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What is computer programming?

Computer programming careers are available in many industries

At a glance

●      Salaries in computer programming vary depending on several factors, such as which industry a computer programmer works in, his or her specific role within that company, location and experience. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), salaries can range from $51,440 to $146,050.

●      Computer programmers come from different backgrounds. Many of them have degrees in computer science, but this isn’t necessarily required for the position. Some companies offer on-the-job training. Other programmers can get a foot in the door with a related degree, such as information technology, certificates and certifications.

●      Computer programming careers are available in many industries, including transportation, education, telecommunications, finance and healthcare. The list of possibilities goes on and on.

The complete guide to computer programming

Here is what you need to know about a career in computer programming, including career information, salary data, coding languages and why a computer science degree may be a good first step. 

What is computer programming?

In the simplest terms, computer programmers are responsible for writing computer programs that allow people to perform specific tasks through a computer. Computer programmers can also write code and programs to make computers more efficient and effective.

Computer programming is an essential part of technology today because it allows everyone from coders to CEOs to have the software they need to be more productive in their jobs. From emailing co-workers to using spreadsheets, computers affect our daily lives in many ways — and this is where computer programmers enter the picture.

What is computer programming used for?

Computer programming is used for practically everything that has to do with technology today. Computer programmers design apps, create websites, write computer programs for businesses and even manage the programming of your favorite TV shows.

Website development is one of the most common applications of computer programming. This includes the coding language behind many popular websites and social media platforms. With the transition to the cloud, infrastructure as code (IAC) has also become an important aspect of computer programming. IAC refers to using code to manage a systems infrastructure. This is required to operate and manage enterprises in most IT environments.

Computer programmers also create websites to manage a business’s online presence and to provide information, news and entertainment. These are just some of the many ways that computer programmers influence technology.

Computer programs are used in industries around the world. Computer programming affects almost every industry. The medical sector, for example, uses computers to keep track of patient files and other important information, while educators use computer programs to instruct students on how to solve problems and understand certain subjects.

Almost any time a computational function is performed, you can practically guarantee a computer programmer had something to do with it — and this will continue in the future.

What does a computer programmer do?

A computer programmer writes codes and programs necessary for computers to execute tasks successfully. Programmers implement code in two ways: either through an application or within a website’s coding language itself. Computer programming aims to create code that can make software, websites and apps carry out the tasks they are asked to do.

Computer programmers write this code using several coding languages. Some of the most popular ones are C++, Python, HTML5, JavaScript, Ruby and PHP. It’s also possible for some engineers to use more than one coding language in their work.

These professionals are often required to work in teams with other people who will help them with their projects, including designers and web developers. Communication skills are extremely important for anyone interested in computer programming because teamwork will become more critical as this career grows.

A computer programmer will need to be well versed in the following areas of expertise:

●      Coding and assembly language

●      Operating systems

●      Machine learning

●      Source code

●      Data structures

●      Machine code

●      Artificial intelligence

●      Full-stack development

●      Client-side programming

Is computer programming a good career?

Computer programming falls under the umbrella of computer science jobs. Successful computer programmers enjoy a wide range of industries in which they can work and refine their skill set. However, because some companies do outsource their computer programming roles overseas where the labor costs are less expensive, competition for these roles can be strong. That’s why it’s important to understand which qualifications best equip you for a career in this field.

What are the qualifications to be a computer programmer?

Computer programmers usually earn a bachelor’s degree in computer science or another field of computer-related studies. However, some companies will accept applicants with an associate degree, particularly if they have significant work experience and certifications to back up their application.

Because these employees must be able to solve problems creatively and think strategically about how applications can improve a company’s workflow processes, many companies require their computer programmers to have a background in math and science. This is especially true for those who want to work as web developers, application developers or mobile app developers.

Computer programming career path

If you’re interested in starting a computer programming career, several paths are open to you.

You can pursue a four-year degree in computer science or a related field. Or you can earn an associate degree while also gaining on-the-job experience or certifications. If it’s not possible (or maybe just not desired) to attend college right away, there are still other ways to break into the computer programming industry. You can apply for internships or entry-level positions at local businesses so you can ease your way in and start learning as much as possible about computer programming.

Whatever your path may be, it’s important to know there’s always room for growth in computer programming. If you’re looking for an industry that will continue to evolve as technology does, then it’s time to explore what opportunities exist within computer programming, where salaries are usually higher than the national average salary.

The following are just a few potential career pathways open to computer programmers:

Software application developer

Overview: Software developers are dedicated to creating applications and programs that run on a computer or mobile device. They need to have a strong background in computer programming and knowledge of various programming languages and coding techniques.

Application developers will use their coding skills to work on various projects, including game design and mobile applications. For this career path, applicants must have strong problem-solving skills to resolve any issues during the development process.

National average salary: The salary range for software application developers in May 2020 was $65,210 to $170,100 a year, according to BLS. Salaries vary depending on experience, certification and industry.

Education requirements: To become a software developer, you will need a bachelor’s degree in computer science, information technology or a related field.

