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Career Information

Computer Programmers: Career, Salary and Education Information

Career Profile: What do Computer Programmers do?
Computer programmers use their advanced programming knowledge to help create applications and systems software with a range of applications. Simple programs can take a few hours to complete, while more complex projects can take years, completed in teams under the supervision of senior programmers.

Computer users of all types rely on trained, knowledgeable computer programmers to create the programs that make computers run quickly and efficiently. Programmers can create games, educational software, desktop publishing applications, financial software, and more. The career combines creativity and technical knowledge.

A Day in the Life of a Computer Programmer
Programmers use different languages to complete their work and they typically focus on one type of programming. Applications engineers write and revise programs related to specific jobs, while systems programmers focus more on behind-the-scenes aspects of computing, such as operating and database systems.

Only four percent of computer programmers work part time and the vast majority work typical 40 hour work weeks. Deadlines or technical problems can necessitate longer hours or overtime. Telecommuting is becoming more common, thanks to technology that allows programmers to log in from anywhere.

Computer Programmer Training and Education
Training is available at every educational level, from certificates and coursework to master's and doctoral degrees. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that 8 out of 10 programmers held at least an associate's degree or higher, half had a bachelor's degree, and 2 out of 10 held a graduate degree.

Coursework for computer programmers includes programming, compiler construction, computer network fundamentals, and software technologies. Students use their time in school to determine their chosen industry and career goals. General degree programs include computer science and information systems and students can also enroll in targeted computer programming degree programs.

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Computer Programmer Employment & Outlook
Employment for computer programmers is expected to decline slightly through 2016, with an estimated 18,000 jobs leaving the industry. Advancement in technology and programming languages along with consolidation of applications and systems are both behind the shift. Additionally, many job duties for computer programmers are expected to be filled by computer software engineers.

Job prospects for computer programmers are expected to be best for those with a bachelor's degree or higher, familiarity with a number of different programming languages, and vendor-specific or language-specific certification. Continuing education may also be important for programmers hoping to keep their skills current. Computer consulting businesses are expected to employ the most computer programmers in the coming years.

Typical Computer Programmer Salary
Computer programmers saw mean annual wages of $72,010 in 2007, the BLS reports. While the vast majority worked in computer systems design and related services, computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing was the highest-paying industry, at $97,330. Those working for software publishers earned $80,050.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Computer Programmers

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