Entry-level opportunities are available to beginning software programmers, though many employers require at least two years of programming experience. Opportunities are best for those with a bachelor's degree. Although associate's degrees may qualify programmers for some positions, most programmers can't advance professionally without a bachelor's degree. Prerequisites for both degree levels include a high school diploma, high standardized test scores and, for some programs, pre-engineering general education college courses.
Associate of Applied Science in Computer Science
An associate's degree program in computer science is designed to give students a basic understanding of computer operation. Most students pursue this two-year degree as a stepping stone to a bachelor's degree program. Courses teach students how to efficiently run operating systems, software programs and computer networks. Common courses deal with these topics:
- Computer science theories
- Object-oriented programming
- Database administration
- Web authoring and design
- Data structures and algorithms
Bachelor of Science in Computer Science
A bachelor's degree in computer science is the most common degree among software programmers. Students learn advanced programming and database administration skills. Using advanced computer applications, students learn how to manage networks, maintain computer network security and develop software programs. Programs require four years of study and include courses in:
- Microcomputer hardware and software
- Computational mathematics
- Software engineering
- Computer security systems
Popular Career Options
Many employers prefer to hire software programmers with 2-5 years of programming experience. Beginning software programmers can find junior programming positions. Advanced or supervisory positions in software programming may require at least seven years of experience.
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts an employment decline of 8% for computer programmers for the years 2014 through 2024. The BLS also notes that the median annual wage for these workers was $79,530 in May 2015.
Workshops and training seminars are typically available from colleges, universities, employers and computer technology companies. Businesses like Microsoft, Oracle, Intel and Apple often sponsor programming workshops. Some workshops may result in certification, while others are meant to update programmers' knowledge of a product or programming process. Employers may offer workshops as part of an orientation program for entry-level or newly hired software programmers.
Colleges and universities that offer computer science or programming degree programs may hold workshops on individual programming languages or broad issues in software programming, such as information technology project management or computer programming research and development.
The IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineering) Computer Society, with more than 85,000 members, is an important source of professional development opportunities for software programmers. The organization provides online computer courses, industry journals, technical and research articles, research statistics, conferences and continuing education information. The IEEE Computer Society publishes numerous magazines and newsletters, including Computer magazine and IEEE Software. Membership to the organization provides even greater benefits and access to additional industry resources.
Other organizations that offer professional development information include the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and the Association of C and C++ Users (ACCU). While ACM offers broad continuing education and career information for computer professionals, ACCU focuses on two programming languages, C and C++, both common among software and computer programmers. Both organizations offer publications--ACM publishes Communications of ACM, while ACCU publishes Overload. Both magazines are available online and in print. Software programmers can also enroll in a master's degree program to learn advanced programming and computer science skills.
For individuals looking for entry-level software programming jobs, an associate's degree in computer science may qualify them for some positions. However, if they want to be more competitive and advance their career, they will need to pursue a bachelor's degree, especially since the BLS is predicting a noticeable decline in job opportunities between 2014 and 2024.