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Computer Programmer

How to Become a Computer Programmer: 5 Soft Skills to Develop to Excel

Build the metaverse. Create entire virtual worlds from scratch. Design artificial intelligence. Take basic lines of code, and turn them into anything you could possibly imagine. That's the promise that becoming a computer programmer brings. The world is becoming increasingly digitized, and computer programmers are building it. It's also a flexible position, with more than 75% of programming positions now working remotely. You'll need plenty of technical skills to succeed in your programming career. But soft skills are increasingly what will set you apart from other programmers. Foundational skills such as attention to detail, problem-solving, and communication are essential. Read on to find out how Fingerprint for Success can help you develop these crucial soft skills.

Illustration of a person displaying how to become a computer programmer and sharing the technical and soft skills needed to succeed

What do computer programmers do?

Successful computer programmers write code that becomes the backbone of software programs. They also test and modify that code to identify and remove bugs and optimize software over time.

Think of writing code such as writing instructions. Skilled computer programmers take the strategy and designs created by designers, developers, and engineers, and turn them into the instructions the computer will follow to execute the software.

To do that, you'll need to develop coding skills in a number of programming languages, including:

  • Python
  • JavaScript
  • C++
  • C#
  • Perl

Each of these languages can develop different types of code. For example, Python is the codebase for YouTube and Google Search, while JavaScript is most common in web and mobile app development.

The programming profession is broad, with several specializations available:

  • Front-end development focuses on creating the parts of software that users interact with.
  • Back-end development focuses on creating the 'engine' parts of the software that happen behind the scenes.
  • Full-stack development is end-to-end, including both the front and backend of software development.

Every industry needs software, so every industry needs computer programmers. You'll find entry-level programming jobs and leadership positions in the tech industry. But you'll also find future employers at non-tech companies in industries such as insurance, financial services, and manufacturing.

What are the soft (human) skills needed to become a computer programmer?

Programming skills in one or more of the above common languages are a natural requirement for this career path. However, consider the importance of soft skills to really accelerate your success in this field.

Communication skills

Application programmers never work in isolation. You'll have to partner with software designers, engineers, and UX teams. As an entry-level programmer, you'll need to create written bug reports. As you move into a leadership position, you'll need to engage with stakeholders in all areas of your organization. At all times, you'll gain an advantage if you can explain your work to stakeholders in simple terms, as they won’t have a technical background.

All of those processes require strong communication skills. A strength in neutral communication can get you far with potential employers. Even the most expert programmer in coding languages will hit a career ceiling without effective communication.

Problem-solving skills

Skilled computer programmers have a healthy amount of skepticism. But more importantly, they'll use that skepticism to solve key problems using scripting languages. You need critical thinking skills to succeed. Problem-solving and analytical skills will help you solve and debug complex problems.

Attention to detail

Prepare to enter one of the most detail-oriented professions there is. One wrong symbol in your code can make or break the software. The ability to stay focused on the details, without losing track of the bigger picture, is vital to success. We've seen computer programmers succeed when they combine their attention to detail with a period of time motivation, ensuring that even small problems receive the right solution.

Organizational skills

Organizational skills are a part of almost every programming job description. Your need for structure leads to a methodical way of working. As you advance, an emphasis on systems thinking helps you see the bigger picture beyond each line of code. Meanwhile, an innate talent to stick to a schedule ensures that even complex coding projects with thousands of lines get delivered on time.

Collaboration and interpersonal skills

Most of your work as a programmer will happen in front of your personal computer. But you'll still work as part of a larger team, and collaborating with that team is crucial. You'll collaborate with software developers, software designers, and other team members. A sense of belongingness and being comfortable around others can help you succeed in the more social aspects of this profession.

Develop these core computer programming skills

A degree in programming will give you the coding experience and coding proficiency you need to succeed. But that's just the beginning. Without the right soft skills, your job outlook will remain limited.

Fingerprint for Success can help you develop those foundational skills. Take our assessment to gain self-awareness into your motivations related to soft skills. It's over 90% accurate and measures 48 different motivations to get a result that's as unique as your fingerprint.

