The field of computer programming is a field brimming with opportunities. As technology and innovation become more ubiquitous, the demand for professionals who can utilize new technologies efficiently is on the rise. The good news: you can easily break into the field if you have a computer programming degree.
What Is Computer Programming?
Computer programming is the process of writing code that gives instructions to the computers and/or their software. These instructions prompt the computer or software to perform the task. The tasks may range from executing simple instructions to solving more complex problems.
Professionals who work in this field are called computer programmers. Computer programmers are responsible for finding and fixing problems in a series of codes.
They ensure the code continues to work and run optimally for the users. In a sense, they perform maintenance on already-written code. All the work done by computer programs can be achieved with various programming languages.
Before we proceed, it’s important to distinguish computer programmers from software engineers. Computer programmers and software engineers are often mistaken as having the same set of tasks. While the two roles share lots of similarities, they do differ in other aspects.
For the purpose of brevity, computer programmers write code. The role of software engineers, meanwhile, extend far beyond software programming. They use engineering principles for software development.
Learn more about their similarities and differences here.
Common Programming Languages
When it comes to programming languages, there is a lot to learn. There are numerous programming languages out there and all of them have their own fan base.
Everyone you talk to will have strong opinions about their most and least preferred languages to code in. Keep in mind that each language has different features that work better for everyone. At the core of it, however, they all help you code.
Education Paths to Computer Programming
What’s the difference between having a degree and a certification? How is going to a college or university different from attending a bootcamp? Whichever option you choose, you’ll end up with the same knowledge and abilities, right? Well, the answer isn’t as clear-cut as you might expect.
Both options have their set of upsides and downsides. For computer programmers, the pros and cons lie within the realm of job placement and pay.
Exploring the Non-Traditional Path
Going the non-traditional route saves you a lot of time and money. It allows more room for flexibility than the traditional college and university.
Some methods you can choose from are attending a coding bootcamp or taking independent online courses. Some bootcamps operate on a self-paced learning mode. They even throw in one-on-one mentorship to keep you engaged in learning.
Teaching yourself means you can learn at your own pace. This, in turn, means that the time by which you master programming skills may be faster or slower than a college course. The point is you’d have more freedom in choosing what to learn and when to do it.
Despite its appeal, taking this path could affect your career outlook. There are employers who will refrain from hiring you because you don’t have a degree. Those who forego credentials still have the option to outsource workers who are willing to work at a much lower cost.
This is where experience comes in handy. If you have experience and a portfolio to illustrate your capacities, you might have a better chance in landing entry-level roles. For some, this interest could be just as much as applicants who have a degree gain.
The catch is that employers may offer you a lower base salary than what they offer degree-holders. But if you enjoy what you do and are willing to work for a little less, being self-taught could work out for you.
Choosing Formal Education
Earning a degree, on the other hand, can take a bit longer. Most degree programs have a set amount of years to completion. This is because degree programs come with numerous prerequisites. These include having a cumulative GPA of at least 2.75 and completion of general education courses.
Completing a degree from highly recognized schools, such as MIT or Stanford, will almost guarantee you any job you apply for. It might just take longer to finish.
Pursuing a degree route may not leave much room for working at your own pace. But, it will allow you easier access to expert knowledge in the field and more specialty areas.
Having a degree on your resume also likely leads to higher base salaries and less competition. It puts you a step above those without one in the eyes of potential employers.
Whichever route you choose to take, there will be ample opportunity for improvement and employment as you gain knowledge and experience in the field. As long as you put in the work, you’ll be able to get the job you want.
Getting a Degree in Computer Programming
Here is a fun fact for you: there really are no degrees in computer programming. You may have realized this if you have been hoping to pursue a career in computer programming. Instead of a computer programming degree, future programmers hoping to earn a college degree will need to consider a few other degrees.
What makes computer programming a fun field to work in is the broadness of it. Nearly every industry requires a computer programmer to fill in certain positions. Luckily, there are lots of different degree paths you can take to be prepared for the job you want.
The path most programmers take is a degree in computer science. This is a similar field to computer programming and teaches the necessary skills for working in the field.
Best Degree Programs in Computer Programming
Below are some of the best degree programs that integrate computer programming.
This prestigious university offers a computer science program in the undergraduate and graduate levels. Its Bachelor of Science in Computer Science consists of core courses. These include computer organization and systems, operating systems principles, theory of computation, and design and analysis of algorithms.
Students also get the option to choose one of 10 computer science degree tracks. Some of which are the Information Track, Artificial Intelligence Track, Computer Engineering Track, and Graphics Track. Graduates of the program are equipped with skills needed to break into other sectors, such as law, government, and the corporate sector.
Located in Pasadena, Caltech offers one of the best undergraduate computer science programs in the country. Unsurprisingly, it’s also the university’s most popular program. Ninety-five percent of Caltech undergraduate students taking at least one computer science course.
Unique in the Caltech program is the focus it gives in research. Research opportunities range from building and exploiting novel graphics devices to molecular computing and networking.
