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Computer Programmer Career Guide

How to become a computer programmer.

There are many exciting and successful careers in the IT industry, and one that has been consistently popular over the years is computer programming. This boom is seen from the increasing emphasis on cloud computing, big data, the “Internet of Things,” and demand for mobile computing. Computer programming is one of the occupations at the forefront of the IT industry, because there is constantly a demand for the latest and greatest software. Learn more about becoming a programmer and how a degree can prepare you for this exciting and lucrative career.

Hands on computer keyboard

What is a computer programmer?

Computer programmers use their skills to write and test the code that tell computers to accomplish certain tasks, such as retrieving data. 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. If there are bugs or issues, computer programmers test the applications and fix the problems within the code. Programmers 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. Recently, programmers are spending much of their time working with software-as-a-service, or SaaS programs.

What does a computer programmer do?

  • Write and test code for new programs. Programmers work closely with web developers and software developers. They are responsible for writing code for computer programs or mobile apps.
  • Update existing programs. Programmers also create and implement updates for existing programs to improve them. These updates can be used to debug software, change programming languages, improve coding based on new standards, and more.
  • Identify errors in code. Trial and error is key in coding, so computer programmers need to be able to troubleshoot parts of the program that aren't working correctly. Programmers who debug software are key for the future of programming, as they work with developers to ensure that software is fully functional.
  • Rewrite programs for different operating systems. Different computers and operating systems will require unique programming languages in order for code to work well. Programmers are responsible for adjusting code so it can work on different operating systems.
  • Create technical guides for programs. Programmers are often tasked with making the technical guides that explain to users, analysts, software engineers, or other developers how the computer program will work.
“After I graduated from WGU, I quickly got a much better job and nearly doubled my salary.” Eric Gardner
B.S. Information Technology

What education does a computer programmer need?

If you want to become a computer programmer, it's a good idea to earn an IT degree or computer programming degree. Getting a programming education has become more doable in recent years, with many universities offering the opportunity to earn an IT degree online. While most employers require a bachelor's degree, some will hire experienced individuals with an associate's degree or certificate. Computer science, software engineering, and other IT degree programs are ideal for a programming career. If you plan on applying your programming skills to a specific field, such as healthcare, it's a good idea to take some classes that will expand your knowledge of software in that industry.

While you are not required to be certified to become a computer programmer, earning computer programming certifications for specific languages may be helpful. Your best bet for career success is a combination of certifications and a programming degree, which make you a well-rounded employee with both the technical skills and "soft skills." Employers look for in a professional who's cut out to go beyond entry level.

Best bachelor's degrees for computer programming:

Software Engineering – B.S.

You're a creative and tech genius who wants the bigger...

You're a creative and tech genius who wants the...

You're a creative and tech genius who wants the bigger opportunities.

  • Time: 70% of graduates finish similar programs within 40 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,985 per 6-month term.

Certifications included in this program at no additional cost are:

  • CompTIA Project +
  • AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner 
  • ITIL®1 Foundation Certification

There are a wide variety of job titles this degree program prepares students for, including:

  • Software Engineer
  • Application Analyst
  • Software Tester
  • Systems Analyst
  • Multimedia Programmer

Software engineers are in-demand across organizations in every industry. Secure your future with a degree and additional certifications.

Computer Science – B.S.

Problem solvers and math lovers needed! Your task: ...

Problem solvers and math lovers needed! Your...

Problem solvers and math lovers needed! Your task:

Lay the groundwork for the computing breakthroughs that will enable tomorrow's technologies. 

  • Time: 67% of graduates in similar programs finish within 30 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,985 per 6-month term.
  • Transfer: Your previous college coursework and existing certifications may waive course requirements, helping you finish even faster.

You'll have the opportunity to earn these certifications:

  • Linux Essentials
  • Axelos ITIL Foundation

Professionals who need the skills a computer science degree provides include computer systems analysts, computer programmers, artificial intelligence specialists, software engineers, machine learning engineers, and more.

Information Technology – B.S.

Award-winning coursework and value-add certifications make this...

