How to Become a Computer Programmer in 5 Simple Steps

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 13 December 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.

Computer programmers write the code that forms the basis of software, mobile applications and websites. Working as a computer programmer requires in-depth technical knowledge. Knowing the requirements of becoming a computer programmer and the responsibilities of the role can help you determine whether the profession is right for you. In this article, we discuss how to become a computer programmer and outline the functions of the role, the salary and important skills to excel in the field.

What does a computer programmer do?

A computer programmer writes the code that tells the software how to function with hardware systems. Programmers create a wide range of products, including operating systems that control computer, networking and server infrastructure. They also work with software developers to design the user interfaces for mobile, desktop and web-based computer applications and games. To excel as a computer programmer, it's important to be familiar with multiple programming languages and be proficient in using them. Here are some of the major duties of a computer programmer:

  • writing and testing code for new systems programs and applications

  • debugging and correcting errors in codes

  • designing and testing computer and networking infrastructure

  • creating and managing database systems

  • providing tech support for end-users

  • editing source code after deployment of programs

  • maintaining and updating operating systems

  • creating, profiling and analysing algorithms

  • securing programs against hacking and other cybersecurity threats

  • building cross-platform programs for seamless deployment on diverse operating systems

Related: What Does a Computer Programmer Do? (And How to Become One)

How to become a computer programmer

Follow these five steps to learn how to become a computer programmer:

1. Learn to program

The first requirement to become a computer programming is to learn the fundamentals of programming. This involves learning how to code in one or two programming languages. Before training to use a program, it's important to first identify the industry and type of applications you want to build as a programmer. This is because industries and products have specific coding requirements. Python is one of the most popular coding languages, and it also has the highest applications in the industry.

Java is another popular coding language you can gain proficiency in, especially if you want to build websites and server-based applications. SQL is used to build database management systems and R is a statistical programming language used for data analysis. There are several ways to learn to program, including online courses and even in-class training, books, videos, video games and mobile applications. Becoming a programmer requires extensive practice, so it's important to engage in projects to compound your knowledge.

2. Get a degree

While it's usually optional to have a degree to become a computer programmer, having one can improve your chances of employment and career progression. You can pursue degrees in computer science, software engineering, mathematics, statistics and related disciplines. These courses can provide you with a better understanding of the underlying principles and concepts of computer programs. They also show you the relationship between the hardware and software, networks, operating systems, applications, automation and cybersecurity. You're also likely to learn about data privacy, information and technology regulations and the business side of the industry.

Besides university degrees, employers may also consider candidates who studied computer science or related courses in polytechnics. Another popular option for learning programming is a boot camp. Coding boot camps can be expensive or affordable, depending on the structure and intensity of the programme. These camps teach you to master programming in a specific language within a short period. The learning pace can be high, but they're an effective way to learn to program quickly.

3. Specialise

As a computer programmer, you can either specialise in operating systems or applications. Systems programmers build operating systems for computers, networks, servers, databases and cloud computing infrastructure. Working as a systems programmer requires proficiency in one or several operating systems.

Applications programmers create software for specific functions, and they can develop programs for mobile, desktop, games and the web. People who create mobile applications can create software and other products for mobile devices. Besides being a specialist, it's also important to be conversant with other programs, as clients and employers usually create products with cross-platform capabilities. That way, users can deploy a single software across different operating systems without issues.

4. Gain experience

Besides having traditional qualifications and completing online courses, employers want to see demonstrable coding experience before employing computer programmers. You can gain experience through internships, but these can be competitive. Internships provide the opportunity to work alongside experienced professionals who can provide mentorship and guidance. Another way to gain experience is through freelancing. You can join freelance websites and take entry-level coding work. As you gain experience and get better at marketing your skills, you can start applying for higher-level jobs that pay more.

Volunteering is another way to use your programming skills and gain valuable experience that can boost your CV. There are several online forums and platforms where you can join programming projects for non-profits, charities and open-source communities. Besides helping you improve your programming skills, these projects can also help you build a portfolio you can use to apply for jobs.

5. Consider professional certifications and build your portfolio

Once you have the experience, start building a portfolio of projects. An ideal portfolio showcases your programming skills, technical proficiency and programming philosophy. Choose the best projects that highlight your core technical capabilities and revise the content based on the requirements of each role. It's also important to gain professional qualifications as you grow in this job because the industry is highly dynamic. You can choose from a wide range of certifications, including Certified Secure Software Lifecycle Professional from the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium. You may also pursue certifications to become a Certified Software Engineer and Certified Software Development Professional online or at various institutions. Besides upgrading your skills, network extensively so you always know of new opportunities.

Related: A Guide to Becoming a Computer Programmer

What is the salary of a computer programmer?

A computer programmer can make an average monthly salary of $20,332. Salary can depend on several factors, including the employer, industry, experience and educational qualifications. Your specific job duties and professional certifications can also affect your earnings.

Related: How to Be a Software Architect (With Duties and Salary)

Important skills for computer programmers

Here are vital skills that can help computer programmers perform their duties more effectively:

Technical skills

Successful computer programmers have in-depth knowledge of their industry. They understand the underlying theories and concepts of software, networks, cybersecurity and hardware. It's also important to know how to test and debug your code and that of others. The role also requires having at least a basic understanding of the software development lifecycle and how to provide tech support after product deployment.

Problem-solving

Besides writing code, computer programmers are typically problem solvers. Their work often involves reading millions of lines of code to find bugs that can cause glitches in the final product. Programmers can also perform quality control duties to ensure products cover every client and end-user requirements. As a programmer, it's important to have a logical process for identifying, troubleshooting, resolving and documenting problems with software.

Critical thinking

Coding is a technical job that involves solving complex problems, often while working extensive hours alone. As a programmer, it's important to come up with creative ways to adapt your code to the product specifications. When you encounter problems, being able to assess the issues from different perspectives and angles can help you find solutions faster.

Related: 18 Essential Software Developer Skills You Can Learn

Patience

Working as a programmer requires a high level of tolerance. Most programming projects take months from start to finish and often include several rounds of revisions, debugging and testing before delivery to the client or users. Many times, you may spend several days trying to find a bug in the source code that's affecting performance or security. Achieving these important tasks requires being patient.

Communication

Effective computer programmers are excellent communicators. The role typically involves working with a wide range of stakeholders, including software architects, project managers, quality assurance engineers, business managers, clients and other coders. Your work often requires writing, reading and discussing with other people on project requirements, task schedules, updates and a wide range of other issues.

Attention to detail

Computer programmers require a high level of attention to detail to produce clean, bug-free code. It's important to be detail-oriented when writing, editing and testing code, as even the smallest error can have serious implications for the performance and user experience of products. Being detail-oriented not only makes your work cleaner, but it can also reduce the workload of testers and quality assurance professionals and make people want to work with you.

Independence

To excel in this role, it's important to be self-motivated, because programmers typically work alone. While the work involves collaborating with other members of the development team, you're likely to complete your tasks from a personal workstation. This makes it essential to function without supervision and have adequate knowledge and experience to complete tasks independently.

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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