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Crack the Code: Getting Started in Computer Programming, Part 1

There's lots of opportunity for skilled computer programmers. Aaron Axline examines what it takes to launch a programming career.

A career in computer programming could be right for you."Learn to code." This three-word sentence has become something like Batman villain Two-Face's coin in recent years. On one side of the coin, "Learn to code" is a snarky comment from zero-empathy online bullies, usually aimed at someone who writes about how they are struggling to find gainful employment in their chosen profession.


On the other side of the coin, "Learn to code" is meant as a genuine piece of advice, recognition of the fact that computer programming remains a prime source of job opportunities for people looking to either move on from their current IT industry role, or to redirect their career path entirely. In this instance, "Learn to code" is not some snide remark — it is a genuine, well-intended kick in the pants.


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median pay for computer programmers in 2018 was $84,200 per year, or roughly $40 per hour. This kind of earning potential has led many working professionals to consider programming as a desirable career option.


So, how does someone get started in computer programming? The best place to begin is to develop an understanding of what different types of programmers do in their day-to-day jobs.


Programming 9-to-5


One of the best descriptions of what computer programmers do also comes from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). To whit:


"Computer programmers write and test code that allows computer applications and software programs to function properly. They turn the program designs created by software developers and engineers into instructions that a computer can follow. In addition, programmers test newly created applications and programs to ensure that they produce the expected results. "


This paragraph, while informative, illustrates a problem that typically comes up when discussing computer programming: mix-and-match job titles. The description above includes "computer programmers," "software developers," and "software engineers," as three distinct roles, yet all three job titles are commonly used to describe the function of writing software.


A few searches of any large employment site will turn up plenty of jobs with similar work duty descriptions, but the actual job title will vary between the three we've mentioned and these:


Web developer Systems programmer Mobile application developer Programmer analyst Firmware developer Database programmer


You can't tell your coding jobs without a program, folks!