How to become a computer programmer
Computer programmers are responsible for creating everything from Web platforms that support online schools to the little computer in the coffeemaker that does the automatic brewing. Technology is playing a growing role in our daily lives, and the job possibilities for computer programmers are growing with it — the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 8 percent growth for the field between 2012 and 2022, which adds up to about 28,400 new jobs nationally in that period.
Educational requirements for computer programmers
While companies prefer a candidate to hold a bachelor's degree in computer programming, computer science or a related major, some employers will hire you if you have an associate degree and an appropriate amount of knowledge and experience. You might also want to become familiar with the different programming languages that exist. These include:
One of the perks of a computer-focused career is that it typically has many possibilities for completing your education online. Certificates, associate degrees and even bachelor's degrees in computer programming or computer science are available through distance-learning programs around the country.
These schools offer related degrees:
Colorado Technical University, computer programming degree
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How much do computer programmers make?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the mean annual wage for computer programmers nationwide was $80,930 as of 2013, but salaries vary depending on your location, the company you work for and your own work experience. The average annual mean wages of the five highest-paying states in 2013 was $96,762, according to data from the BLS.
You might think that California would be one of these top-paying states since it is home to Silicon Valley, but it isn't — there are well-paid jobs for computer programmers around the country. The five top-paying states and their average annual wages are:
- Washington: $111,320
- New Mexico: $96,190
- Maryland: $94,100
- District of Columbia: $91,700
- Colorado: $90,500
In addition, specific cities pay especially well when it comes to this profession. The BLS reports that the metro areas with the highest mean annual wages for computer programmers in 2013 were:
- Santa Fe, N.M.: $127,720
- Bethesda-Rockville-Frederick, M.D.: $120,710
- Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, Wash.: $115,530
- Boulder, Colo.: $113,990
- Anniston-Oxford, Ala.: $105,020
- Lawrence-Methuen-Salem, Mass.: $101,320
- Santa Cruz-Watsonville, Calif.: $99,770
- Albuquerque, N.M.: $99,680
- San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, Calif.: $99,550
- Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Conn.: $98,410
Where can you work as a computer programmer?
Relocating to take a job might not be desirable, but states differ in the need for workers in certain industries. The BLS' projected career growth for computer programmers might be a little below the average for all jobs combined, but certain individual states with strong tech sectors are expected to have significantly better prospects. According to state labor data collected by Projections Central, these are the areas with the best job growth for computer programmers for the decade between 2010 and 2020:
- Louisiana: 32.9% projected growth
- Wyoming: 30.4% projected growth
- Washington: 23.9% projected growth
- Colorado: 21.4% projected growth
- Utah: 21.2% projected growth
If you do not already live in one of these states and you have your heart set on being a computer programmer, you might want to consider them as possible job markets. If you want to learn more about how to become a computer programmer or to see a complete list of sources, please check out the visual below.
Long Term Occupational Projections for Computer Programmers, Projections Central,
Occupational Employment and Wages: Computer Programmers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, May 2013,
Computer Programmers, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,