Award-winning coursework and value-add...

Award-winning coursework and value-add certifications make this online program a top choice.

  • Time: 71% of graduates finish within 30 months.
  • Tuition: $3,625 per 6-month term.
  • Certifications: Includes AWS, ITIL, LPI and CompTIA.

The LPI Linux Essentials and ITIL® Foundation Certification are central to this program. Included CompTIA certifications are A+, Network+, Security+, and Project+.

Web Application Deployment and Support Certificate – College of IT

Enhance your résumé and take a step in your educational journey...

Enhance your résumé and take a step in your...

Enhance your résumé and take a step in your educational journey with the help of the Web Application Deployment and Support Certificate from the College of IT, powered by WGU Academy.

  • Time: 5 months from start to finish.
  • Cost: $2,950 for the certificate.
  • Courses: 4 courses total in this program.

This certificate also offers two industry certifications, Linux Essentials and AWS Cloud, which will add extra power to your portfolio of experience. You are also guaranteed admission into a WGU College of IT degree program. This certificate will prepare you for the next step in your career.

This program is ideal for individuals who have 3-5 years of IT experience and a basic understanding of scripting languages and SQL. Prerequisites include: Experience with either Python or Java or another high-order OO (object-oriented) programming language along with Git, experience with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, and experience with a major DBMS (database management system) - MySQL (preferred), SQL Server, Oracle, MariaDB, etc.

Accelerated Information Technology Bachelor's and Master's Degree

Earn both your bachelor’s in IT and master’s in IT management at...

Earn both your bachelor’s in IT and master’s in...

Earn both your bachelor’s in IT and master’s in IT management at a faster pace with fewer courses

  • Time: Approximately 5 years.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,625 per 6-month term for the bachelor's degree; $3,940 per term for the master's portion..
  • Certifications: Includes AWS, ITIL, LPI and CompTIA.

The LPI Linux Essentials and ITIL® Foundation Certification are central to this program. Included CompTIA certifications are A+, Network+, Security+, and Project+.

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No need to wait for spring or fall semester. It's back-to-school time at WGU year-round. Get started by talking to an Enrollment Counselor today, and you'll be on your way to realizing your dream of a bachelor's or master's degree—sooner than you might think!

Learn about online college admissions at WGU.

Top certifications for computer programmers.

Top industry certifications along with a degree are often required by employers of computer programmers. That is why WGU offers valuable certifications with degree programs, at no extra cost. Learn more about certifications and how they add value to your résumé.

Linux LPI
CompTIA Logo
CIW Logo
Health information technician taking notes while looking at computer

What skills does a computer programmer need?

  • Analytical abilities
  • Troubleshooting skills
  • Concentration
  • Detail oriented
  • Proficiency in programming languages
  • Mathematical skills
  • Communication
  • Self-motivation
  • Writing abilities
  • Positive attitude
  • Team player

How much does a computer programmer make?


The average salary for computer programmers is $93,000 as of May 2021. Salaries typically start at about $50,000 with top earners making more than $155,240. Location, experience, and education levels all play a major part in your salary level.

What is the job outlook for computer programmers?


Job outlook for all computer occupations is expected to grow 11% by the year 2029, which is much faster than the national average. Technology is continuing to boom and programmers are in high demand as new programs regularly need to be developed to enhance operating systems. New software, upgrades, bug fixes, and more are regular needs for organizations involved in tech. Some computer programming positions are outsourced to other countries where labor is less expensive, and a bachelor’s degree can set you apart and ensure you have the credentials and skills employers are looking for.

Do I need a degree for computer programming?


Earning a bachelor's degree and industry certifications can be key in helping you become a computer programmer. While popular options for coding bootcamps and other programs abound, a bachelor's degree can demonstrate to your employer you have additional skills that qualify you for higher positions within an organization. A degree can set you apart from other professionals by showing your commitment to a program, and a degree program can often help you earn certifications that boost your résumé even more.

Interested in becoming a computer programmer?

Learn more about degree programs that can prepare you for this lucrative career.

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