How to become a computer programmer in 7 steps (Plus skills)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 16 January 2023

Published 30 November 2021

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.

Becoming a computer programmer is a rewarding career that is suitable for individuals with an interest in technology. Possessing a combination of soft and hard skills with an emphasis on computer science and mathematics can help you in this career field. Understanding what programmers do and where they work can also help you determine if this career is the right one for you. In this article, we discuss what a computer programmer is, what their responsibilities are and how to become a one.

How to become a computer programmer

Review the step-by-step guide on how to become a computer programmer. Most of the steps outlined are pretty essential to this role, as it's one that requires a breadth of technical knowledge and experience:

1. Learn to program

Coding and programming are essential skills for computer programmers to be successful in this field. Having a genuine enthusiasm for developing coding skills and being up to date with emerging languages and trends in established languages can also help you be more valuable to employers. Also, possessing an understanding of core programming concepts, including data types, sequences and iterations, is important as a programmer.

Related: What does a computer programmer do?

2. Get a degree

A degree in computer science, or programming, can help you show employers that you have the combination of theory and experience necessary to fulfil relevant responsibilities. While employers often require a related degree, relevant experience that demonstrates strong computer programming skills also helps increase your employability in the field. Some programmers even get a relevant graduate degree, after working for a while, as a degree is an incredibly important qualification to have in this industry.

3. Gain practical experience

Once you've completed a relevant degree, seek several years of practical experience. For example, this can be an internship that is paid or unpaid, that applies to the role you're pursuing. An internship can help you be more competitive, as you can show you have previous experience working on live projects. Practical experience can also prove you've solidified the knowledge you gained through your degree. You can also volunteer your skills to small businesses or look for freelance roles to broaden your portfolio and expand your professional network.

Related: 10 common C++ interview questions

4. Get certifications

Getting relevant certifications is essential for computer programmers to have, to show the supplemental training received, along with other educational training. This can help you stay competitive as recent qualifications illustrate you have up-to-date knowledge of computer programming languages. Gaining certifications in your free time shows employers you're dedicated to the field.

5. Choose an area to specialise in

Computer programming is a broad field with lots of specialisation opportunities, so consider your area of interest. Also, determine your comprehension level in the various areas when looking at roles. Areas of concentration may include artificial intelligence, game design, and information security. Specialising in one area can help make it easier for employers to understand your primary skill set and experience. It can also ensure you focus on developing the most relevant skills within your chosen niche.

Related: Computer programmer skills (And how to improve them)

6. Get a master's degree

Computer programmers often get master's degrees after 3-5 years of experience in the field. There are many reasons a computer programmer might want to get a master's degree. For example, you may get a master's degree because it's the only way you can progress into senior roles. You may also get one to further your knowledge in your career focus. Either way, getting a master's degree in a relevant subject may increase your career prospects and your chances of earning higher salaries.

7. Update your CV

As you advance in your career, update your CV to reflect your most relevant experience and education. When writing a computer programmer CV, try to demonstrate both the hard and soft skills you've acquired throughout your career. Also, highlight your career achievements and leadership abilities. This is especially important when applying for management roles.

Related: How to write a C programmer CV (plus template and example)

What is a computer programmer?

A computer programmer is a professional who designs, develops and updates existing software applications and operating systems. They also test the software to identify and fix errors within the code. Once a program is available, they continue to make updates and adjustments to improve its performance and features. Computer programmers typically have an undergraduate degree in a related subject and are proficient in several programming languages. Consider the job details and responsibilities when reviewing different roles.

Related: What is a computer program? (5 useful types)

Skills needed to become a computer programmer

Being a computer programmer requires a lot of know-how. Here are a few of the skills a computer programmer needs:

  • Proficiency with programming languages: Having experience with programming languages can help programmers apply the appropriate instructions for a project. Knowing which language to use can also help avoid errors.

  • Problem-solving: Programmers may use problem-solving skills to identify and solve issues to ensure the programs work properly. Possessing this skill can help make the project efficient.

  • Critical thinking: Computer programmers may possess good critical-thinking skills to analyse problems associated with the program. This can also help when determining different solutions.

  • Mathematical skills: To understand different aspects of programming, it's important to have a high aptitude for maths. Understanding the basics can help when working on different projects.

  • Communication skills: Although programmers spend a lot of time working independently, large or complex projects may require strong levels of communication between team members and stakeholders. Excellent communication skills allow you to communicate ideas and solutions to others effectively.

  • Writing skills: Companies occasionally require programmers to present their work or processes to others. Because of this, it's essential to have quality writing skills.

  • Attention to detail: Computer programmers write and edit large volumes of code, which increases the chance of human error. Being quick to notice pitfalls in code is a necessary requirement for computer programmers.

Related: Computer Skills: Definitions and Examples

What computer programming skills are important for the workplace?

Aside from soft skills, computer programmers have a variety of specialist skills that they can leverage in the workplace:

  • Designing and developing applications: Computer programmers design and develop applications for mobile apps and computer operating systems. Understanding the complexity of completing this task is also important to create a successful program.

  • Writing and debugging code: Programmers write code in a variety of programming languages. They also identify errors in code and debug code to rectify detected errors.

  • Updating and expanding existing programs: For many computer programmers, updating and expanding features in existing programs is most of their role. You may communicate with users to get a clearer understanding of how the program functions, what live errors there are and what features are most in-demand.

  • Simplifying programming: As a computer programmer, you may use computer-assisted software engineering (CASE) tools to automate processes or code libraries. This can help to speed up and simplify the existing programming.

Computer programmer work environment

Computer programmers spend most of their time at their office desks in front of a computer. They may also attend meetings, such as morning stand-ups with other programmers and software developers, sharing ideas and solving errors within the project they're working on. They typically work 40 hours a week and sometimes work weekends to resolve technical issues. Their contract may even require them to be on call in their downtime in case of technical emergencies. Computer programmers may work in house for one organisation or as a freelancer working on several projects at once. It's especially popular for programmers to work for start-ups or larger tech corporations, depending on their technical experience and education.

How much does a computer programmer make?

A computer programmer earns an average salary of £25,753 per year. The salary can also vary depending on the size of the company and the level of the position. It may be harder to determine the average salary of a computer programmer, as there are many diverse roles that vary from entry to senior level. Consider your skill level, education and expertise when pursuing a role in this sector.

Related careers

Computer programming is a career path with longevity and has ample room for progression. Since computer programming is a diverse industry with lots of interesting career options, consider your interests and niche. Here are several related careers you could enter with computer programming skills, such as:

  • software application developer

  • web developer

  • database administrator

  • computer system analyst

  • cyber security analyst

  • IT consultant

  • UX Designer

  • network engineer

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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