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Computer Programmers Careers: Employment & Salary Trends for Aspiring Computer Programmers

Computer Programmers at a Glance

¹Computer programmers develop and write computer programs to store, locate, and retrieve specific documents, data, and information. They convert project specifications and statements of problems and procedures to detailed logical flow charts for coding into computer language. In simple terms, computer programmers write the code that tells the computer what to do. They typically work with programming languages such as C, C++, COBOL, FORTRAN, PERL, and Java, and most computer programmers are well-versed in multiple computer languages.

Most computer programmers also repair, update, modify, and expand existing computer programs. The vast majority of computer programmers work full-time and they will find work in all areas. Just a few lucrative fields include technical writing, graphic design, architecture, engineering, software producing, computer security consulting (government), encryption specialists, and management information systems specialists.

Schools to consider:

Employment Trends

Job Outlook: Slight decrease
Annual Openings: 27,937
Percent Growth: -4.1%
Total Jobs Held: 455,000 (2007)
Projected Employment: 417,000
The Best 500 Jobs Overall Ranking: 237

Source: “Best Jobs for the 21st Century,” JIST Publishing 2009. Farr, Michael and Shatkin, Laurence, Ph.D.; “Salary Facts Handbook,” JIST Publishing 2008. Editors @ JIST.

Aspiring computer programmers can expect high starting salaries, but a limited number of jobs in the coming years. Thanks to everything from outsourcing and developments in packaged software programs to an increase in the ability of novices to write their own programs, the number of computer programmer jobs  is expected to decline over the next 7 years. The good news is computer programmer salaries increased approximately 3.5% between 2008-2009 and advanced computer programmers can expect to earn six figures for their expertise and skills.

While computer programmers work in all industries, their numbers are highest in computer system design. Other industries with a high number of computer programmers include: insurance, education, finance, and software publishing. Self-employed computer programmers represent roughly 3.5% of all computer programmers and only 11.5% work part-time.

Salary Trends

In 2009, computer programmers earned an average salary of $68,080 per year. This figure represents a 3.5% increase over 2008 ($65,510). computer programmers in the 90th percentile can expect to earn around $106,610 per year, while 75th percentile computer programmers can expect to earn $85,080 per year. Entry-level computer programmers can expect to earn a starting salary of around $38,460 per year.

Degrees and Training Programs

First time programmers are expected to know much more today than ever before. Opening up the field to overseas programmers has led to fierce competition within the industry when it comes to competing for jobs and employers take full advantage of their status. Most employers require a bachelor’s degree or higher from an accredited college, university, or institute of technology as well as programming skills and experience.

Nearly 70% of all computer programmers have a bachelor’s degree or higher in the areas of computer science, information systems, mathematics, computer information science, engineering, or physical science. The types of degrees available include:

Bachelor of Science in Computer Science
Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Systems
Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering
Master of Science in Computer Science
Master of Computer Science
Master of Telecommunications and Software Engineering
Ph.D. in Computer Science

Even after completing a degree in computer science, whether undergrad or advance, computer programmers must keep up with systems and technology that changes every day. They have to stay ahead of the game by taking relevant courses on a regular basis.

Certification is also available to aspiring computer programmers that wish to make themselves more marketable. Computer language specific certification is available as well as certification offered through software firms and product companies.

Coursework Required

Aspiring computer programmers will begin their journey in high school. Computer programmers typically excel in math and science, usually working at advanced levels in middle school and high school. Once in college, computer programming students can expect to take calculus, biology, humanities, chemistry, probability and statistics, data structures and algorithms, physics, language programming, software engineering, and computer science.

1. Salary Facts Handbook, the editors @ JIST, JIST Publishing, 2008.
Did you know that one out of every five computer programmers has a graduate degree? Overall, two-thirds of all computer programmers have a bachelor’s degree or higher. –JIST Works