may help entry-level programmers move ahead or first-time job seekers launch a new career.


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Computer Programmers

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Computer Programmer Occupational Employment and Wages

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