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Computer Programmer Job Description, Salary and Career Path

Computer programmers edit, update and implement code for software applications. They also assist software engineers in developing new software. Click "play" to watch computer programmer career video.

Posted 2010

Computer programming job description: Computer programmers modify, update, expand and implement software applications. Those assigned to large projects often use software tools that automate certain aspects of coding and allow them to focus on writing more complex or customized code. Computer programmers that work on smaller projects may use applications that streamline their workflow by providing provide code generation, debugging functionality and testing utilities. Programmers may also refer to existing libraries of code and modify or customize certain elements to create new applications.

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Following new software technology and automation developments, computer programmers are increasingly taking on tasks that were once limited to software engineers. Some of them collaborate with software engineers and assist them in understanding and identifying the needs of end users in order to develop new software.

Computer Programmers Job Summary

  • Most employers prefer candidates with a degree in computer science, software engineering or computer information systems, along with relevant work experience.
  • Software certification gives computer programmers a competitive advantage and more employment opportunities.
  • Due to the changing nature of computer technology, employers look for candidates with the latest software skills and abilities.
  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment in this field is expected to decline slowly due to the outsourcing of programmer jobs to other countries.

Work Environment for Computer Programmers

Most computer programmers work in clean, comfortable offices that house computer equipment. While most work at least 40 hours per week, some worked 50 or more hours per week. Many programmers work remotely and telecommute. Those working for software consulting firms may travel to meet with clients. Work-related injuries are rare in this occupation. However, because programmers spend long periods of time in from of a computer, they may experience back pain, eyestrain or carpal tunnel syndrome.

Education, Training and Licensing

Employers usually seek candidates that hold a bachelor’s degree in computer science, computer information systems, software engineering or a related field. For positions that involve more complex coding and development, some employers may give preference to applicants with a graduate degree. While many computer programmers hold a bachelor’s degree, some entry-level jobs may only call for certification or an associate’s degree.

Advanced computer programming skills and relevant work experience are required for many positions. Student can gain valuable experience through internships. In addition, many large computing and consulting companies provide training for new hires. Since computer technology is constantly changing, many computer programmers take continuing education courses offered by colleges, universities, training institutes, software companies and professional organizations. Programmers may also need specialized knowledge and skills directly related to the industry in which they work. For example, a programmer working in banking, accounting or finance should have knowledge and experience in this area.

Certification is available through a number of software companies and industry organizations, and can provide greater career opportunities as it demonstrates competency in a specific area.

Jobs Outlook and Salaries for Computer Programmers

According to research published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), computer programmers held approximately 367,880 jobs in May 2009. Most of these jobs were with computer systems design and related services companies as well as software publishers. Others were employed by various companies and enterprises, employment services firms, and colleges, universities and professional schools.

Employment in this field is forecasted by the BLS to decline slowly, decreasing by 3% from 2008 to 2018. This is due in part to the increase in offshore outsourcing of programming jobs to countries that have lower prevailing wages. The BLS reports that computer programmers are at higher risk of having their jobs outsourced compared to professionals whose work involves more complex information technology functions, such as software engineers.

BLS records for May 2009 indicate that the average annual wage for computer programmers was $74,690. The middle 50% of professionals in this field earned between $53,620 and $91,000. While the lowest 10% had a yearly salary of $40,640 or less, the highest 10% earned upwards of $113,380 annually.

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