What Skills Does a Computer Programmer Need?

The absolute minimum set of skills needed to become a computer programmer are basic Web programming skills. You can learn Web programming through a two-year Web development associate’s degree or simply by following tutorials online and in books. To become a software engineer requires at least a four-year computer science degree because there is a wide range of math and computer science theory needed to design efficient software.

Becoming a Software Developer

Most employers test applicants for software developer jobs during the interview to see if they have the engineering instincts to join a professional team. These tests are similar to the exams given in computer science programs, and they cover areas such as recursive functions, number conversions, algorithm analysis and programming efficiency. It usually takes about two years to begin to understand these concepts, and the third and fourth year of a CS program cover more advanced topics such as compiler design, formal language theory and automata theory. These more advanced subjects are important for graduate students who want to go into research, but it’s more important for programmers to learn about programming languages and software development.

Software engineering is made easier by the use of software design patterns, and once a programmer understands the fundamentals of computer science and software engineering, choosing the correct design patterns becomes second nature. Design patterns are like templates that can be plugged into programs when a particular problem needs to be solved. For example, a program that needs to create many objects for solving the problem of providing audio, networking or another service can use the factory pattern, which puts all the object-creation code into its own class. A program that needs to make sure that only one of a particular type of object is in memory at any given time can use the singleton pattern, which prevents multiple objects of the same type from being created.

The Skills Needed to Write Programs

Software engineering conventions make programming easier by removing the distraction of making unimportant decisions, but they don’t provide everything a computer programmer needs to write software. Without strong math and computer science skills, a programmer is likely to write inefficient code that has bugs, takes a long time to execute and wastes device battery power. Math skills are needed to analyze the data structures and algorithms in a program, and although computers process numbers in discrete units, continuous math skills are extremely helpful when analyzing the time and space complexity of a program.

Math classes such as statistics, linear algebra, calculus and discrete mathematics are all valuable when studying to become a software developer, and for students who want to pursue advanced jobs as computer systems engineers or hardware designers, physics and computer architecture classes provide important engineering skills.

Most computer science jobs are in mobile application development, and this type of software engineering requires a slightly different approach for writing code that is optimized for small, battery-powered devices with limited computing resources. Mobile software developers usually need a four-year degree, but some jobs are available for Web developers with a two-year degree.

Computer science is a booming industry, and most of the job growth is fueled by the development of mobile device technology. If you want to become a computer programmer, enroll in a first-year computer science course to see if you like it.