Computer Programmer Job Description and Responsibilities

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Computer programmers are responsible for writing the detailed instructions that a computer follows, These instructions, input in computer language, are known as computer programs or software.

Programmers develop software used for everything from handling hotel reservations to playing computer games. Some work as programmer-analysts, handling the tasks of both the systems analyst and the programmer. Others may also work directly with experts in specific fields developing programs for software companies.

There are two different types of computer programmers. Systems programmers maintain software that controls the entire computer system while application programmers write programs that handle specific tasks. In many instances systems programmers are called in to assist application programmers with specific programming problems.

Computer programmers work in special computer languages such as BASIC, COBOL, C, Fourth-Generation Languages (4GL), FORTRAN, PASCAL C, DOS, or Artificial Intelligence (At). Typically, each language is used for different kinds of applications. COBOL, for example, is traditionally used when writing business programs.

Once the programmer has written the desired program, the individual is responsible for testing it to make sure that it runs property. The process of going over each set of instructions until the program runs error free is called debugging. This is one of the more challenging and time-consuming tasks for a programmer.

The individual may also write instructions to be used by the operator who will be running the program. In some cases, computer programmers may write instruction manuals.

Computer programmers are responsible to the senior or lead computer programmer.


Computer programmers may work full or part time. They can also work on a consulting or temporary basis for specific projects. Employment settings include:

Software companies, Research organizations, Robot manufacturers, Corporate industry, Data processing services, Business services, Banks, Computer manufacturers, Educational institutions and Machinery and equipment wholesalers

Expanding Opportunities for the 21st Century

The most employable computer programmers will be those with a college education who are familiar with a variety of programming and operating languages.

The demand for computer programmers will increase in the future as a result of the automation of almost every industry. Two areas that are growing especially quickly are data communications and computer networking.


Computer programmers earn from $20,000 to $60,000 plus. Factors affecting earnings include the education, experience, and responsibilities of the individual as well as the specific employment situation and location.

The more education and experience, the higher the earnings will be. Those just entering the field may earn between $20,000 and $23,000. With more experience, programmers can earn between $25,000 and $60,000 or more.

Also, systems programmers generally earn more than application programmers.


Individuals starting out as junior programmers may, with experience and education, become senior programmers. They can also obtain managerial, administrative, or supervisory positions such as lead programmer.


A four-year college degree in computer science, computer programming, or information science is usually preferred but is not mandatory. Other degrees may be in engineering, physical science, or math. Though not mandatory, the degree may be necessary for advancement.

Many individuals learn computer programming in high school or vocational-technical school. Others choose degree programs in two-year or four-year colleges,

Some employers who hire entry-level programmers offer training classes. Most programmers continue their education throughout their career because of constantly changing technology.


Individuals usually work under close supervision until they obtain adequate experience. While not always a requirement, certification is available. Individuals who are college graduates with little or no experience in the field can be certified as assistant computer programmers. Senior programmers can receive a certificate in computer programming.

The credentialing process is handled by the Institute for Certification of Computer Professionals. In order to obtain the assistant credential, individuals must take an examination. Senior programmers must have experience in addition to passing a core examination plus two more exams in specialty areas. Credential holders may be preferred for some positions as it is an indication of experience and professional competency.

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Individuals interested in learning more about careers in computer programming can contact the Association of Computer Programmers and Analysts (ACPA), the Association for Computing Machinery, Special Interest Group on Programming Languages, (SIGPL), the Data Processing Management Association (DPMA), the Microcomputer Software Association (MSA), and the Institute for Certification of Computer Professionals (ICCP).


Look in computer magazines for the names and addresses of major software firms. Send your resume and a short cover letter requesting an interview.

Jobs are often advertised in the classifieds under the headings "Computers," "Computer Programmer," "Systems Programmer," "Applications Programmer," "Software Designer," "Software Programmer," "Scientific Programmer," etc.

Job openings are advertised in the trade journals of many industries.

Many jobs are available in federal or state government in this field. Contact your state or federal employment service for information.

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