Computer programmers earn high salaries and may have lower educational requirements than other tech jobs. If you love writing code, have an eye for detail, and have sharp analytical skills, you may have a future as a computer programmer.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer programmers earn a median annual salary of $89,190. Some software developers go on to higher-paying roles in software development or management.
Are you interested in a career as a computer programmer? Here's the scoop on what you need to get started, including education and experience requirements, where to find job listings, and tips for acing an interview.
Education and Training Requirements for Programmers
Most computer programmers have a bachelor's degree with a major or concentration of coursework in computer science or information technology. Some programmers earn an associate degree in a computer-related discipline. A few programmers may only have a high school degree, but in these cases, they have accomplished a significant amount of programming work.
Programmers can earn certifications from software companies or product vendors to demonstrate proficiency in various computer languages or programming on certain platforms.
Computer programmers need strong analytical skills to generate the code to automate complex processes. They must be able to interview clients or end-users to determine their technology needs and communicate options for programs in a language that non-technical users can easily comprehend. Problem-solving skills are required to troubleshoot issues when programs don't function optimally. Programmers must be detail-oriented and precise to create code to exact specifications or find minor problems in long streams of code.
High school and college students aiming for programming jobs should consider creating applications for digital devices as a way to demonstrate their programming acumen and creativity. Most high schools now offer programming courses that can be an excellent testing ground for aspiring programmers.
Research the programming languages and skills in highest demand by searching Google with phrases like "best computer programming skills" or "most important computer programming skills." Write programs that showcase these skills with the help of online tutorials, books, and courses.
How to Find a Programming Job
To find job leads and impress hiring managers:
Prepare a Portfolio
Candidates who can show prospective employers examples of actual programs that they have created will have the easiest time landing jobs. Programmers should create a web-based portfolio of their programming projects that can be easily shared with employers and networking contacts. Obtain alumni contacts through your career office or from your faculty.
Reconnect with previous employers and ask for introductions to computer professionals they know. Reach out to family friends and social media contacts and ask for referrals to their connections.
Plan Informational Interviews
Approach these contacts to schedule meetings to get some feedback about your portfolio and advice about your job search. These informational interviews will give your contacts a chance to gain an appreciation for your skills and can often lead to referrals for job interviews.
Look at Job Sites
Use niche job search sites like Dice.com to generate a list of job leads. Search job sites like Indeed.com, SimplyHired.com, and LinkUp.com by keywords like "programmer" or "computer programmer" and by your favorite computer languages to expand your list of job targets.
Tap Your Career Center
If you're a college student or graduate, check with your career office for job listings and recruiting opportunities.
Connect With Employers
Check out IT job fairs in your preferred locations for employment. Dream a little. Generate a list of your ideal IT employers, visit their jobs websites, and apply for jobs.
Review lists like Forbes "Best Companies to Work For" to come up with some ideas.
Interviewing for Programmer Jobs
Interviews for programmers tend to be quite different from the standard interview process. Here are a few tips to help you prepare.
Expect Behavioral Questions
Interviewers will ask typical behavioral questions to determine if candidates can reference examples of problem-solving, troubleshooting, communication with clients and users, and tolerance for frustration.
Prepare for Tests
Recruiters will also test the technical knowledge of candidates by asking them to explain and define programming terms and processes.
Some interviewers will pose hypothetical problem-solving questions that will test the thought processes of candidates. For example, you might be asked to figure out how many cars pass over the George Washington Bridge on a typical day. Employers will be interested in your logical reasoning skills rather than a right answer.
You may be asked to create a sample program using pseudo code to solve a hypothetical problem on a whiteboard. Employers will be looking for you to demonstrate a logical approach to programming.
Your emphasis should be on your process and how you explain your method. Interviewers sometimes ask programming candidates to review the code for a program to identify and correct any errors.
Check Company Websites
Many large tech companies have interviewing advice specific to their company available online. For example, Amazon has a list of FAQs including information on the interview process, what to wear, and what you will need to provide.
Follow Up After the Interview
Effective follow-up after your job interview is critical. Compose a thank-you email immediately after the interview and clearly convey your enthusiasm for the job and why you think it is an excellent fit, as well as your gratitude for the opportunity to interview.
Have References Ready
When you are asked to send in some reference letters from former employers, you'd know your chances of being hired are high. Don't blow the chance. Reach out to trustworthy former managers and coworkers and ask them to write positive recommendations for you. If they need some guidance on what to include in their letters, here are some helpful tips you can send them.