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Computer Programmers Career Overview

Convert project specifications and statements of problems and procedures to detailed logical flow charts for coding into computer language. Develop and write computer programs to store, locate, and retrieve specific documents, data, and information. May program web sites.

Salary for Computer Programmers

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 25th
Percentile
75th
Percentile
Mean
U.S. $52,640
($25.31)
$89,720
($43.14)
$73,470
($35.32)
Annual figures are on top. Hourly figures are below in parentheses.
N/A = Information not available


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Career Outlook for Computer Programmers

Overall, employment of computer software engineers and computer programmers is projected to increase much faster than the average for all occupations. Job prospects should be best for those with a bachelor's degree and relevant experience.

Employment change. Overall, employment of computer software engineers and computer programmers is projected to increase by 21 percent from 2008 to 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations. This will be the result of rapid growth among computer software engineers, as employment of computer programmers is expected to decline.

Employment of computer software engineers is expected to increase by 32 percent from 2008-2018, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. In addition, this occupation will see a large number of new jobs, with more than 295,000 created between 2008 and 2018. Demand for computer software engineers will increase as computer networking continues to grow. For example, expanding Internet technologies have spurred demand for computer software engineers who can develop Internet, intranet, and World Wide Web applications. Likewise, electronic data-processing systems in business, telecommunications, healthcare, government, and other settings continue to become more sophisticated and complex. Implementing, safeguarding, and updating computer systems and resolving problems will fuel the demand for growing numbers of systems software engineers.

New growth areas will also continue to arise from rapidly evolving technologies. The increasing uses of the Internet, the proliferation of Web sites, and mobile technology such as the wireless Internet have created a demand for a wide variety of new products. As more software is offered over the Internet, and as businesses demand customized software to meet their specific needs, applications and systems software engineers will be needed in greater numbers. In addition, the growing use of handheld computers will create demand for new mobile applications and software systems. As these devices become a larger part of the business environment, it will be necessary to integrate current computer systems with this new, more mobile technology.

In addition, information security concerns have given rise to new software needs. Concerns over "cyber security" should result in the continued investment in software that protects computer networks and electronic infrastructure. The expansion of this technology over the next 10 years will lead to an increased need for software engineers to design and develop secure applications and systems, and to integrate them into older systems.

As with other information technology jobs, offshore outsourcing may temper employment growth of computer software engineers. Firms may look to cut costs by shifting operations to foreign countries with lower prevailing wages and highly educated workers. Jobs in software engineering are less prone to being offshored than are jobs in computer programming, however, because software engineering requires innovation and intense research and development.

Employment of computer programmers is expected to decline slowly, decreasing by 3 percent from 2008 to 2018. Advances in programming languages and tools, the growing ability of users to write and implement their own programs, and the offshore outsourcing of programming jobs will contribute to this decline.

Because they can transmit their programs digitally, computer programmers can perform their job function from anywhere in the world, allowing companies to employ workers in countries that have lower prevailing wages. Computer programmers are at a much higher risk of having their jobs offshored than are workers involved in more complex and sophisticated information technology functions, such as software engineering. Much of the work of computer programmers requires little localized or specialized knowledge and can be made routine once knowledge of a particular programming language is mastered.

Nevertheless, employers will continue to need some local programmers, especially those who have strong technical skills and who understand an employer's business and its programming requirements. This means that programmers will have to keep abreast of changing programming languages and techniques. Furthermore, a recent trend of domestic sourcing may help to keep a number of programming jobs onshore. Instead of hiring workers in foreign locations, some organizations have begun to contract with programmers in low-cost areas of the United States. This allows them to reduce payroll expenses, while eliminating some of the logistical issues that arise with offshore outsourcing.

Job prospects. As a result of rapid employment growth over the 2008 to 2018 decade, job prospects for computer software engineers should be excellent. Those with practical experience and at least a bachelor's degree in a computer-related field should have the best opportunities. Employers will continue to seek computer professionals with strong programming, systems analysis, interpersonal, and business skills. In addition to jobs created through employment growth, many job openings will result from the need to replace workers who move into managerial positions, transfer to other occupations, or leave the labor force. Consulting opportunities for computer software engineers also should continue to grow as businesses seek help to manage, upgrade, and customize their increasingly complicated computer systems.

Although employment of computer programmers is projected to decline, numerous job openings will result from the need to replace workers who leave the labor force or transfer to other occupations. Prospects for these openings should be best for applicants with a bachelor's degree and experience with a variety of programming languages and tools. As technology evolves, however, and newer, more sophisticated tools emerge, programmers will need to update their skills in order to remain competitive. Obtaining vendor-specific or language-specific certification also can provide a competitive edge.


Employment Overview

Computer software engineers and computer programmers held about 1.3 million jobs in 2008. Approximately 514,800 were computer applications software engineers, about 394,800 were computer systems software engineers, and about 426,700 were computer programmers. Although computer software engineers and computer programmers can be found in a wide range of industries about 32 percent were employed in computer systems design and related services. Many also worked for software publishers, manufacturers of computers and related electronic equipment, financial institutions, and insurance providers. About 48,200 computer software engineers and computer programmers were self-employed in 2008.


Job Zone Description

Job Zone 4 - Preparation needed

Overall Experience
A minimum of two to four years of work-related skill, knowledge, or experience is needed for these occupations. For example, an accountant needs four years of college and several years of accounting work to be considered qualified.

Education
Most of these occupations require a four-year bachelor's degree, but some do not.

Job Training
Employees in these occupations usually need several years of work-related experience, on-the-job training, and/or vocational training.

Examples
Accountants, chefs and head cooks, computer programmers, historians, and police detectives.

These occupations often involve coordinating, supervising, managing, and/or training others.

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Related Occupations

1.

Computer and Information Systems Managers

2.

Computer Operators

3.

Computer Science Teachers, Postsecondary

4.

Computer Support Specialists

5.

Computer Systems Analysts

6.

Computer, Automated Teller, and Office Machine Repairers

7.

Numerical Tool and Process Control Programmers

8.

Operations Research Analysts


Additional Resources for Computer Programmers Job Seekers

State employment service offices can provide information about job openings for computer programmers. Municipal chambers of commerce are an additional source of information on an area's largest employers.

Further information about computer careers is available from:

  • Association for Computing Machinery, 2 Penn Plaza, Suite 701, New York, NY 10121-0701. Internet: http://computingcareers.acm.org
  • Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Computer Society, Headquarters Office, 2001 L St. NW., Suite 700 Washington, DC 20036-4910. Internet: http://www.computer.org
  • National Workforce Center for Emerging Technologies, 3000 Landerholm Circle SE., Bellevue, WA 98007. Internet: http://www.nwcet.org
  • University of Washington Computer Science and Engineering Department, AC101 Paul G. Allen Center, Box 352350, 185 Stevens Way, Seattle, WA 98195-2350. Internet: http://www.cs.washington.edu/WhyCSE
  • National Center for Women and Information Technology, University of Colorado, Campus Box 322 UCB, Boulder, CO 80309-0322. Internet: http://www.ncwit.org

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