What Does a Computer Programmer Do?

Computer ProgrammerThe difference between what a computer programmer does and what a software engineer does is subtle, and the educational requirements between the two occupations are the same. Obtaining employment as a programmer is usually a little easier than becoming a software engineer, though, because large companies rely on software engineers to design the underlying architecture of applications, while programmers specialize in writing the source code laid out by the engineers. The distinction isn’t always so clear, however, and computer programmers often design applications as well as implement code.

In smaller projects, such as websites or mobile applications, a production team may consist only of designers, programmers and a project leader. Many projects only have a few people working in all the roles. For example, a project leader may be a programmer who writes most of an application’s business logic and delegates work to a few other people, such as graphic artists or other programmers. Each programmer might work on one part of an application, and the entire team tests how all the components work as a whole.

What Projects Does a Computer Programmer Work On?

In a corporate setting, programmers make up one small part of a huge team hired to produce applications with potentially millions of lines of code. In this situation, programmers get instructions from software engineers in the form of a Unified Modeling Language diagram, which illustrates all the working parts of an application. This kind of application is usually written in C++, which most programmers learn in college. Since these programmers have less responsibility than the engineers designing the software, they make somewhat less money on average. However, programmers work in many settings besides a corporate environment.

Many computer science graduates find work in Web development, which requires skills not normally taught in college. Web developers must learn HTML, CSS and JavaScript as well as Python, PHP, Django, Ruby on Rails, Perl and any other Web programming frameworks that employers want to use. According to Site Point, the most common frameworks on the Internet are Django, Ruby on Rails and the various PHP frameworks, such as Laravel, CodeIgniter and Phalcon. These frameworks divide website logic into the well-known layers of model-controller-view, and each programmer usually focuses on one of these layers. Programmers who specialize in theme design concentrate on the view, or template, layer, which consists of HTML, CSS and Javascript.

How Much Does a Computer Programmer Make?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, programmers made a median annual salary of $74,280 in 2012. Companies that only need simple coding may hire programmers with an associate’s degree, and companies that want to reduce costs may hire programmers from countries with lower wages. For this reason, job availability for programmers is only expected to increase 8 percent over the next ten years, even though the demand for software will increasing more rapidly. Opportunities in the related field of Web development are projected to increase much faster at about 20 percent over the next ten years.

Related Resource: Global MBA

Programmers without software engineering skills face competition in the global job market, but related occupations offer expanded opportunities. If you have a natural gift for technical problem solving and a great ability to focus on your work for long periods, you should continue researching what a computer programmer does.