Computer Application Programmer Careers: Job Description & Salary

About this article
A computer application programmer's mean salary is around $100,000. Is it worth the education requirements? See real job duties and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a computer application programmer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Computer Application Programmer

Computer application programmers use programming languages to create software that is used on computers and other electronic devices. Read on to find out some of the benefits and downsides to becoming a computer application programmer.

Pros of Becoming a Computer Application Programmer
High salary potential ($100,000 annual average for all software developers, applications in 2014)*
Excellent job growth (23% growth from 2012-2022 for all software developers, applications)*
Variety of duties, including designing software, analyzing users' needs and documenting the creation process*
May have telecommuting opportunities*

Cons of Becoming a Computer Application Programmer
Minimum of a bachelor's degree is usually required*
Overtime might be required (over 25% of software developers worked over 40 hours per week in 2012)*
Wide-range of abilities needed (skills in math and programming, in-depth understanding of computers, able to work alone and with a team)**
Possible injuries associated with using a computer and sitting for extended periods at a time (strained eyes, back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, etc.)**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*NET Online.

Essential Career Info

As an applications programmer, you'll be taking care of someone's computer application needs. First, the project specifications have to be examined and understood so you can deliver the right product. Once you know what needs to be done, you can start the programming process. You may be able to use an existing programming framework to build the application from, but some applications may require you to start from scratch. Computer applications may need to be upgraded or modified as the needs of the business change, so you could end up working on a software program long after it has been completed.

You'll spend some of your time communicating with a variety of people, such as customers, managers and other programmers. The types of software you'd be responsible for programming depend on the business you work for. You could make computer games for kids, or you might be responsible for making programming updates to word processing applications.

Salary and Career Prospects

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that computer software application developers an average hourly wage of about $48 in 2014, which amounted to around $100,000 per year. Application developers in the top ten percentile earned over $149,000 in 2014. Some of the industries that employ a high number of application developers include computer systems design, software publishing and enterprise management.

Software application developers were projected to see a 23% increase in employment opportunities from 2012-2022, according to the BLS. Demand should remain high, due to the increasing number of devices that use software applications. Some outsourcing may occur, but the effects were predicted to be minimal.

What Are the Requirements?

A bachelor's degree is normally necessary to become a computer application programmer. The BLS suggested that these professionals usually major in computer science, software engineering or a related field. Since programming is central to the job, you'll want to familiarize yourself with a variety of programming languages, such as Java, Visual Basic, C+, and Python. Having skills in the particular industry you're planning on working is generally required as well. For example, if you want to work for an insurance company, you should be familiar with the types of programs commonly used by these businesses.

What Employers Are Looking For

Although a bachelor's degree is typically the minimum education requirement for software applications programmers, some employers prefer applicants with a graduate degree. The following job posts by no means represent what all employers want from applicants, but these examples can give you a general idea of what to prepare for. Here are some examples of what employers were looking for in February 2012:

  • A software company in California needs a computer application programmer to work with business analysts and programmers for the development of software products. Applicants should have a graduate degree and at least eight years of experience working with Web-based concepts, SQL, HTML and XSLT.
  • A Nevada business that works with casinos needs a computer application programmer who is familiar with casino gaming protocols. Applicant should have a bachelor's degree or equivalent experience and have strong skills in C+ and C# programming languages.
  • An electronics company in North Carolina was looking for a computer application programmer with good communication skills and two years of experience programming A/V control systems. A bachelor's degree in electrical engineering or computer science is required.
  • A computer software business in California wants an application engineer with experience in MATLAB. Applicant must be a U.S. citizen and have an advanced degree in electrical engineering, computer engineering or computer science.
  • A business that provides banking technologies in South Dakota advertised for a computer application programmer. Applicants should be able to work with little supervision. A bachelor's degree is required, but candidates who have an advanced degree are preferred.

How to Stand Out

Due to many companies counting on computer application programmers for business-specific duties, you may want to learn about that business and find out what services it provides to the public. Showing a potential employer that you're familiar with what they do can give you an edge over other candidates.

It often takes more than just good computer application programming skills to be successful in this business. You'll usually be expected to communicate with co-workers, bosses and customers on a regular basis. Taking a few courses in communications and business while you pursue a bachelor's degree can help you out when you enter the job market.

Continuing Education

Continuing your education after you get a bachelor's degree can set you apart from other applicants. This does not mean you have to jump into a graduate program; you can take a couple courses that give you additional training on the programming languages that you're already using. If you've already got a bachelor's degree and you haven't used a certain programming language needed for a particular type of job, taking a course that teaches you how to use that language may be what it takes to put you over the top. However, continuing your education can be costly if your employer is not paying for the courses, so you'll want to explore the positives and negatives of taking additional courses before you enroll.

Certification

If you're looking for an advantage over other computer application programmers, you can look into obtaining a certification. For example, Oracle offers a variety of certifications for programmers, including the Sun Certified Mobile Application Developer and the Sun Certified Java Programmer. The type of designation that is right for you depends on the programming languages you use most often. You'll usually need to pass an exam to become certified.

Alternative Careers

If you want to work with computers but you're unsure of spending four years or longer in school, then perhaps you'd be interested in becoming a computer support specialist. An associate's degree is usually enough to become a computer support specialist. As a computer support specialist, you'd answer questions on information technology for co-workers or customers and assist in resolving any problems that arise. Although the pay is less than what a computer application programmer makes, you could still have decent earning potential; the BLS found that computer support specialists made a mean salary of about $52,000 in 2011. Job prospects, especially in the healthcare industry, should be good for these professionals in the decade of 2010-2020.

Database administrators create, maintain and update computer databases. Similar to programmers, database administrators use languages to give instructions to a computer. However, these languages are usually a bit different from programming languages. You'll typically need to obtain a bachelor's degree with a major related to a computer or information technology field before you can become a database administrator. Database administrators were projected to see a 31% increase in jobs between 2010 and 2020, according to the BLS. You'll also have decent earning potential in this field, as the BLS reported that database administrators earned an average yearly income of approximately $77,000 in 2011.

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Featured Schools

Saint Leo University

  • BS: Computer Science
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Purdue University Global

  • MSM in Information Technology
  • BS in Information Technology/Multiplatform Software Development
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Which subject are you interested in?

Grand Canyon University

  • Bridge to the M.S. in Information Technology Management
  • M.S. in Information Technology Management
  • B.S. in Computer Programming
  • B.S. in Information Technology

What is your highest level of education?

Full Sail University

  • MS - Game Design (Campus)
  • Master of Science - Mobile Gaming
  • BS - Mobile Development (Campus)
  • B.S. - Game Development

What is your highest level of education?

Regent University

  • M.S. in Cybersecurity - Cybersecurity Management
  • M.S. in Cybersecurity - Cybersecurity Policy
  • Bachelor of Science in Computer Science
  • Bachelor of Applied Science in Information Systems Technology

What is your highest level of education completed?

Colorado State University Global

  • Master - Information Technology Management
  • Graduate Specialization - Information Technology
  • Graduate Certificate - Cyber Security

What is your highest level of education?

Herzing University

  • MBA Dual Concentration: Accounting and Technology Management
  • B.S. - Software Development: Computer Programming Concentration
  • Associate of Science - Software Development

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado Christian University

  • Cyber Security, M.S.
  • Computer Information Technology, B.S.
  • Computer Information Technology, A.S.

What is your highest level of education completed?