Job outlook: Software developer jobs are projected to grow 22% between 2020 and 2030, according to BLS. That would be much faster than the projected average job growth of 7.7% during that period.

Web developer

Overview: Web developers create, modify and maintain the code that runs on websites. They need to have a strong background in computer programming and knowledge of multiple coding languages and technologies.

Web developers often work with designers and content editors to ensure the final product successfully launches after it’s been coded. Developers usually work on a team but also might have the opportunity to work remotely, depending on their employer and location.

National average salary: The salary range for web developers in May 2020 was $40,750 to $146,430, according to BLS. Salaries vary depending on experience, certification and industry.

Education requirements: A web developer needs anything from a high school diploma to an associate or bachelor’s degree. Again, your education may affect your salary.

Job outlook: The demand for web developer jobs is projected to grow faster than average at 13% between 2020 and 2030, according to BLS.

Computer network architect

Overview: Computer network architects are responsible for designing and maintaining the computer networks that form the backbone of corporations, small businesses and large institutions.

To do this, they need a firm grasp of various technologies as well as sound knowledge of computer programming, data structures for information storage and assembly language specific to an architecture. In addition, they also oversee the installation and maintenance of different equipment required for networking.

National average salary: The salary range for computer network architects was $67,190 to $175,570 in May 2020, according to BLS. Salaries vary depending on experience, certification, and industry.

Education requirements: Computer network architects need a bachelor’s degree and possibly an advanced degree in a computer-related field.

Job outlook: Computer network architect jobs are projected to grow at a slower-than-average pace of 5% between 2020 and 2030, according to BLS.

Database administrator

Overview: Database administrators are responsible for designing, maintaining and monitoring databases. They need strong computer programming skills and knowledge of operating systems to develop software that can accommodate users’ needs while also ensuring smooth network operations.

They usually work on a team with other database professionals specializing in certain areas or projects. Database administrators often communicate directly with upper management to ensure the company is running smoothly on the technical side.

National average salary: The salary range for database administrators was $54,070 to $155,660 in May 2020, according to BLS. Salaries vary depending on experience, certification and industry.

Education requirements: Database administrators need to obtain a bachelor’s degree in computer science, information technology or related field to be competitive in the field.

Job outlook: Database administrator jobs are projected to grow at an average rate of 8% between 2020 and 2030, according to BLS.

Computer and information research scientist

Overview: Computer and information research scientists research computer software, programming, statistical analysis and other activities. They need a strong understanding of computer science and an advanced understanding of multiple coding languages.

In addition, it’s helpful if applicants have a good knowledge of mathematics and the ability to analyze information from many sources and contexts.

National average salary: The salary range for computer and information research scientists in May 2020 was $72,210 to $194,430, according to BLS. Salaries vary depending on experience, certification and industry.

Education requirements: Computer information research scientists need a bachelor’s or master’s degree in computer science or a related field.

Job outlook: Computer and information research scientists are a hot commodity, with jobs projected to grow at 22% between 2020 and 2030, which would be much faster than average, according to BLS.

Computer programmer

Overview: Computer programmers use computer languages to write code for software applications and web development. They create detailed instructions that tell a computer what tasks to perform and how to do them.

Programmers need a firm understanding of at least one primary programming language and the ability to solve problems creatively. In addition, they need excellent oral and written communication skills to work with teams of other professionals.

National average salary: The salary range for computer programmers in May 2020 was $51,440 to $146,050, according to BLS. Salaries vary depending on experience, certification and industry.

Education requirements: A computer programmer needs an associate or bachelor’s degree in computer science or related field to be competitive.

Job outlook: Computer programmer jobs are expected to decline by 10% between 2020 and 2030, according to BLS. However, jobs that require computer programming skills (such as those listed above) are all growing at an average or faster-than-average rate.

The salary ranges above are not specific to students or graduates of University of Phoenix. Actual outcomes vary based on multiple factors, including prior work experience, geographic location and other factors specific to the individual. University of Phoenix does not guarantee employment, salary level or career advancement. BLS data is geographically based. Information for a specific state/city can be researched on the BLS website.

Computer programming certificates and certifications

Certificates and certifications are valuable in the computer programming field. Certificates are evidence of education that often prepare course participants to sit for certification exams, which demonstrates the meeting of an industry standard. Universities, like University of Phoenix, offer certificates, while industry organizations, like EC-Council, provide certifications. 

Both certificates and certificates are useful tools for an employee’s toolbox to show an employer that a computer programmer (or an individual in a related position) has the necessary skills to succeed. In addition, they validate a candidate’s ability to work successfully in this profession.

Certificate courses cover how to write code; they also assess students’ knowledge of writing code in a wide variety of computer programming languages, including JavaScript, C++, Python and more. A certification also provides a solid foundation in cybersecurity, application development, data analysis, and related computer science and information technology subjects.

Certification, certificates and continuing education courses are offered by colleges and vendors that specialize in computer programming training. These organizations usually have a team of instructors who are familiar with the core concepts involved.

