What is a computer programmer?

Information Technology has many different career choices, one is becoming a computer programmer. The interest of High School seniors is low as a career in Information Technology. Information included in this paper includes the characteristics of individuals that would make good programmers, requirements of the career, work environment, and the salary potential for the career. The research is provided for High School seniors to get a glimpse into a career that is not widely thought of. Thousands of careers are being sent to other countries because the United States can not create enough professionals to fill these positions. A survey that was done shows that starting salaries for college graduates are rising because of the increase in competition entering the workforce. A survey included in this research was done involving individuals level of education, security in their career, their ability to find a comparable job, and their happiness with their career choice. The findings in this research can be concluded that a college education can help in the workforce and job security. Included are some of the work environment factors including what might be expected of someone as far as hours and the environment and although it is better than a factory job but not the average 8 a.m.-5 p.m. career, it is not enough to get these positions filled. Information obtained is from sources such as the U.S. Department of Labor, Journal of American Academy of Business, the National Association of Colleges and Employers, along with other various resources.
This is the research into a computer programming career. There is an overwhelming need for professionals in Information Technology careers. The aspects of the salary potential possible and a love for working with computers is an outstanding reason to research a career path as a computer programmer. The characteristics that make a good programmer, educational requirements, salary, what is involved in a computer programming career, and the lack of candidates and why will be considered. Through this research people will learn more about a computer programmer and their careers.
According to an article on how to manage computer programmers effectively (Partridge and Kleiner, 1992, p. 2), there are many characteristics that a technical and professional person may possess including:
• Highly specialized
• High need for professional growth
• Not much need for social interaction
• Enjoy taking calculated technical risks
• Expect respect for their personal values
A study by Couger and Zawacki, authors of Motivating and Managing Computer Personnel, showed that those in the computer profession had the lowest amount of social interaction needed to be happy at work, the highest amount of growth their job must provide to be happy, and very high for future professional growth at their present job. (Partridge and Kleiner, 1992, p. 2). There are many different characteristics that companies will look for.
Various skills other than educational that are important for programmers to posses include the ability to brainstorm, effective listening, logical thinking, patience, persistence, and creativity among many others. An article in The Journal of American Academy of Business (2005) stated, “Companies today demand a heaping smorgasbord of skills from their IT departments, from the cutting edge to the mundane. Companies are also looking for creativity, innovation and the mind-set to apply technology to business goals,” (Kamal and Central Missouri State University, 2005, p. 24). Examples of the skills for brainstorming, logical thinking and creativity are seen in figure 1.

Fig. 1 Examples of brainstorming, logic, and creativity.
In the educational view of requirements many companies demand at least a bachelor’s degree; some positions may accept an associate’s degree or certificate. Good opportunity for advancement means keeping up-to-date with the latest technology whether it is by taking courses through employer sponsorship, local colleges or universities, or other software provided. The U.S. Department of Labor (2007), states that, “Most systems programmers hold a four-year degree in computer science” (pp. 3-4). The need to know various operating and database systems is essential to a career as a programmer.
According to a survey one out of four people attended college courses. All the responses however, indicated that with their current position, there was no further education needed to be successful in their career.

Fig. 2 Percentages of a High School or College education.

Everyone that answered the survey stated that a relative or friend suggested the career. One individual also stated he or she selected their career because he or she knows someone in his or her field and the salary level and benefits of the career were attractive. Each respondent had a different occupation including hospitality, sales/marketing, trade/labor, and self employed. The individual with a college degree and self employed loves the career. The hospitality field respondent stated that he or she likes the career; the last two individuals stated that they have to grin and bare their career choice. The person with the college degree and self employed feels very secure in his or her career, and feels that it would be very easy for him or her to find another comparable job within one week. The trade/labor and hospitality individuals feel secure in their career. The trade/labor career respondent feels that it would be very difficult to find another comparable job and is unsure about how long it would take to find. The individual in the hospitality career is unsure if how hard or easy it would be and thinks it would take up to one month to find another comparable job. The sales/marketing career respondent is unsure of how secure he or she feels in their current job and feels that it would be relatively easy to find another comparable job in their field within one week.

