Computer Programming

Earnings Potential

The lowest 10 percent earned less than $36,470; the highest 10 percent earned more than $99,610.

Facts at a glance

  • Sixty-seven percent of computer programmers held a college or higher degree in 2004; nearly half held a bachelor’s degree, and about 1 in 5 held a graduate degree. 
  • Employment is expected to grow much more slowly than that for other computer specialists.
  • Prospects likely will be best for college graduates with knowledge of a variety of programming languages and tools; those with less formal education or its equivalent in work experience are apt to face strong competition for programming jobs.

Summary of what this career entails

A computer programmer writes, maintains and tests computer programs that the computer must follow to function. He or she will also use skills and logic to solve problems that a computer may run into. The time it takes to write/develop a computer program depends on the type of program. The simple programs only take a few hours; a more complicated one could take a year. The more complex programs are usually that way because of complicated math formulas. A computer program basically tells a computer what to do, in terms of how to process, identify and access information and the equipment needed for the particular action. Examples of the type of information that is accessed by a computer programmer include updating financial records and duplicating conditions for pilot training. For the most part the process includes a computer software engineer and/or a computer systems analyst designing a program and then the programmer converts the design into instructions the computer can follow. Examples of programming language include COBOL, Prolog, Java, C++ or ACTOR; the latter three are more advanced. There are usually two types of programmers, a system programmer and an application programmer. The latter writes programs to maintain software such as operating systems and an application programmer write programs to handle a specific job.

Examples and or details of work

An example of what a computer programmer does is build websites using HTML and JavaScript for a business. Although both HTML and JavaScript are the simplest forms of programming, many business owners don’t know computers well at all and that’s where someone with even basic computer knowledge can gain at least temporary gainful employment. It is crucial to learn basic coding techniques and a lot of administrators do not have time to that is a main reason why someone with knowledge of computer programming can continue to get work.

Degrees that lead to this career

A bachelor’s degree is required for most jobs in the computer programming field, although others with two year degrees or certificates may be able to obtain gainful employment. An associate degree is used by job applicants as a qualification to work at an entry-level position. Training at a technical school or a two year college after graduation from college is also recommended where applicable. Specific fields that lead to a career in computer programming include computer science, math, information systems, engineering, and the physical sciences.

Specific Career openings in this field

Specific jobs in the computer programming field include independent consultant, applications programmer and systems programmer.


Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition, Computer Programmers, on the Internet at

Waack, Travis. “Who Needs to Learn Computer Programming.”