Just about anyone can take certificate courses — they don’t require formal education or experience to apply — and there is no set timeline. Certificates can be earned in a matter of weeks, but some programs take two to four years to complete.

Online computer programming and related fields offered by University of Phoenix (UOPX) include:

●      Scripted and Compiled Programming Languages Certificate (CERT/SCPL)

●      Advanced Software Developer Certificate (CERT/ASD)

●      Advanced Networking Certificate (CERT/AN)

●      Cloud Computing Certificate (CERT/CLD)

●      Post Master’s Certificate in Information Systems and Technology Leadership (CERT/D-IST)

●      Information Assurance and Security Certificate (CERT/IAS)

If you or a prospective employer want more training and credentials, other organizations that offer certifications in this field include:

●      Cisco

●      Microsoft

●      Oracle

●      CompTIA

●      EC-Council

These companies offer a wide range of certifications, from beginner to advanced, on hundreds of skills in the computer science fields.

Computer programming languages

Coding languages are a large part of computer programming. Knowing which programming languages you should learn will save you time and money when you’re gaining the necessary skills for the job. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about computer programming languages.

What is front-end coding?

Front-end coding, or client-side programming, is any computer programming function associated with user interfaces. This type of coding creates visual elements that the user can interact with, including buttons, images, text, structure and anything visible on the screen. Numerous programming languages generate source code for applications. The most popular are below.

What are front-end coding languages?

Three common front-end coding languages are:

●      HTML: Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) allows you to create the written content that appears on webpages. The webpage can consist of links, headings, titles and anything else that provides information about the text. HTML is usually paired with CSS or JavaScript when developing applications for the user interface.

●      CSS: Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) allow you to specify the style and appearance of an HTML document. You can include fonts, colors, spacing between lines of text, background images and nearly anything that will affect appearance. CSS is paired chiefly with HTML when developing applications for the user interface.

●      JavaScript: JavaScript is a computer programming language that the user’s web browser can execute. It provides fundamental interactions on the user side, including mouse-overs, button clicks, and scrolling through content. It is also a good language for artificial intelligence and machine learning (or machine code) projects. The most common way to use JavaScript is with HTML or CSS to create more dynamic web applications.

What is back-end coding?

If the user side of a website is what you can see, then back-end coding refers to what happens when your computer sends information out across the web. The programming side of websites usually consists of a database and scripts, back-end logic, application programming interfaces (APIs) and servers.

Back-end coding, or server-side programming, is the type of computer programming that operates web servers and can be seen as code that runs on a server. The back-end logic and APIs work together to make the back end of websites dynamic and powerful.

APIs are pieces of software code that allow developers to access specific data from other systems. APIs make it easier for developers to create applications by providing ready-made functions to apply to their programs.

What are back-end coding languages?

Common back-end coding languages are:

●      Python: Python is a computer programming language that emphasizes code readability and minimalism, with a syntax that can be described as simple and easy to learn. Python makes it easier to use the limited number of data types available in the language and provides powerful (and dynamically typed) data types such as lists and dictionaries.

●      Java: Java was developed by Sun Microsystems (later acquired by Oracle). The programming language JavaScript uses a syntax that resembles English, making it easier to read and write code for developers. JavaScript is object-oriented and class-based, where classes contain variables and methods which can be accessed from outside of the program itself.

●      Ruby: Ruby has developed the goal of making programming easier by removing some of the syntactical elements that made it difficult to read and maintain code. This computer programming language is based on syntax similar to that used in another object-based, high-level programming language: Python.

●      PHP: PHP is a computer programming language created for web development and runs on the server. PHP can be inserted into HTML source code, allowing you to add dynamic elements to your website. The language uses a syntax similar to C++ and Java — elements such as if statements and loops behave much like their counterparts in other languages.

How to choose a programming language?

Choosing which coding languages you should learn will come down to the field you want to work in and the compatibility requirements of a company’s existing programming infrastructure. You will likely have to know both front- and back-end languages, as they are both equally important.

For example, app developers need to use front-end languages for the user interface and back-end languages for working with databases and servers. Full-stack developers — those who know both front- and back-end coding languages — possess a valuable IT skill set.

Which pays more: Front-end or back-end coding?

This is an ongoing debate among programmers, but the consensus seems to be that back-end languages are more valuable. This might be because back-end coding is more technically advanced.

Computer programmers are behind every computer application you use daily. They take complex tasks and simplify them to create functional applications for everyday life. For this reason, many computer programming and related positions are in high demand — as many businesses in virtually any industry need these services.

Computer programmers enjoy diverse work environments, exciting career opportunities and competitive salaries. The best way to prepare for this career is by learning the basics of one or more programming languages and getting started on a computer science, information technology or related degree.


Computer programming is just one branch of the computer science tree. See what real-life careers in IT look like in our photo-driven blog post!

Ready to start your career in computer programming or related field? Learn more about the Bachelor of Science in Computer Science degree at University of Phoenix.

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Michael Feder is a Content Marketing Specialist at University of Phoenix, where he researches and writes on a variety of topics, ranging from healthcare to IT and everything in between. He is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars program, and a New Jersey native!

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