What Does a Computer Programmer Do? (With Duties and Skills)

Updated February 16, 2023

Computer programmers create the applications and software programs people use in their daily lives. Their job is challenging and rewarding, requiring attention to detail, critical thinking, and mastery of computer languages. Learning about a career in computer programming can help you determine if it's a career you wish to pursue. In this article, we discuss the job description and duties of a computer programmer, identify how to become a professional programmer, and highlight the skills, working conditions, and salary expectations for the position.

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What does a computer programmer do?

If you're interested in working in the information technology industry, you may have wondered, "What does a computer programmer do?" A computer programmer is a skilled professional who creates, changes, and evaluates the computer codes and scripts used to tell computers what to do. These scripts and codes create computer applications, programs, and software businesses and individuals use every day.

Computer programmers use coding languages to write the framework and instructions for these applications. Some programmers specialize in a particular computer language or type of application, such as smartphone programs or commercial software. Some of the primary duties of a computer programmer include:

Translating program designs into code

Computer programmers work closely with software engineers and designers to build a program. Software engineers and designers work directly with customers to determine what they require from a program, including functionality, usability, customer experience, and framework. They bring these identified requirements to a computer programmer to create the program using language the computer understands. Translating the program design into code can include forming the look and feel of the software. While writing the code for a new program, a computer programmer may use lines of code or script from a database to save time and effort.

Testing programs and identifying coding errors

Computer programmers continually test the programs they're writing and identify coding errors throughout their work. Done through running a program or other troubleshooting methods, they find any incorrect scripts or cause the program to respond unwantedly. After identifying the mistakes, a computer programmer fixes the code to ensure the program operates as intended. During this process, a computer programmer uses critical thinking and analytical skills, sometimes reviewing individual lines of code to find the area for correction.

Related: Understanding The Difference Between Coding vs. Programming

Updating existing programs

A computer programmer can also update existing programs for several reasons. For example, a software program may require updates for added cyber security or increased functionality. They can also update programs to work on other platforms or systems, such as converting a personal computer program into a smartphone application. Converting programs can require additional computer language knowledge, as the original code may require a translation into a different computer language.

Related: What Does a Software Programmer Do? (A How-to Guide)

How to become a computer programmer

There are several steps you can complete when becoming a computer programmer that include:

1. Earn a bachelor's degree

The first step in becoming a computer programmer is to earn a bachelor's degree in computer science. Universities across the country offer computer science degrees that provide the fundamental knowledge you require as a computer programmer, such as developing programs, coding, and testing. To earn a bachelor's degree, you commit to a four-year program of full-time studies. You can also consider applying for internship positions for hands-on work experience during your schooling. Many organizations use internship programs as a recruitment strategy for new talent.

2. Master essential computer languages

Once you complete your bachelor's degree, you want to master several essential computer languages. Learning the languages you use in the industry can help make your job search easier. For example, most employers require computer programmers to know C++, JavaScript, Ruby, and Python. Suppose you decide to specialize in a particular area, such as health care or gaming software. In that case, you can learn other advanced languages to make your skill set more appealing to hiring managers.

3. Earn professional certifications

You can also earn professional credentials as you master specific computer coding languages. While not necessary for all positions, many employers look for programmers with particular expertise. Professional certifications can help increase your earning potential and make you a more competitive job candidate. Common certifications include:

  • Swift certification

  • Ruby Gold or Silver certification

  • Certified Associate Programmer (CPA) for C++

  • Certified Professional Programmer (CPP) for C++

  • Java certification

  • Certified Entry-Level Python Programmer

  • Certified Associate in Python Programming

  • Certified Professional in Python Programming

Related: 12 Programming Certifications To Boost Your Career

What skills does a computer programmer require?

A competent computer programmer requires a combination of skills to perform the duties and responsibilities of their position. Some of these skills include:

Mastering computer languages

Because most of their work requires using computer languages in their daily tasks, computer programmers require mastery in this area. A computer programmer requires fluency in at least one computer language, but many learn multiple languages to expand their skill set and work on different projects. While university programs typically teach primary coding languages, many programmers complete certification courses in more advanced languages.

Most programmers regularly use primary coding languages such as C++, Java, and JavaScript to complete everyday tasks. Some also use more advanced or contemporary languages like Ruby, Swift, or Python. Focus on becoming an expert in primary languages and increase your skills through study and hands-on experience.

Related: 10 of the Most In-Demand Coding Languages for Your Career

Critical and analytical thinking

Computer programmers take the ideas and framework from software engineers and developers and create scripts to bring their concepts to life. Translating these complex instructions from other IT professionals takes critical thinking and analytical focus. A computer programmer analyzes the application or program requirements and decides how best to create the language codes to implement the system. As problems arise, they use analytical skills to assess where and why the issue happened and how to fix it.

Focus and attention to detail

When computer programmers are working on their projects, it's essential for them to remain focused with strong attention to detail. Because the work they complete when writing or changing computer code is highly specific, they stay focused without distractions around them. One wrong keystroke can have severe implications in the program, so paying attention to minor details is imperative to their success. They can also work with tight deadlines, so staying focused even when under pressure can help them reach their goals.

Problem-solving and creative thinking

A computer programmer can troubleshoot and problem-solve effectively, whether writing new code or reviewing previous scripts. Identifying potential challenges to a program and addressing concerns with creative solutions can help move a project forward. When working through program testing, they also use problem-solving skills to determine usability issues and make workable suggestions.

Related: How to List Computer Programming Skills on Your Resume

What are the working conditions of a computer programmer?

A computer programmer spends most of their workday in an office in front of a computer. They can work in a company office setting or work remotely from a home office. Because they sit for extended periods, it helps to take frequent breaks to get up and move or to invest in a standing desk. Potential health concerns include eye strain and repetitive movement injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

Computer programmers can work various hours, including days, evenings, weekends, and holidays, depending on the employer and project. For example, they may have regular hours, such as Monday to Friday, from 8 am to 5 pm, or work shifts. They also may work overtime to meet project deadlines or additional tasks.

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Average salary and outlook

The average salary of a computer programmer varies depending on geographic location, company, skills, experience, and work setting. According to Indeed Salaries, the national average wage for a computer programmer is $35.86 per hour. The compensation ranges considerably across the country. For example, below are the average wages for computer programmers in various cities from highest to lowest:

  • Winnipeg, Manitoba: $47.83 per hour

  • Toronto, Ontario: $47.19 per hour

  • Vancouver, British Columbia: $44.00 per hour

  • Iqaluit, Nunavut: $40.23 per hour

  • Calgary, Alberta: $39.07 per hour

  • Saskatoon, Saskatchewan: $38.46 per hour

  • Yellowknife, North West Territories: $37.41 per hour

  • Montreal, Quebec: $37.01 per hour

  • Whitehorse, Yukon Territory: $32.91 per hour

  • St. John's, Newfoundland: $32.57 per hour

  • Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island: $29.06 per hour

  • Moncton, New Brunswick: $28.34 per hour

  • Halifax, Nova Scotia: $24.64 per hour

The career path of a computer programmer looks vital for the next several years and is currently in high demand. According to the Government of Canada Job Bank, the availability of computer programmer jobs over the next three years looks fair to good across the country.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions, or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organization and a candidate's experience, academic background, and location.

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