What Does a Computer Programmer Do? (And How To Become One)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 27 September 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 play a significant role in today's digital-driven economy. Their technological skills help them code mobile applications, software and computer programs, making them of valuable importance to the information technology industry. If you're considering pursuing a career path in computer programming, then it's essential to understand the educational requirements and job responsibilities of a computer programmer. In this article, we discuss what does a computer programmer do, how to become a computer programmer and the skills needed in this profession.

What is a computer programmer?

A computer programmer is a specialist who uses their technical skills to create computer software. They create code that powers operating systems and software applications. They also ensure the smooth running of software and systems by maintaining, debugging and rectifying them.

Most computer programmers are also software developers. They use different computer languages like C++ and Java to develop operating systems and transform program designs.

Related: Computer Skills: Definitions and Examples

What does a computer programmer do?

Below are some of the major responsibilities of a computer programmer:

Mastering computer languages

Computers have their own unique languages which are used when communicating with computers. They are the code or syntax used in writing applications or programs and are divided into three main categories: machine language, assembly language and high-level language. Computer programmers spend most of their time writing code, therefore, they need to be fluent in computer languages. Depending on their speciality, they often learn basic languages like Java, C++ and JavaScript or other high-level languages like Ruby, Python and Swift.

Writing and testing code for programs

Computers function because of code. Code is used for a broad spectrum of activities, including gaming consoles, flying aeroplanes and building websites. Programmers write code with instructions for computers to follow. They use workflow charts and designs of software developers and engineers to create programs. These software packages handle unique tasks like managing factory equipment, storing data and recovering data. Upon completing their written code, computer programmers test them to ensure the functionality of the program and the correctness of their instructions.

Updating existing programs

One of the primary duties of computer programmers is to analyse systems to ensure they're technologically up to date and running efficiently. They also design and instal updates in existing programs, where a system needs these to improve its performance. These updates are often used to change programming languages, debug software and improve functionality and the overall user experience (UX). They also include additional security, run diagnostics and download newer versions of existing software.

Identifying and rectifying code errors

Computer software is often susceptible to glitches and errors. Hence, aside from writing code, computer programmers also test computer programs or websites to check for errors in the code. Upon identifying any, they use their troubleshooting skills to fix bugs in the software, reevaluate the system and ensure their optimal functionality. They often collaborate with engineers, software developers and other technical staff to identify errors and fix operational issues.

Converting program designs into code

Most computer programmers are front-end web developers and are skilled at translating website design files into code and user-friendly programs, such as CSS, JavaScript and HTML. They evaluate a design and understand the ideas incorporated into it. Computer programmers collaborate with developers and software engineers to convert these designs into code that computers can adopt for the execution of the program.

Setting up technical guides for programs

Computers are powerless without a set of instructions from computer programmers telling them exactly what to do. Programmers often write technical guides that interpret and describe to computer users, including software engineers, computer analysts and other developers, how the computer program functions. These instructions aid in the carrying out of specific tasks and subject to their purpose can, either, be simple or complex

Securing programs against cyber threats

Computer systems are often vulnerable to malicious hacks, which can lead to the loss of important data and information. Computer programmers use their technical knowledge and skills to conduct security threat analysis and identify dangerous software. They instal security-oriented programs and work hard to secure and safeguard computer systems. Programmers are cybersecurity conscious and have detailed knowledge of the existing threat. They also write code that forestalls data leaks and prevent security breaches.

How to become a computer programmer

Depending on the particular speciality you desire to major in, you may need specialised skills, training and certifications. Below are the major steps to becoming a computer programmer:

1. Choose the best training process for you

There are different training programs to becoming a computer engineer. The choice you make may depend on several factors, such as whether you prefer learning in a classroom setting or whether you learn better with direct and hands-on training. You can choose to learn computer programming in a trade school or a technical institute, or you can also choose to obtain a degree in computer programming online or from a university. If you're a self-starter, you can also learn to program from home through Internet resources, online tutorials and videos.

Related: 10 Effective Communication Skills for Career Success

2. Choose a degree and major

By choosing to learn computer programming through a university degree, you can gain a solid foundation in programming, developing and testing. You can begin by applying for a two-year associate degree programme in computer sciences which can give you access to some entry-level programming jobs or you can take up a four-year bachelor's degree programme in computer sciences or software engineering. Likewise, a master's degree can make your job application more attractive to potential employers.

3. Earn professional certifications

As proof of their knowledge and mastery of computer languages, most employers require programmers to have computer programming certifications. You can decide to get certified in different computer languages, such as Python, PHP and C++, or get certified in various computer systems and become a Microsoft Certified System Associate (MCSA) or Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA). By getting a certification in programming, you can increase your earning capacity.

Read more: A Guide To Becoming A Computer Programmer

Skills needed to become a computer programmer

Asides from the hard skills computer programmers possess, they also need soft skills which can allow them to excel in their duties. Here are nine skills needed to become a computer programmer:

Knowledge of computer languages

C omputer programmers may not be able to learn all the different computer programming languages, however, you should endeavour to learn at least two. Doing so can help you to increase your career opportunities and earning potential.

Mathematical skills

A thorough understanding of mathematical topics like arithmetic and algebra is essential if you're considering becoming a computer programmer. A mathematical background helps you to make sense of topics like data structure, algorithms, differential equations and abstract language.

Attention to details

There are different kinds of errors in computer programming, including runtime errors, syntax errors, logic errors and interface errors. A little mistake or oversight can compromise the entire code of a program, and therefore, its ability to function properly. Thus, computer programmers need a high level of concentration to identify bugs and fix them in time.

Critical and analytical skills

Computer programmers also read and interpret complex instructions from software engineers and developers. They need critical and analytical skills to efficiently translate program designs into code that computers can understand.

Problem-solving skills

Whether it's to troubleshoot system malfunctions or write code, computer programmers need problem-solving skills. They use this skill to improve user experience by making use of web design approaches like Responsive Web Design (RWD) to craft sites that provide an optimal viewing experience on desktops and mobile phones.

Multi-tasking skills

To execute a programming project, computer programmers often have to engage in multiple tasks at the same time, such as managing database systems, providing tech support and analysing algorithms. This skill helps them to set their priorities straight while executing different tasks in order of priority.

Communication skills

Programmers need to understand their employer's goals, work with designers to create visual mockups and incorporate feedback from users. Likewise, communication skills help computer programmers to explain different technical concepts and ideas to colleagues, employers or less-knowledgeable individuals.

Focus

Different programming processes, such as writing and testing code, require deep focus and concentration. When programmers need to work towards a deadline, they need to pay special attention to avoid distractions to keep from making serious mistakes.

Writing skills

Programmers need writing skills to report their goals and achievements to others effectively. Oftentimes, these are people who have little or no knowledge of programming, therefore good writing skills can help them explain complex ideas clearly and concisely.

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

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