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How to Become a Computer Programmer

5/25/2013 10:49 am

How to Become a Computer Programmer, pic of hands on keyboard

While there are many exciting careers in information technology, one that has been consistently popular over the years is computer programming. Computer programmers make up approximately 8 percent of the computer systems design industry, which, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is growing rapidly - there's a projected 72 percent employment growth between 2010 and 2020. Because there is constantly a demand for the latest and greatest software, computer programming can lead to a successful career in information technology.

What is a computer programmer?

Computer programmers use their skills to write code and create software programs that tell computers to accomplish certain tasks like retrieving data. They may also rewrite, debug, maintain and test these programs. Computer programmers use specific codes or computer languages, like Java and C++, to transform the program designs created by software developers and engineers into instructions that the computer can follow. They often reference code libraries to simplify their writing, and may build or use computer-assisted software engineering tools to automate the writing of some of the codes they use.

Competency Based Education

What certifications do I need?

If you want to become a computer programmer, it's a good idea to earn an IT degree. While most employers require a bachelor's degree, some will hire experienced individuals with an associate's degree or certificate. If you plan on applying your programming skills to a specific field, such as health care, it's a good idea to take some classes that will expand your knowledge of that industry. While you are not required to be certified to become a computer programmer, for specific programming languages may be helpful.

Should I have experience?

It's always a good idea to have prior experience, particularly in a specialized field like computer programming. There's a good chance for upward mobility if you cultivate your knowledge of computer systems and learn to collaborate. The computer systems design industry is changing rapidly, so being a computer programmer also means you need to be willing to constantly learn.

What is the job outlook like?

While the computer systems design industry is booming, computer programming is showing steady growth. Employment is expected to increase 12 percent between 2010 and 2020, which is about average. Computer programmers earn a median pay of approximately $71,000, and the career was named the No. 5 Best Technology Job and No. 13 job overall by U.S. News & World Report.


Western Governors University is a nonprofit, accredited, online university. WGU offers bachelor's and master's online degree programs in IT. Find out more about WGU's Degree Progams in IT

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