Fig. 3 Percentages individual security in their career.
There are a range of different answers to the survey. The individual with the college education seems to be the most satisfied with his or her career choice, feels the most secure in the line of work, and being able to find other comparable jobs. Everyone chose a career path where no further educational requirements are needed to successfully do their job without limitations. The only individual that feels there is job security was the college educated, self employed individual. The other respondents that only have a high school education did not seem too sure that they are secure in their careers; they were not very happy with their fields of employment. One individual thought it would be rather difficult with his educational background to find a comparable job. Everyone was able to find a career with their educational background, but few took a job in their career because of an interest, someone known in the field, or because the salary level and benefits were attractive. The curve shows to be that the more education a person has the better a career someone can have and the happier, more secure, and more reasons one would have for taking a job in that field (Quitmeyer, 2007, pp. 4-5).
The salary for computer programming depends on knowledge, experience, education, and geographical area. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (2007) stated, “Starting salary offers for computer programmers averaged $49,928 per year in 2007,” (“Starting Salaries Continue to Rise for College Graduates,” 2007, p. 1). According to Robert Half Technology, a specialized staffing service, stated, “the average annual starting salaries in 2007 ranged from $55,250 to $90,250 for applications development programmers/analysts; mainframe systems programmers ranged from $52,250 to $70,750,” (U.S. Department of Labor, 2007, p. 7). Skills, knowledge, and experience are a few of the factors that can decide a person’s salary. The geographical area lived in can make a difference in earnings which is seen in Figure 4 below.

Figure 4: Total compensation per region
Starting salary offers continue to rise for college graduates according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, (Starting Salaries Continue to Rise for College Graduates, 2007, para. 1).
The nature of work for computer programmers consists of writing, testing, and maintaining detailed instructions for programs to follow in order to function. On top of those responsibilities programmers also have to conceive, design, and test the logical structures for solving problems by computer. According to the U.S. Department of Labor (2007), “After engineers and analysts design software, describing how it will work, the programmer converts that design into a logical series of instructions that the computer can follow. The programmer codes these instructions into a conventional programming language such as COBOL; an artificial intelligence language such as Prolog; or one of the more advanced object-oriented languages, such as Java, C++, or ACTOR” (p. 1). Programmers may produce the desired outcome by trial and error but may continue to fix problems in the program for as long as it is used.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor (2007, p. 3), programmers spend the majority of their time in front of a computer terminal, and work in clean, comfortable offices. Most programmers work about 40 hours a week. Sometimes long hours or weekend work may be required to meet deadlines or fix unexpected technical problems. Considering the prospects of the working environment and salary, it is not enough to keep students interested in majoring in computer science. “High School seniors and college freshman do not view computer disciplines as a lucrative or rewarding profession; mostly based on a lack of information and misinformation,” (Kamal and Central Missouri State University, 2005, para. 2).
To go into a computer science career one would need to continue their education beyond high school. Steps in which to become a computer programmer would include:
1. Get a high school diploma.
2. Find a college that has a good reputation in the computer science field.
3. Talk with the college academic counselor and decide what classes would be beneficial in a career as a computer programmer.
4. Learn different operating systems, different computer languages, and other skills.
5. Obtain an associates degree and find an internship to gain the experience needed to find credible employment by the time a bachelor’s degree is obtained.
6. Look for a career as a computer programmer with a good company before graduation.
According to the National Academy of Sciences (2005), “It looks likely that American schools will not churn out in the near term enough graduates qualified for high-tech jobs. American universities and colleges, with a reported 34,000 computer science graduates per year, are not feeding enough new workers into the field,” (Kamal and Central Missouri State University, 2005, p.24). If America cannot produce enough workers to fill positions available in the United States these positions will go overseas.
If this information were to be presented to a class of High School seniors I would definitely use a power point presentation and have individuals there that do computer programming. No one can explain the career and what it entails better than someone who does it for a living. Letting the students have time to ask questions and get involved is an exceptional way to peak interest. The professionals would be perfect for answering the students’ questions. It would also help to have screen shots of what computer programming work looks like before the program is complete. The only part the public sees is the finished product; showing the students the unfinished product might show what is possible.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition, Computer Programmers, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos110.htm (visited December 22, 2007).
Collett, S. (2006, November 13). The Lucky Ones. Computerworld, 40(46), 41-46. Retrieved December 22, 2007, from Academic Search Premier Database: http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdf?vid=15&hid=105&sid=ba54c616-d500-4f0f-be0d-89d3bc81f601%40sessionmgr106.
Kamal, M., & Central Missouri State University, W. (2005, September). Information Technology Workforce – Planning for the Future. Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge, 7(2), 23-26. Retrieved December 22, 2007, from Business Source Complete database: http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?vid=6&hid=105&sid=ba54c616-d500-4f0f-be0d-89d3bc81f601%40sessionmgr106.
Partridge, John R, Kleiner, Brian H. (1992). Managing computer programmers effectively. Industrial Management + Data Systems, 92(8), 11. Retrieved December 22, 2007, from ProQuest database: http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?did=1115681&Fmt=3&clientId=13118&RQT=309&VName=PQD.
Quitmeyer, Laura. (2007). Week four overview. Retrieved December 23, 2007. From Axia College, Week Four, rEsource. COM130-Creating Surveys Course Website.
Starting Salaries Continue to Rise for College Graduates. (2007, October). Report on Salary Surveys, Retrieved December 22, 2007, from Business Source Complete database: http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdf?vid=10&hid=105&sid=ba54c616-d500-4f0f-be0d-89d3bc81f601%40sessionmgr106.