How to Become a Computer Programmer

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Updated December 22, 2022

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Computer programmers write the code behind websites, software, and applications. Discover what steps you can take to enter this foundational field and succeed in the profession.

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Computer programming is essential for the development of computer applications and software. As our reliance on computers grows and our technological capabilities increase, programming will only become more important.

Programmers can pursue careers in many tech sectors, including the fast-growing development field. According to the Developer Nation Pulse Report, there were 24.3 million developers as of 2021. By 2030, that number could reach 45 million.

Use our guide to explore the required steps to become a computer programmer and learn how aspiring programmers can make their mark.

What Is a Computer Programmer?

Computer programmers write the code that turns designs into functional software and applications. Programmers typically work with software developers and engineers, helping to create their visions. They program in various languages, test their code, and troubleshoot.

Computer programmers can specialize in specific operating systems and platforms. They can also concentrate on areas like mobile applications and cybersecurity.

Many professionals work in offices or remotely in the computer systems design services industry. Others find specialized work in industries such as finance and manufacturing.

Education Requirements for Computer Programmers

Education requirements for computer programmers typically include a bachelor's degree. According to O*Net Online, however, some professionals can start working with an associate degree. Bachelor's programs usually take four years to complete, while associate programs take about two years.

Computer programmers can come from diverse academic backgrounds, though many pursue computer science or a related major. Bachelor's and associate computer science programs cover programming and computing fundamentals.

Programmers often learn coding skills in other ways as well. For example, they can build development skills via self-study and coding bootcamps.

The best coding bootcamps help graduates qualify for entry-level computer programming positions. These accelerated programs can lead to advanced programmer positions when paired with computer-related degrees. Computer programmers also use bootcamps, college programs, and self-study for continuing education and professional development.

Experience Requirements for Computer Programmers

Experience requirements to become a computer programmer vary by role and employer. While some entry-level roles accept candidates with little or no experience, even recent graduates often have experience from internships. Many new graduates also boast portfolios filled with projects that show their experience and skills.

To qualify for higher-level roles, programmers may need several years of relevant experience. In some cases, extensive experience can substitute for higher levels of education. Experienced computer programmers can also access more advanced professions, such as software development.

Certifications for Computer Programmers

Some employers require computer programmers to hold certifications in certain programming languages or vendor products. Certifications confirm a professional's experience and expertise in a particular field.

People who meet the exam criteria can pursue certifications like those below at any point in their careers.

Certified Associate in Python Programming: Professionals with intermediate-level Python coding skills may qualify for this certification. The credential focuses on object-oriented programming. Exam topics cover advanced coding concepts, modeling, and analysis.

AWS Certified Developer - Associate: This certification demonstrates proficiency in AWS services and architecture. Candidates should know how to create, deploy, and debug cloud-based applications with AWS.

C++ Certified Associate Programmer Certification: This certification validates a professional's understanding of C++ programming basics. The exam tests knowledge of C++ syntax and semantics, along with object-oriented programming fundamentals.

How Do I Become a Computer Programmer?

Computer programmers come from varying educational backgrounds, but usually have at least a bachelor's degree. Professional experience can provide a resume boost, especially for programmers without a bachelor's.

Aspiring programmers usually earn degrees in computer science or a related discipline like mathematics. Job-seekers should know how to code in at least one language. Depending on the employer, computer programmers may need expertise with specific operating systems and vendor technologies.

Computer programmers must stay up to date in a fast-changing industry. Continuing education can help these professionals upgrade their skills.

Steps to Becoming a Computer Programmer

Bachelor's Degree Path

  • Earn a Bachelor's Degree: Future programmers can pursue many computer-related majors, but a computer science bachelor's is common. These programs cover programming fundamentals. Learners can also take programming electives for more in-depth training.
  • Complete an Internship: Many bachelor's programs feature internships in their latter halves. These experiences provide on-the-job training and valuable mentorship opportunities.
  • Build a Portfolio: Aspiring programmers should build a portfolio of projects from their program and internships. This portfolio can showcase programming skills and expertise to potential employers.
  • Pursue Professional Certification: Employers may require or prefer programmers to hold professional certifications. These credentials help job-seekers prove their skills in certain coding languages and technologies.

Associate Degree Path

  • Complete an Associate Degree: Computer-related associate programs usually cover programming basics. These programs feature fewer specializations and internships than bachelor's programs. However, students may still find some opportunities in these areas.
  • Start an Entry-Level IT Position: Computer programmers can build valuable experience via entry-level IT positions. For example, associate degree-holders may qualify to become technical or support specialists. Entry-level professionals can learn about the development and coding process on the job.
  • Finish a Bootcamp: Bootcamps offer condensed, specialized training in many areas. These programs can elevate a professional's skills in a short period of time. Some even feature internships.
  • Pursue Professional Certification.

Should I Become a Computer Programmer?

Aspiring computer programmers should weigh the profession's pros and cons. Computer programmers play an important role in web, software, and application development. These professionals earn strong wages, but their evolving role may create challenges for entry-level professionals.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), computer programmers made a median annual wage of $93,000 as of May 2021, more than twice the median for all occupations. However, the BLS projects a 10% employment decline in the field between 2021 and 2031. This trend may lead to fewer available entry-level positions.

As a result, many computer programmers have taken on more strategic planning roles. Many also apply their programming skills to junior development or analysis positions.

The Job Hunt

Computer programmers can find work in many ways. Students often begin the process before graduation, leveraging their schools' career services support. Some programmers receive job offers at their college internship sites. Many schools host career fairs and job boards that can lead to employment as well.

Other options include attending industry conferences and community events, working with a field mentor, and joining a professional association. Industry organizations often offer job boards and professional networks that can help aspiring programmers. When competing for jobs, programming candidates need to find creative ways to stand out.

The following list highlights some of the top job boards in the field.

LinkedIn: LinkedIn connects millions of members and organizations in one network. Job-seekers can upload their profiles and find information on employers. LinkedIn also provides professional development resources.

Dice: Dice lists tech-related job postings for more than 4.5 million members. The organization also offers professional advice, insights, and development resources.

ACM Career & Job Center: The Association for Computing Machinery brings together thousands of employers and job-seekers in the computing field. Candidates can search for jobs, find career advice, and develop their expertise.

CrunchBoard: TechCrunch's job board hosts developer-related job postings from around the world. Job-seekers can sort listings by category and receive alerts for verified job posts in their field.

Remote OK: Remote OK hosts thousands of job postings for remote developers and engineers. Job-seekers can filter results by location, position type, salary, and benefits.

Explore Degree Programs in Computer Programming

FAQ About How to Become a Computer Programmer

  • What are the educational requirements for computer programming?

    Educational requirements for computer programming vary by employer and position. In general, computer programmers need an associate degree or a bachelor's degree. These professionals typically major in computer science or a related field.

  • Can I learn how to be a computer programmer without a degree?

    Yes. While computer programmers usually need a degree, some professionals follow alternative paths. For example, coding bootcamps provide accelerated training in programming and may lead to entry-level employment.

  • What other qualifications do you need to become a computer programmer?

    Along with a degree, computer programmers may need experience and industry certification. Certifications showcase a professional's expertise in certain coding languages and vendor-specific technologies. For example, employers that use a specific technology may require certifications in that field.

  • How long does it take to become a computer programmer?

    It often takes 2-4 years to become a computer programmer, but timelines can vary. A two-year associate or four-year bachelor's degree can help programmers land their first jobs. Professionals may need more time to gain experience for higher-level positions.


Page last reviewed on Nov 15, 2022

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