What Is the Best Degree Path for Becoming a Computer Programmer?

computer programmer major

If you enjoy working with computers, are good at analyzing information and paying attention to details and consider troubleshooting technical issues an interesting challenge instead of a frustrating problem, a career in computer programming could be for you. Computer programmers write the codes that tell computers what to do. Their work creates the operating systems that allow computers to run, the applications that cause them to complete tasks and the games that amuse and entertain users. Without skilled computer programmers, we wouldn’t have the smartphones, tablets or user-friendly Internet we know today. If computer programming sounds like a career for you, a bachelor’s degree in computer science is the place to start.

What Is a Computer Programmer?

By now, most people understand that computers and software programs need code in order to work. So, what is code? Computer code is a type of language that computers understand. For example, some common computer languages are Python and C++.

Computer programmers understand computer languages. In other words, they understand how to write the code that operates the software in question. The computer programmer is important because most people don’t read and write code. This isn’t as simplistic as it sounds. Users of computer apps, software and websites understand how to use the user interface. This is often visual in nature. However, the user interface would not work if the computer programmer had not written the code to make it work.

The top 3 most similar occupations to computer programmers by wage are mechanical engineers, materials engineers, and public relations & fundraising managers. Data USA

In this respect, the computer programmer can be likened to a translator. Because the computer programmer speaks the language of the computer or the software the end-user does not have to know this language. Instead, the user sees a visual representation of the code. It is only important that the end-user understand how to use the visual representation of the code.  Here’s an example. A video game player can push a button on the video game in order to access supplies, like food. The game player does not see the underlying computer code or language that operates the button. The game player only sees the button on-screen and pushes it to get what he or she wants from the game. Because the computer programmer wrote the code that operates the game’s buttons, the game player does not need to know how to write code in order to play the game.

College for Aspiring Computer Programmers

Aspiring computer programmers can and often do learn computer programming languages independently. However, employers often seek workers who have a formal college education to back up the skills they claim to have.

Most professionals in computer programming have a bachelor’s degree, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported, though some have an associate’s degree. Computer science, which happens to be one of the top 10 degrees for the future, is a popular choice for aspiring computer programmers. Related computer majors are also acceptable. College students in undergraduate computer science programs learn some programming languages, like Java, through their coursework. More importantly, aspiring programmers develop the skills to understand programming languages so they can easily learn new languages in the future, according to the BLS. Computer science students also learn to debug software programs and attain experience writing code through coursework and internship experiences.

Specific Degrees for Computer Programmers

While it’s true that most computer programmers have some sort of computer programming degree, usually a bachelor’s degree, there are specific degrees that prepare a person to become a programmer. Most of the time, a person who becomes a computer programmer has studied mathematics, information systems or computer science. Additionally, there are some specific kinds of computer programming jobs that are career-specific. Computer programmers who wish to pursue careers in this field often go to a specialized art school where they study video game development. Within this computer programming degree’s courseware, the student does take classes in computer programming.

However, he or she might also take classes in graphic design, mythological storytelling, theater, character design and art history. In this respect, the degree that this computer programmer gets prepares him or her for a specific career. In this case, as a computer programmer who works in the video game industry. All of this being said, some employers will hire people who don’t have a degree in computer programming. Instead, depending on the demands of the job, the person hired may have a degree in business, accounting for marketing for example.

However, the prospective employee still would have taken a number of classes in computer programming. This person might even have done an internship. During this internship, the computer programmer ideally would have been given the opportunity to work with computer programming to develop his or her skills further.

Education Beyond the Bachelor’s Degree

While a degree in computer science or a related field is sufficient education for attaining a computer programming job, long-term computer programmers never stop learning. As technology and programming languages evolve, they have to keep on top of changes through their own research or formal continuing education opportunities.

Many computer programmers choose to seek special certifications to enhance their résumés, advance their careers and increase their appeal to potential employers. Some certifications related to proficiency with particular programming languages, like JavaScript and Python, while others illustrate familiarity with programming products, platforms or systems.

Aside from these certificate programs, many computer programmers find that their income improves substantially if they earn a master’s degree. But is it really necessary to get an advanced computer programming degree in order to get a raise? According to Northeastern University, it is, or at least, it doesn’t hurt. Most people understand that earning a degree equals higher pay. In light of this, many people have earned bachelor’s degrees. At one point in history, not as many people had degrees, so a bachelor’s degree was enough to allow a person to advance in his or her career. That is not the case today. At least 40% of millennials have already earned a bachelor’s degree.

What this means is that the bachelor’s degree alone no longer makes a job candidate stand out. Fewer people have advanced degrees, like master’s degrees in computer science. The difference in income for some of these advanced degree holders can be staggering. Earning a graduate-level degree can raise a person’s salary by $30,000 or $40,000 a year. In the computer science industry, this can translate into yearly incomes as high as $116,000 a year or more.

The other advantage that an advanced degree gives its holder is a broader professional network. Here’s why this happens. College campuses today are often a student’s first access to a broader professional network. Many times employers will contact an academic department directly to advertise jobs. Sometimes, these jobs have already been advertised to the public. However, often only those in the know, in other words, those who are in the network, hear about the jobs. If the only people hearing about the job are the master’s students in a university’s computer science program, then the competition for these jobs gets lowered considerably.

Other Necessary Skills

It is a misconception, however, that earning a computer programming degree is enough for the computer programmer to get a job. Granted, this degree can and will open doors for the programmer. It’s often enough to land the programmer his or her first jobs in the industry. It may not be enough to allow the programmer to keep his job, unfortunately. Here’s why. Although most computer programmers work by themselves much of the time, they are not creating computer programs in a vacuum. In other words, there will be an end-user for this program. A human being will use the program that the programmer designs. Therefore, the computer programmer must understand how people think, how his or her program can solve the users’ problems and how to anticipate how the program might be used in a business or personal setting.

The computer programmer may also be part of a team at work. As such, the computer programmer needs to also possess soft skills, like problem-solving, communication, critical thinking, and active listening. These are skills that employers have said over and over again that they would like potential employees to have, according to The Balance Careers.

Sometimes, the computer programmer can learn these skills in an internship or if he or she takes classes in communication while in college. It is critical that the person who possesses a computer programming degree also has soft skills. Often these skills are more difficult to develop because they require a person to work in what could be called gray areas. In other words, computer programming might be based on mathematical principles. Human interactions aren’t so black and white.

Computer programmers earn a median annual salary of $74,280, the BLS reported. Most successful computer programmers find the work itself exciting and rewarding. They enjoy working with a computer, often independently. Many computer programmers also enjoy perks like the ability to work remotely. Perhaps most fulfilling is the opportunity computer programmers have to change the future of technology. The work of computer programmers allows them to contribute to major advances in technology and changes in how we as a society perceive and use it. U.S. News & World Report ranked computer programmer highly on several of the publication’s best careers lists, including 10th place among the best technology jobs, 16th among the best STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) jobs and 63rd among the 100 best jobs.

Related Resource:

Top 10 Degrees of the Future

5 Top Paying Jobs for Computer Programmers

20 Best Online Bachelor’s in Computer Science

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