Computer Programmer Career and Salary Outlook

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Updated December 14, 2022

Computer programmers face a challenging career outlook. Find out more about how this profession is changing and how you can develop your computer programmer career.

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Computer programmers write and test the code that makes computers work. They are the bridge between software engineers and end users, turning designs into functional tools.

The first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace, called her work "poetical science." As of 2022, about 31.1 million computer programmers worldwide use this "poetical science" in their jobs, according to a report from Developer Nation. These professionals can earn much-higher-than-average wages, and they work across a variety of industries.

Ready to learn more about a computer programmer career? Read on to find out what it's like to be a computer programmer, including information about available jobs, typical requirements, and common responsibilities.

What Does a Computer Programmer Do?

A computer programmer's main goals are designing, modifying, testing, and documenting software that comprises computer programs. To do this work, programmers use computer languages such as Java, Python, and SQL to write code.

Generally speaking, computer programming careers fall into three categories: system programming, applications programming, and database management systems.

System programmers write programs used in operating systems like Windows or Linux. Application programmers work in business operations, developing software for specific tasks like payroll processing. Database managers develop programs to gather organizations' data — including personnel, finances, and inventory information — into databases.

Computer programmers work alongside software engineers and developers and find employment in sectors like computer science, finance, manufacturing, and insurance. Many of these professionals develop and use emerging technologies, helping advance the field.

How Much Does a Computer Programmer Make?

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), computer programmers earned a median annual salary of $93,000 in 2021.

Factors that can influence earning potential include geographic location, experience, and career specialization. For example, average salaries are higher for programmers in major metropolitan areas like Washington, D.C. or San Francisco, according to the BLS.

Median Annual Salary of Computer Programmers, 2021


$93,000

Source: BLS

Computer Programmer Salary by Experience

As in most professions, computer programmers tend to earn higher salaries as they accrue experience. Computer programmers with ten or more years on the job earn average salaries almost 30% higher than their entry-level colleagues.

Computer Programmer Salary by Education

Most technology careers require extensive field knowledge. Computer programming is no different, and in this profession, programming degree-holders may command higher salaries and land jobs more easily than their coworkers without degrees.

Advanced degrees in computer science or a math-related master's degree can position computer programmers for leadership or management roles. According to the BLS, attending a bootcamp or earning an industry-recognized certification can also help programmers advance in their careers.


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Average Salary for Computer Programmers by Location

Computer programmers in urban regions typically earn higher average wages than their rural counterparts. However, these locations also feature some of the highest costs of living in the nation.

For instance, World Population Review's cost of living index reveals Washington, California, and Massachusetts — some of the states that pay the highest average computer programmer salaries — all have higher-than-average costs of living. Although computer programmers in these states earn more, they also spend more on housing, groceries, transportation, healthcare, and other costs.

As work-from-home options continue to grow, new computer programmers may be able to live in lower-cost regions such as New Hampshire, Montana, or Kentucky while working for employers based in larger cities.

Top-Paying Metropolitan Areas for Computer Programmers, 2021
State Average Annual Wage Percent Above the Median Annual Wage

San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA

$144,130

55%

San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA

$126,220

35.7%

Dalton, GA

$123,500

32.8%

Boulder, CO

$118,970

27.9%

Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, D.C.-VA-MD-WV

$117,870

26.7%

Source: BLS

Top-Paying States for Computer Programmers, 2021
State Number of Computer Programmers Employed Average Annual Wage

Washington

3,850

$183,610

California

23,960

$114,740

Virginia

4,010

$112,890

Washington, D.C.

840

$112,120

Massachusetts

N/A

$108,980

Source: BLS

Career Outlook for Computer Programmers

While computer programmers' average salaries are higher than the national average wage, this field does not boast a positive career outlook. Jobs in this field are quickly automating or moving abroad. Similar professionals like computer systems analysts and web developers are also taking on a larger share of the work once reserved specifically for computer programmers.

In the face of this decline, aspiring computer programmers may be able to apply their skills in the growing fields of information security or software development.

Employment Outlook for Computer Programmers, 2021-2031


-10%

Source: BLS

Best Locations for Computer Programmers

Highly populated states such as California and New York employ the largest numbers of computer programmers. Nevertheless, in less densely populated states with large rural expanses, computer programmer jobs are projected to grow at faster-than-average rates.

Work-from-home and freelance opportunities may account for much of this growth. These kinds of working arrangements grew more popular during the COVID-19 pandemic and often continue to be feasible today. Still, aspiring technology professionals typically cluster in high-tech regions such as California's Silicon Valley or the New York City area.

Top-Employing States for Computer Programmers, 2021
Top-Employing States Number of Computer Programmers Employed Average Annual Wage

California

23,960

$114,740

Texas

14,220

$80,950

New York

12,610

$93,510

Florida

7,110

$83,040

New Jersey

6,520

$107,480

Source:BLS

States With the Greatest Projected Increase in Employment for Computer Programmers, 2018-28
State Percent Projected Change, 2018-28 Average Annual Openings

Colorado

23.2%

250

Washington

19.5%

650

Wyoming

11.8%

10

Idaho

10.8%

50

Utah

10.2%

210

Source: Projections Central

Career Opportunities for Computer Programmers

As software developers and engineers take up computer programming tasks, computer programmers may find career stability by applying their talents to jobs in software development or software engineering.

Entry-level software developers usually need a bachelor's degree in a relevant field. Mid- and senior-level roles may require extensive experience, graduate education, or a combination of bootcamps and industry certifications.

Software engineers typically hold a bachelor's degree in a tech-related field and have knowledge of multiple computer languages. Industry certifications or bootcamps can help software engineers specialize their expertise and qualify for niche roles.

Questions About Careers in Computer Programming

  • Is computer programming a good career?

    According to the BLS, computer programmers earn an average salary of $93,000, more than double the national median wage. It is, however, a shrinking workforce: The BLS projects total positions in the field will shrink 10% between 2021 and 2031.

  • Are computer programmers in demand?

    The skills computer programmers use, including writing code to help computers run, are in demand. However, demand for this career in the U.S. is in decline because of contemporary trends in employment. Software engineering and development jobs — roles which require similar skills — are projected to continue growing from 2021 to 2031, according to the BLS.

  • What is the starting salary for computer programming jobs?

    How much does a computer programmer make? Payscale data from December 2022 shows that entry-level computer programmers earn $60,200 per year. According to the BLS, computer programmers overall made an average annual salary of $93,000 as of 2021.

  • Where are computer programmers paid the most?

    2021 BLS data shows that the San Jose and San Francisco metro areas pay the highest average computer programmer salaries at the regional level, while Washington State offers the highest average statewide salary for these professionals. Generally speaking, urban areas with thriving tech industries tend to outperform other regions.

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