Once you've taken the assessment, you'll be able to set a goal. From there, our AI Coach Marlee will provide you with personalized insights related to both your goal and your motivations. The feedback on your motivations and insights related to your blind spots will provide a roadmap to success.


You value verbal comms - in person meetings, phone calls, audio recordings, voice memos, podcasts etc.

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Problem and risk aversion

Your level of energy for motivating yourself and others to identify, avoid and overcome problems, issues and challenges.

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How long does it take to become a computer programmer?

You can get an entry-level position in programming in two to four years. That time typically includes earning a bachelor's or associate's degree in IT or computer science. But you can also enter the profession without a college degree. You can learn one or more popular programming languages on your own, then earn an industry certification to show your worth to prospective employers.

What higher education is required?

Most job listings in programming will include a college education requirement with at least an associate degree. Degree options typically include computer science, IT, or data science and mathematics. Look for any degree that includes programming classes in its curriculum.

But many of these listings don't require formal education. Instead, they might ask for equivalent practical experience. In these cases, self-education using online resources or online courses may be enough. For example, you can enter certificate programs to earn an online certification in C++, Java, or Python at an accredited university that most global employers will accept.

Educational requirements increase with your experience level. For example, a graduate degree in computer science can help you get supervisory positions. Advanced degrees tend to focus on the more strategic aspects of programming that help you move up in your career.

What licenses, certifications, and registrations will you need?

Most employers include certifications in the 'desired' section of the job listing, not the 'required' section. But if you’re self-educated through online programs, these certifications can help you prove your qualifications.

Certifications tend to be globally recognized. For example, you can earn a JavaScript certification from the International JavaScript Institute that will show your qualifications regardless of your country.

One increasingly popular option to qualify for an entry-level position without full-time study are so-called coding bootcamps. These educational programs offer part-time, evening online classes and can be completed in as little as 6 months. Bootcamp graduates receive relevant certifications and often receive hiring benefits from companies partnering with the online schools offering these programs.

What on-job internships and apprenticeships are typical for aspiring computer programmers?

Internships are not required for entry-level programming positions. But they can help you stand out from other candidates who don't yet have practical experience.

Most four-year degrees require an internship or independent study before graduation. Most internships will provide you with beginner-level coding skills and an insight into the type of work environment you can expect in a full-time job.

What advancement and specialization opportunities are there?

With the right experience, programmers can advance to managerial and leadership positions. They may also specialize in roles that build on the foundational code they've written, such as:

  • Software developers
  • Network security analysts
  • Game design directors
  • Computer systems analysts
  • Senior database administrators
  • Quality assurance engineers
  • And more.
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See if you've got what it takes to become a successful computer programmer
Our free assessment can help you understand how your motivations line up with the skills you'll need. It only takes 15 to 20 minutes and gets you a free report on what gives you energy and fulfillment at work. Find out if a role as a computer programmer is a good career fit for your soft skills.

What are the career opportunities and outlook for computer programmers?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment of computer programmers to drop 10% by 20312. However, it also predicts that the same timeframe will see nearly 10,000 new job openings, thanks largely to workers who will transfer to other occupations.

This estimate shows the potential of the profession as a launch pad to a wide range of careers. Computer programmers commonly use their coding skills to pivot to fast-growing careers, such as:

  • Cybersecurity
  • Software development
  • Database manipulation
  • Quality assurance
  • Systems architecture
  • And more.

In total, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Relations expects job growth in computer-related positions to grow 15% by 2031, with nearly 700,000 new jobs expected in the next decade3.

Globally, the outlook is even more positive. Europe is currently experiencing a shortage of 500,000 programmers and software developers4. Similar shortages exist in Asia-Pacific. Especially in developing nations, where an increasing reliance on technology has made computer programming one of the most in-demand careers.

Where can computer programmers work?

