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Computer Programming

Today's computers—growing more powerful each year—do more than change how we shop, learn, conduct business or spend free time. In the Digital Age, computers continue to create job opportunities in the U.S., despite the trends to outsource certain jobs to other countries. From programming to desktop support technician to game development, you'll find many rewarding opportunities that tap your technical skills, creativity—or both.

Telling computers what to do

Every computer needs a program, or set of instructions the computer follows to perform a task or set of tasks. Programming involves writing, testing, debugging/troubleshooting and maintaining the source code that is used in writing computer programs. This source code is written in a programming language, of which there are many today. CLC offers several multiple programming language courses.

What Does This Career Involve?

A software package, whether it's used for word processing or the latest computer game, typically consists of multiple programs working in harmony through an icon-based graphical user interface or GUI. After engineers and analysts design the software, describing how it will work, the programmer writes, tests and maintains a computer program. Simply put, a program is a sequence of coded instructions, called code for short, that tell a computer what to do. The programmer codes these instructions in a conventional programming language—a set of grammatical rules for the computer to follow. Today's common programming languages include Java, C++ and Extensible Markup Language (XML), but there are many more. Programmers also may program Web sites.

There are two main types of programmers:

  • Applications programmers write original or modify existing programs to perform specific computer tasks.
  • Systems programmers write original or modify existing programs to control computers at the system level, such as those in the operating systems (e.g., Windows and UNIX) that control computers and attached peripherals.

In many cases, computer programmers work as a team, under a senior programmer's supervision. Programmers work in many settings, including corporate information technology departments, big software companies and small service firms. Many work for consulting companies or are self-employed. Programmers' work varies widely depending on the type of business they're working for. For example, the instructions involved in updating financial records are very different from those required to duplicate conditions on an aircraft for pilots training in a flight simulator. Simple programs can be written in a few hours, while highly complex programs may require more than a year of work.

What are the typical job titles?

Entry-level positions include programmer, programmer analyst, computer programmer, software developer, Internet programmer or Web programmer. With experience, you can advance to senior programmer analyst or, with additional education, manager of information technology (IT) or chief information officer.

What kind of salary can you earn?

Salaries can vary greatly by employer size, industry, employee credentials, years of experience, location and other factors.

What are the job prospects?

Demand will be greatest for programmers who 1) know a variety of programming languages and 2) understand an employer's business and its programming requirements. This means that programmers will have to make sure that their knowledge stays current with changing programming languages and techniques.

To learn more, refer to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook for Computer Programmers.