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Computer Programmer

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Career Overview

Chances are high that you used a computer program today. If you got money from an ATM machine, set your DVR to record your favorite movie, or swiped your credit card at the gas pump, you used some type of computer program. And the person who made sure that the computer program did what you wanted it to do? That was a computer programmer.Just like a screenwriter writes a script that actors follow in a movie, a computer programmer writes the code that a computer follows in order to execute the actions that the software developer designed. And you don't write it in English. You write it in a special programming language like C, C++, C#, Java, Lisp, or Python.Simple programs can be written in a few hours, but complex ones could take over a year. And some programs are never completed, just continuously improved on an ongoing basis.But the job isn't just about writing the code. You'll also need to test your code to make sure it produces the results you want. If the computer doesn't do what you want it do, it's not because it's being rebellious. It's because you gave it the wrong instructions. So you have to debug it - meaning you have to go back to your code, figure out where you went wrong, and fix it.This job takes a lot of concentration and attention to detail, but when you write code well and can make a computer do something exactly the way you want it to be done, it can be incredibly rewarding and empowering.

Salaries and Job Outlook*

2013 Median Annual Pay
Number of Jobs in 2013
Projected Growth Rate
National
$82,240
247,690
-7.6 %
Virginia
$93,090
 

Education and Training

Degrees Required:
Associates Degree in Computer Science Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science

Most employers prefer to hire someone with a bachelor's degree, but some may be ok with someone who only has an associate's degree but has intern experience or additional training in coding languages.Licensing is not typically required, but professional certifications are common for vendor-specific programming products.

 
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Valued Traits & Abilities

Analytical Skills
Patience
Detail Oriented
Computer Skills

Career Opportunities

If you are fluent in computer programming languages, there are many opportunities to use those skills in other areas of technology, as a coder, engineer or developer.

Software Engineer

This is the person who creates the program that a computer programmer actually writes. They work on understanding what the end users' needs are and how to fulfil those needs in an efficient way, and test their idea to ensure it will work before the design goes to the programmer.

Web Developer

Just like a computer programmer builds a program based on a software engineer's design, a web developer builds a website based on an interactive designer's design. They are also responsible for the site's speed and how much traffic the site can handle.

Work Environment

Most programmers are employed in the computer systems design and related services industries, and work a 40-hour work week. Programmers usually work alone, but some projects could require collaboration with other computer specialists on large projects. Because writing code can be done anywhere, many programmers telecommute.

* Source: BLS Data - 2013