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What You Need to Know About Becoming a Computer Programmer or Software Developer

Are computers and mobile technology your passion? Are you analytical, focused and detail-oriented? If so, the route to becoming a computer programmer may well be wide open for you. There's more. If you particularly enjoy working with software such as phone games or word processing, you could even apply your computer programming skills to become a software developer. Here's the scoop on how to get started.

Educational Requirements

To become a computer programmer, you generally need a bachelor's degree in computer science or a bachelor's in a similar field such as computer and information systems. However, some employers do hire job applicants who have an associate degree. Because computer programmers work in a wide variety of industries such as social media, finance, education, defense and health care, it's a good idea to take courses related to that industry in addition to your degree requirements.

In typical cases, computer programmers focus on only a few programming languages, which they pick up while they are in college. After graduating, computer programmers should have the proven ability to write and test code, and fix errors.

Internships

Employers like to see work experience in their job candidates. For beginner computer programmers, this experience most frequently comes in the form of internships they do while in college. In some cases, companies even hire their own interns.

Certification

Having certification boosts the appeal of computer programmers when they apply for jobs. One example of a popular designation is Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD) certification, which signifies the ability to develop apps on a variety of Windows products. Sometimes, companies mandate that their programmers have certification in the products the companies use.

Continuing Education

Computers and technology are ever-evolving. To that end, the best job prospects go to computer programmers who keep up to date in their field. Continuing education includes seminars, courses to learn new programming languages, and workshops to get on top of computer programming language upgrades.

What Computer Programmers Do

In a nutshell, computer programmers write and troubleshoot code for software programs and computer applications. Many work as software developers, a job that entails a large dose of creativity. These developers create specific computer, smartphone and tablet applications such as games as well as the infrastructure that enables a computer or network to function. Common job titles for software developers include cloud app developer, software developer, mobile app developer and video game developer.
While the job outlook for computer programmers as a whole is expected to decrease 8 percent from 2014 to 2024, the picture is rosier for software developers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Software developer jobs should enjoy rapid, 17 percent growth in the same time period, due to the increased demand for computer software.

Pay

Computer programmers get paid well. The median yearly earnings for a programmer in 2014 were $77,550, according to the BLS. The top 10 percent earned in excess of $127,640, while the lowest 10 percent made less than $44,140.
The software developer set also gets paid handsomely--in fact, better than computer programmers do, as the BLS explains. The median wage in May 2014 for software app developers was $95,510, with the top 10 percent earning more than $149,480, and the bottom 10 percent making $56,310 or less. As for systems software developers, their median wage was $102,880, with the upper 10 percent bringing in more than $154,800 and their counterparts in the lowest 10 percent earning less than $63,250.

Atmosphere

One advantage of being a computer programmer is that you can work virtually anywhere, and many programmers telecommute. The job tends to involve a lot of solo work, but work with others on large projects is not uncommon.

The above considerations should have given you some idea of what it is like to work as a computer programmer or software developer. In many cases, you can earn your bachelor's degree in as little as two and a half years. That's an excellent investment of time for high earnings.

Photo credit: ruiwen via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

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