MIT’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Science is the university’s largest program, with over 30 percent of the student body enrolled in it. In this program, students learn circuit design and electronics, robotics, and artificial intelligence.
How to Set Yourself Apart From Other Programmers
With many opting for education in computer science and information technology, it’s important to pursue further opportunities for distinction. Here are some steps you can take to build a solid resume.
Sign on for a Minor
The best answer to that question is to minor in something related to your future career goal. A great all-encompassing minor to go alongside this degree would be one in mathematics, for instance. To set yourself apart, consider a more specialized skill.
Let’s say you want to become a video game developer. You can begin by learning how to code. This is often a skill people learn independently or through coding bootcamps, rather than through colleges.
For video game development, a minor program in graphic design, creative writing, or theater would be a great accompaniment to your major. If you’re feeling ambitious, you could choose to double major in the fields.
To name another example: If you want to pursue a job in the banking sector, consider a minor in accounting or finance. Having a minor to accompany your computer science degree affects what jobs you will qualify for.
Be an Intern
If you are unsure as to what minor you should go for, consider applying for internships for your main career goal. Most programs will require students to accomplish internships where they can gain hands-on experience in real-world tasks. While working as an intern, you gain first-hand experience of what the job entails. This helps you figure out the best accompanying minor be for you.
Degree: Undergraduate or Graduate?
While a graduate degree may look fancy, it isn’t necessary to pursuing a career in computer programming. An undergraduate degree will give you as much an edge you need and put you ahead of the competition.
If you decide to shoot for an undergraduate degree, you are looking at much less time spent in college. On average, a bachelor’s degree takes two years to earn (after completing general education requirements).
An undergraduate degree will work fine for the purpose of getting you in with potential employers. But a graduate degree will give you a higher chance of employment and much higher salaries.
A graduate degree will take a few additional years to complete. It will take two years for a master’s degree and another two for a doctorate. But, if you are willing and are able to put in the time, you will be able to benefit greatly in your future career.
Start by going after a bachelor’s degree. Once further down the road, you can decide whether to go for a master’s or doctorate.
It’s Not Just About the Degree
It is important to note that a degree isn’t the end-all-be-all for the field of computer programming. Have you taught yourself to code? Or are you in the process of doing so? If you answered yes to either of these questions, you’re likely as determined and capable as someone with a degree is.
For many, being self-taught and/or attending coding bootcamps is a much cheaper and easier way to learn the knowledge needed to be successful.
Career Outlook in Computer Programming
There are tons of career options within the field of computer programming. As a computer programmer, you can work in a variety of jobs ranging from a computer systems analyst to a database administrator. The average salary for a computer programmer is around $79,084.
Some of the more fun and creative jobs that the field has to offer include video game development, animation, and graphic design. Since the field offers various areas of expertise, it is easy to find a career that allows you to express your creative side. Video game development, for instance, includes everything from making the story line to designing and animating the scenery.
Pros and Cons of a Computer Programming Career Track
When researching the field of computer programming, you might read about a bleak outlook on the future of jobs in the field. One of the primary reasons mentioned may be the influx of people who know how to code.
Now that more and more people are learning to code on their own, many companies have begun to outsource their jobs to other countries. Companies do this because the minimum wage for many countries is much lower than it in countries like the United States.
However, if you have a degree in computer programming, you may go a longer way than coders who don’t. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job prospects in computer programming are most positive for degree holders and those who exhibit continuous learning. After all, the particular credential signals the breadth and depth of programming skills you’ve gained in years.
Still on the fence about launching a career in the field? It’s worth mentioning that computer programming does have great aspects to it. This is a job that suits every personality type.
It suits introverts or people who prefer working by themselves. It’s also a good fit for extroverts or those who thrive on collaborations. Either way, computer programming allows you to work on solo and team projects.
The flexibility of the field is another one of its strengths. Computer programming jobs are remote. With a career in the technology field, you can find remote positions as quickly as you can find office positions. You can work from home and set your own hours! All in all, it is a great field for anyone who enjoys coding.
Is a Computer Programming Degree Worth It?
The world of computer programming is vast and complex. It is one of the few fields in which non-traditional and traditional learning are viewed as almost the same.
Many fields would toss the resumes of individuals without college degrees. In the tech industry, however, several companies have started lifting the requirement of having a degree. To name a few, there’s Google, Apple, and IBM.
Put another way, pursuing a degree is a great option to boost your career but not necessary in starting one. So, if you are thinking about joining the world of computer programming, jump right in! There are many paths from you to choose from and there will be one that is a good fit for you.
Computer Programming FAQs
As a computer programmer, you’re expected to be proficient in different programming languages. Since computer programming entails writing code, you’d also have to be detail-oriented and focused to prevent any error in the program. Active listening and strong communication skills are also important when dealing with clients.
Computer programmers received a median pay of $86,550 in 2019. Programmers on the lower end earned $50,150 while those on the higher end earned approximately $140,000.
Aside from a computer science degree, you can also opt for a degree in information systems.
Other occupations similar to computer programming are web development, software application development, computer hardware engineering, and business intelligence analysis.
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