Career Detail

Computer Programmer
“The Brains Behind the Computer”
Computer programmers write, test, and maintain the detailed instructions that computers follow to perform their functions.
The Job
With the help of other computer specialists, programmers figure out which instructions to use to make computers do specific tasks. After engineers and analysts design software, the programmer converts that design into a logical series of instructions that the computer can follow. Programmers also update, repair, modify, and expand existing programs. Programmers test a program by running it to ensure that the instructions are correct and that the program produces the desired outcome. If errors do occur, the programmer must make the appropriate change and recheck the program until it produces the correct results. Programmers may work directly with experts from various fields to create software for general use-ranging from games and educational software to programs for desktop publishing and financial planning. Most work about 40 hours per week. Long hours or weekend work may be required to meet deadlines or fix unexpected technical problems.
Work Environment
Programmers spend the majority of their time in front of a computer terminal, and work in clean, comfortable offices.
College Majors
computer or information science, mathematics, engineering
Minimum Qualifications
Most programmers have a bachelor's degree, but a two-year degree or certificate may be adequate for some jobs. In addition to educational attainment, employers highly value relevant programming skills
Personality traits helpful for this career
Programming calls for patience, persistence, and the ability to perform exacting analytical work, especially under pressure.
Quick Facts
  • Job prospects will be best for applicants with a bachelor's degree and experience with a variety of programming languages and tools.
  • According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, starting salary offers for graduates with a bachelor's degree in computer science averaged $61,407 in July 2009.
Compensation and Outlook
Median annual wages of wage-and-salary computer programmers were $69,620 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $52,640 and $89,720 a year. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $40,080, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $111,450.
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