What Degree Should I Seek If I Am Interested In Becoming a Programmer?

Programmers convert the ideas of software developers, engineers, and managers into system and application software that computers use to perform tasks. They work in one or more computer languages, such as C++ and Java, and test their creations to ensure they function according to specifications. They also maintain their programs by looking for and correcting problems in a process known as debugging.


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), programmers typically need a bachelor’s degree in computer science. Such education covers various programming languages, math, and debugging code. Those who want to focus on a particular field, such as accounting or biology, may supplement their degrees with classes in that field. Courses of study typically mandate an internship or cooperative education, so students gain some real-world experience, which is highly valuable to employers.

Some employers also accept workers who have an associate’s degree in computer programming. A few workplaces also make do with employees who have no formal education but many of years of experience in particular languages.

Because computer technology is changing so fast, programmers must take continuing education classes and attend professional seminars to keep up with the latest developments. Certification is also available, which may make it easier for professionals to find jobs. This documentation of particular skills is usually offered by hardware and software manufacturers. The process generally involves experience and passing an exam.


The BLS states that as of May 2012, computer programmers averaged $78,260 per year, or $37.63 per hour.

  • The highest-paid 10 percent earned over $117,890 yearly, or $56.68 hourly, while the lowest earners made less than an annual $42,850, or $20.60 per hour.
  • The biggest employers of programmers were computer systems design and related services, software publishers, and organizations that took over the management of other companies.
  • The highest-paying employer was animal slaughtering and processing, at a mean $113,760 per year, or $54.69 per hour, and securities and commodity brokers, averaging an annual $100,740, or $48.43 hourly.
  • The high population locations of California, New York, New York City, and Chicago, offered the most opportunities for programmers.
  • The state with the best pay was Washington at a mean $93,380 per year, or $44.90 per hour. The city with the same distinction was Santa Fe, New Mexico, averaging $120,050 yearly, or $57.72 hourly.


Jobs for programmers will grow by 12 percent from 2010 to 2020, says the BLS, which is close to the 14 percent increase expected for all jobs in all types of businesses. Most of the jobs will be in computer systems design and related services, with many positions opening in Internet coding. The best prospects will go to those who have at least a bachelor’s degree and knowledge of many programming languages. Programmers who have business experience may become systems analysts who can translate office processes into code. Those with organizational acumen and years of experience may be promoted to managerial positions in charge of the efforts of several programmers.