What Is a Computer Programmer? Definition and Career Advice

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 14 July 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Computer programming is one of the fastest-growing careers that offer lots of opportunities to work in a wide array of challenging settings and earn a good salary. Computer programmers need to know multiple programming languages and must be willing to regularly update their skills. Knowing more about this profession will help you determine if this could be the right career option for you. In this article, we explore what is a computer programmer, what they do and how to become one.

What is a computer programmer?

A computer programmer is a professional who writes code in different programming languages to create functional websites, web applications and software programs. The programmer may also edit, update, expand and test existing code to improve it. Computer programmers may work as part of a software development team or as independent workers. They are also known as a computer developer or computer coder. Generally, these professionals work in collaboration with software developers.

As part of their job, computer programmers need to use several programming languages, such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP, Java, C++, C#, ASP.NET and SQL. They may also use Python, Ruby, Swift and Rust. As a programmer, you can specialise in application programming or systems programming. You will write, optimise and customise code for applications and operating systems, improve the compatibility between the two and ensure that they function as required. Additionally, you will carry out quality assurance testing, detect vulnerabilities, glitches or bugs and resolve those issues with software updates or fixes.

Related: What Is C Programming Language? Benefits and Career Advice

How to become a computer programmer

There are several ways in which you can become a computer programmer, but the most traditional path is as follows:

1. Get a degree in computer programming

A college degree is not absolutely essential for becoming a computer programmer. Some of the most competent programmers developed their skills and knowledge through self-study or mentorship with more experienced programmers. However, a bachelor's degree in computer science, mathematics or Information systems will educate you in key concepts and theories that you might find too difficult or time-consuming to learn on your own.

Research different accredited colleges and the computer programming courses that they offer. Find out about the course duration and the course fees. Join the course and complete the program.

2. Hone your programming skills

As a computer programmer, you will be expected to have a passion for coding and programming, as well as knowledge of some of the most important concepts. You can learn many of these from school, but there are many resources like books and websites available for you to learn how to program on your own time. Many lessons are available for free. It is likely beneficial to learn concepts on your own to have a foundation for further education later on.

3. Choose an area of specialisation

At some point, you will have to decide on an area to specialise in. With so many different programming languages and areas of specialisation, you will have to narrow your focus somewhat to ensure your ability to achieve the level of proficiency required in most positions.

Select a programming language you like or select one that is high in demand, and get proficient in it. Create programs and applications using it. You can use them later to show employers your coding expertise. Whichever path you decide on, it would probably be best to focus your efforts on mastering a single language. Mastery of one language is preferable to having only some knowledge of several different languages and will result in a higher likelihood of getting a job in a relevant industry.

4. Research the job market

Read job advertisements and note what employers seek in computer programming candidates. Find out which skills and programming languages are most in demand.

5. Prepare your resume and cover letter

Create templates that you can customise for each job application. Make sure you come across as professional in both your resume and cover letter. Also, check for any grammatical errors or spelling mistakes in your resume and cover letter.

6. Send job applications

Apply for a job in the way the employer has specifically instructed. If they do not want email attachments, send them links to your website or work portfolio.

7. Go for job interviews

Dress neatly and prepare well for a job interview. Have confidence in yourself and your abilities. Prepare a list of questions you want to ask the interviewer about their company and the job position.

8. Take a job offer

Consider the type of work you will get to do rather than the salary when accepting a job offer. Ideally, you want a job that will allow you to expand your skills and work on challenging projects.

Can anyone be a computer programmer?

Anyone can become a computer programmer with or without formal training, provided they are interested in programming and are willing to put in the time to learn different programming languages. However, from the employment perspective, it might be to your benefit to get a formal degree from an accredited college. Many of the top IT companies prefer to hire job applicants with a bachelor's degree in a related field.

If you do not have a formal degree but still want to work in the computer programming field, you will need to be resourceful and self-reliant. Consider creating self-directed websites, web applications and programs to show off your coding skills to prospective clients. Apply to programming jobs on sites like Indeed. Interact with other programmers at local events, on social media and in online forums. Participate in programming workshops and seminars. Build a network of programming industry professionals and let your contacts know that you are open to a job offer.

Is it hard to become a computer programmer?

It can be hard to become a computer programmer. Learning a programming language is similar to learning a foreign language. It can take time, but it is definitely possible to learn a programming language with patience and hard work. Try to learn a little every day and focus on mastering one language at a time, rather than attempting to learn several different ones at once.

The programming field is vast and constantly evolving. So, you must update your programming skills regularly and take the time to learn new languages. To stay relevant in this profession, it is essential to be a lifelong learner. Read books on programming and get instructed in important concepts from various free or paid online resources. Practise coding using different, faster and more innovative approaches. Narrow your focus to specialise in a specific area.

Related: How To Become a Web Developer

How long does it take to become a computer programmer?

The length of time it can take to become a computer programmer depends on your learning ability and the career path you choose to take. If you decide to do a bachelor's degree in computer programming, it will take you four years to complete the course. Apart from formal learning, you will need to put in additional time to study and practise programming skills on your own. Most programmers will have to study and practise for five years or more before they can take on complex projects.

What do entry-level computer programmers do?

The work that entry-level computer programmers may do depends on what the company assigns to them. Some companies will have clearcut expectations from their new hires, while the job responsibilities might be less well-defined in other companies. As an entry-level computer programmer, you might work under the supervision of a senior programmer or as part of a software development team. You might do coding work using HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Java and C++. You might conduct system and software testing, check the code for errors and troubleshoot problems. You might also need to undertake administrative tasks and attend team meetings.

Related: Similarities and Differences Between C++ and Java

What skills do you need to be a computer programmer?

To become a computer programmer, you need to have the following skills:

  • Knowledge of one or more programming languages

  • Ability to code proficiently

  • Logical thinking

  • Creative thinking

  • Critical thinking

  • Attention to detail

  • Organisational ability

  • Strong memory

  • Patience and determination

  • Ability to communicate clearly

  • Ability to collaborate with other professionals

  • Ability to work independently

  • Ability to multi-task

  • Troubleshooting ability

  • Problem-solving ability

Related: Technical Skills: Definitions and Examples

What is the salary of a computer programmer?

The average base salary of a computer programmer is ₹3,49,549 per year. The salary range will vary according to your educational qualifications, experience, skills, specialisation, job position and company. Your geographical location can also make a difference in the salary you receive.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing.

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