The most natural landing spot for computer programmers is in the tech industry. But future employers can be found in almost every industry. The most common industries for successful careers include:

  • Health care
  • Agriculture and agritech
  • Financial services
  • Machine learning
  • Education
  • Manufacturing

Programmers also succeed in a wide variety of public roles. Governmental agencies across the world are undergoing digital transformation efforts. As a programmer, you'll play a vital role in building digital tools and applications for internal management and public use.

The most common career path in programming depends on your level of education. After completing a four-year program, you might start an entry-level job as a front-end programmer, application programmer, or in another specialized coding role. From there, additional training may qualify you for promotions. Eventually, you can advance into a leadership role or move into an adjacent career such as cybersecurity depending on the type of training you receive.

As a bootcamp graduate or self-learned programmer, you might need to complete an internship or prove yourself in a part-time role before moving into the above path. Any practical experience or additional courses on your resume will help you advance faster.

How much can computer programmers earn?

The average salary for computer programmers in the United States is US$93,000 or US$44.71 per hour. Moving into a more specialized career path after gaining some initial experience and education can get you a higher median salary:

  • Computer and information research scientist (US$131,490)
  • Computer network architect (US$120,520)
  • Computer systems analyst (US$99,270)
  • Database administrator and architect (US$101,000)
  • Information security analyst (US$102,600)
  • Quality assurance analyst (US$109,020)3

Your location will have a significant impact on your annual salary. For example, the median computer programmer salary in San Jose, CA is US$144,130. The average salary for computer programmers in the U.S. state of Washington is US$183,610.5

Globally, the United States is at the high end of the salary range for this profession. For example, the average income of a Scandinavian programmer is just under US$75,000 per year. In Switzerland it's US$83,000 per year, while in Germany it's around US$60,0006.

Your educational path will influence your salary. Self-learned programmers tend to start on a lower range, especially internationally. A formal education can help you earn faster. And of course, soft skills will definitely help you advance into higher-paying positions faster.

Frequently asked questions

How do you become a computer programmer without a degree?

To become a programmer without a degree, you'll need to learn some of the most common programming languages. You can find online courses and certifications on each of them. Certifications help you prove your skills to future employers. Look for coding bootcamps that help you gain the right experience fast.

How can you become a computer programmer step by step?

The most common path to becoming a computer programmer includes these steps:

  1. Decide on your preferred form of education, from self-taught to a four-year degree.
  2. Spend some time mastering one or more in-demand programming languages.
  3. Earn a certification in each language you've learned.
  4. Gain some practical experience, either in an internship or an entry-level position.

How to become a computer programmer in Canada?

Most programming job openings in Canada require a high school diploma and proven expertise in at least one programming language. Preferred level of education is a bachelor's degree. Employers prefer candidates with practical experience, either through internships or from training projects.

How to become a computer programmer in the UK?

Becoming a programmer in the UK most likely requires a bachelor's degree. Very few employers will hire self-taught candidates. At least some practical experience is essential even for entry-level jobs, typically in the form of an internship.

How to become a computer programmer in India?

Programming in India is a competitive career path. As a result, job requirements tend to be more formal:

  • Passing 10+2 (the highest high school diploma) with at least 65%.
  • Completed bachelor's degree with a minimum grade of at least 65%.
  • Proven knowledge and expertise, usually in the form of certificates, in coding languages such as Python or C++.
  • You must be at least 20 years or older.

In addition, many job listings in India explicitly ask for strong communication, teamwork, and team management skills. Practical experience in the form of an internship can set you apart

How to become a computer programmer in Australia?

Requirements to become a programmer in Australia are similar to most Western economies. A bachelor's degree is recommended, but not required as long as you can show your expertise through certificates. An internship helps you show practical experience in the areas in which you're certified.

How much does it cost to become a computer programmer?

The cost to become a programmer depends heavily on your chosen educational path:

  • The average bachelor's degree in computer science ranges from to US$15,000 in India to US$40,000 in the U.S7.
  • The average cost of a coding bootcamp that includes multiple programming certificates ranges from US$7,000 to US$20,000.
  • If you choose to teach yourself programming, certificates for coding languages range from free to US$500.

Internships in this field are typically paid, helping you offset the cost of your education.

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