What is programming? A complete guide to this career path

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 20 May 2022

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.

Programming involves building a series of instructions for computers to follow so they can perform a certain function. You can use programming to construct a complex piece of software, such as an application or video game. By following this guide, you can determine whether you're well-suited to a career in programming. In this article, we answer the question 'What is programming?', detail the different working environments of a programmer, outline why you might pursue a career in programming and provide five possible job options.

What is programming?

To answer the question 'What is programming?', it's important that you consider this discipline's wider purpose. Programmers use coding languages to outline how computers might best perform a certain function so that users can navigate software more easily. They can also help to improve existing products by introducing innovations to boost performance or security. The core responsibilities of a programmer include:

  • constructing websites and software for commercial release

  • monitoring a website's performance during periods of high traffic

  • fixing security loopholes in existing products to protect consumers against cybercrime

  • updating existing products to reflect technological innovations and changing consumer behaviour

  • collating consumer feedback on how a product meets certain expectations, such as ease-of-use, before developing relevant improvements

  • restructuring existing code to rectify performance problems and improve overall functionality

  • helping clients to digitise their businesses

Work environments of programmers

Programmers may work in several professional environments, depending on their prior experience and employment status. Three such environments include:

Company offices

In most cases, you may expect to work in your firm's main office, especially if you're an entry-level employee. You might work in a single cubicle or at a shared desk, depending on whether you complete projects single-handedly or as part of a team. You may report to a departmental manager, who delegates tasks based on expertise and experience.

Remote working

Given recent advancements in video communications technology, employers may be more willing to let staff work from home regularly. In this situation, you might complete coding tasks alone on your home computer, messaging colleagues via video whenever you desire a meeting. You may also work more productively as you avoid workplace distractions, such as meetings or gossip.

Related: Q&A: what is remote work?


If you're a more experienced programmer, you may use your expertise to start working in a freelance capacity. In this scenario, you can try to fit work around your personal responsibilities rather than completing company-mandated shifts. You may also be able to work in a range of locations, such as your home, a client's office or a coffee shop.

It's important that you effectively market your company so that potential clients understand both the services you provide and how to contact you. You might also emphasise your professional niche so that third parties know how you differ from rival providers. For example, if you specialise in coding in a particular programming language, you might stress this in your promotional materials, such as your website or business card. You might then more easily target customers who prefer this coding language.

Key skills for a career in programming

Before applying for programming jobs, it's important that you possess certain key skills relevant to your duties. By establishing these skills before starting a career, you might more easily integrate yourself into a new working environment. The section below details four key skills you might find useful to a programming career:

Technical knowledge

It's important that you're well-versed in the technical aspects of programming, such as coding languages or spreadsheets. By establishing these skills before beginning your career, you might seem more attractive to employers, as you don't require basic training. You may acquire these skills via education and practising at home with free online resources.

For example, you might use online resources to practise constructing basic code so that you can familiarise yourself with the principles involved. You might also purchase relevant books and magazines or enrol on a higher education course to earn a degree in a related field, such as computer science.

Related: Technical skills: definitions and examples


If you're working on a large-scale coding project, you might collaborate with third parties, such as colleagues or commercial clients. In these circumstances, it's important you can actively listen to other people's concerns about work duties, confidently responding to queries with practical solutions. You might also try to speak clearly and concisely to prevent misunderstandings. As you repeat this process over time, you may construct a more unified workplace culture, boosting general productivity as a result.

Related: What are communication skills?

Attention to detail

It's also important that you're attentive to detail to ensure that you prevent simple mistakes from affecting a product in the long term. After writing it, you might carefully review your code to rectify errors before the software is available to the public. Your organisation might then avoid losing further resources, by restructuring the code, allowing it to remain commercially competitive. If you can produce such high-quality work regularly, you may earn a promotion or pay rise.

Related: How to improve your attention to detail

Time management

You may aim to maximise your own productivity by drafting a daily work schedule, with important tasks given priority over trivial ones. By rigidly regimenting your working life, you can prevent harmful distractions from interrupting your routine. You may then complete the programme development process more quickly, saving the firm money as products are released ahead of schedule. As you repeat this process over time, you might impress senior management with your work ethic and earn a promotion as a result.

Related: What is prioritising?

Salary information for programmers

The average national salary for a programmer is £35,590 per year. This figure reflects the median wage earned across an entire industry. Depending on your specific responsibilities, your actual salary might vary significantly. For example, if you're helping to develop a video game for a popular franchise, you can earn more than someone helping to develop a small-scale app. This difference reflects the greater profits you can help a company earn if the game is a commercial success.

What jobs can you secure as a programmer?

Depending on your specific skills and work experience, there are many jobs you may secure in programming. Five such jobs include:

1. Web developer

National average salary: £33,829 per year

Primary duties: A web developer may create and maintain a website, either for their own company or a third party. They may use a client's design brief to decide which functions to prioritise, such as payment processing options, before making sure they're easy for visitors to use. They can also monitor a website's performance to ensure it handles large traffic flows without slowing down. Depending on their experience, web developers can work on either a full time or freelance basis.

Related: 10 essential web developer skills

2. Application developer

National average salary: £37,699 per year

Primary duties: An application developer helps companies build apps that perform set functions, such as registering payments or sending messages. Before carefully programming the app, they might consider which coding language is most appropriate for a certain design brief. They may also regularly test a prototype app to ensure it performs as expected before commercial release. Application developers often design apps to work on multiple operating systems and devices.

3. Software engineer

National average salary: £43,971 per year

Primary duties: Software engineers might develop more comprehensive computer software designed to operate effectively across different operating systems. They're often fluent in several coding languages, choosing an option best suited to the task of designing a particular piece of software. They may also design regular software updates, testing existing functions to identify operational and security flaws before rectifying them.

Related: 6 essential software engineer skills

4. Full stack developer

National average salary: £51,863 per year

Primary duties: A full stack developer holds specialist knowledge of each stage of the software development process, such as testing programmes and designing graphics. They work with graphic designers to outline different functions, ensuring they use aesthetics that appeal to the product's target audience. They might also implement measures to improve a system's general performance so that users can navigate its features without facing lag or security issues. Full stack developers might monitor technological changes within their industry so they can integrate these innovations into existing software.

5. Java developer

National average salary: £62,267 per year

Primary duties: Java developers specialise in designing and maintaining software built using the Java programming language. They might oversee a team of junior software developers, delegating tasks based on skills and intervening during difficult periods. They can use their expertise to direct the course of an entire project, providing vision for the development process and assessing progress as each stage ends. Java developers often write code for a project before leaving junior colleagues to put these instructions into practice.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.


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