The Basics: Start your career in computer programming

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Computer programming is a challenging career path.Have you ever had an interest in computer programming? Take a look at these statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor about computer programmers:

2015 median annual income: $79,530 ($38.24 per hour)
Typical entry-level education: Bachelor’s degree
Number of jobs in 2014: 328,600
Job outlook for 2014-2024: -8 percent (decline)
Employment change (2014-2024): -26,500

But what do programmers actually do? They write programs in a variety of computer languages, such as C++ and Java. They turn the program designs created by software developers and engineers into instructions that a computer can follow. They also write and test code that allows computer applications and software programs to function properly. If the program fails to work correctly, computer programmers check the code for mistakes and fix them.

Programmers work closely with software developers, and in some businesses their duties overlap. When such overlap occurs, programmers can do work that is typical of developers, such as designing the program. Program design entails planning the software initially, creating models and flowcharts detailing how the code is to be written, writing and debugging code, and designing an application or systems interface.

A program’s purpose determines the complexity of its computer code. For example, a weather application for a mobile device will require less programming than will a social-networking application. Simpler programs can be written in less time. Complex programs, such as computer operating systems, can take a year or more to complete.

Software-as-a-service (SaaS), which consists of applications provided through the Internet, is a growing field. Although programmers typically need to rewrite their programs to work on different system platforms, such as Windows or OS X, applications created with SaaS work on all platforms. Accordingly, programmers writing SaaS applications may not have to rewrite as much code as other programmers do, and can instead spend more time writing new programs.

Education

To become a programmer, most will seek a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related subject, although a few employers will hire workers with an associate’s degree. Most programmers specialize in a few programming languages. Programmers who work in specific fields, such as healthcare or accounting, may take classes in that field to supplement their degree in computer programming. Employers value experience, which many students gain through internships.

Most programmers learn a few computer languages while in school. A computer science degree, however, gives students the skills needed to easily learn new computer languages. During their classes, students receive hands-on experience writing code, testing programs, fixing errors, and doing many other tasks that they will perform on the job.

To keep up with changing technology, computer programmers may take continuing education and professional development seminars to learn new programming languages or upgrades to programming languages that they already know.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Programmers can become certified in specific programming languages or vendor-specific programming products. Many companies require that their programmers be certified in the products they use to validate their skill levels.

Advancement in the field

Programmers who have general business experience may become computer systems analysts. With experience, some programmers may become software developers. They may also be promoted to managerial positions.

There are many habits and qualities a programmer can develop, but here are four any good programmer must have:

Analytical skills: Computer programmers must understand complex instructions in order to create computer code.

Concentration: Programmers must be able to work at a computer, writing lines of code for long periods.

Attention to detail: Computer programmers must closely examine the code they write because a small mistake can affect the entire computer program.

Troubleshooting skills: An important part of a programmer’s job is to check the code for errors and fix any they find.

The top 7 languages in demand today

SQL — The original SQL was developed at IBM, and the acronym stood for Structured English Query Language and so was pronounced “sequel.” It was shortened due to trademark issues. Both pronunciations are correct; it just depends on who you talk to (Oracle, MSSQL, etc. vs MySQL).

Database technologies such as MySQL, PostgreSQL, and Microsoft SQL Server power big businesses, small businesses, hospitals, banks, and universities. Indeed, just about every computer and person with access to technology eventually touches something SQL. For instance, all Android phones and iPhones have access to a SQL database called SQLite, and many mobile apps such as Google, Skype, and DropBox use it directly.

Java — The tech community recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of Java. It’s one of the most widely adopted programming languages, used by some 9 million developers and running on 7 billion devices worldwide. It’s also the programming language used to develop all native Android apps.

Java’s popularity with developers is due to the fact that the language is grounded in readability and simplicity. Java has staying power since it has long-term compatibility, which ensures that applications will work now and into the future. It’s not going anywhere anytime soon and is used to power company websites such as LinkedIn.com, Netflix.com, and Amazon.com.

Guy in front of computer codeJavaScript — JavaScript, not to be confused with Java, is another one of the world’s most popular and powerful programming languages, and is used to spice up web pages by making them interactive. For example, JavaScript can be used to add effects to web pages, display pop-up messages, or to create games with basic functionality. It’s also worth noting that JavaScript is the scripting language of the World Wide Web and is built right into all major web browsers.

C# — Dating from 2000, C# (pronounced C-sharp) is a relatively new programming language designed by Microsoft for a wide range of enterprise applications that run on the .NET (pronounced “dot net”) Framework. An evolution of C and C++, the C# language is a simple, modern, object-oriented language.

C++ — C++ (pronounced C-plus-plus) is a general purpose object-oriented programming language based on the earlier ‘C’ language. Developed by Bjarne Stroustrup at Bell Labs, C++ was first released in 1983.

Python — Python is a general purpose programming language that is simple and incredibly readable since it closely resembles the English language. It’s a great language for beginners and all the way up to seasoned professionals. Python recently bumped Java as the language of choice in introductory programming courses for most college computer science departments. PBS, NASA, and Reddit use Python for their websites.

PHP — PHP was created by Danish-Canadian programmer Rasmus Lerdorf in 1994. Today, PHP (Hypertext Pre-Processor) is a scripting language, running on the server, which can be used to create web pages written in HTML. PHP tends to be a popular language since it’s easy to use by new programmers but also offers advanced features for more experienced programmers.

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April Miller Cripliver

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

April Miller Cripliver holds a doctorate in Management Information Systems and has earned more than 25 computer certifications in networking, security, hardware and operating systems. She is a Subject Matter Expert for CompTIA and owns USER FRIENDLY CONNECTIONS, a computer consulting firm in northwest Indiana. Contact Dr. Cripliver at Info (at) UserFriendlyConnections (dot) com.

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