What is the Difference Between Database Management and Computer Programming?

database management vs computer programming

The difference between database management and computer programming is not often well-understood. There are many tech terms thrown around and it can be confusing for prospective students to understand the difference between these two roles. The guide below will go over these two different disciplines and outline what each of them truly entails.

Database management professionals and computer programmers both sit in front of computers to perform their jobs, but the information they deal with on their screens is very different. A computer programmer might have some knowledge of databases and may even use them while coding software, but their knowledge of databases is usually much less comprehensive than that of a database administrator or manager.

The Definition of Database Management

database management

Database managers generally do not create new databases, although some do oversee new database creation. For the most part, however, they simply manage systems that are already there. This includes keeping them up to date and adding relevant software and hardware when it comes time to upgrade. Because their primary focus is on data, their main job duties include collecting data, ensuring data quality, backing up data to prevent loss and sometimes interpreting data. Database managers must be familiar with industry-standard software programs such as Oracle and strongly focused on data security measures. Instead of programming languages, they need to know database languages such as the Structured Query Language, or SQL.

As a concept, database management dates to 1960 when a man named Charles W. Bachman created the Integrated Database System. In response, IBM created their own database system, which was known as IMS. These early database systems predated the modern navigational databases of today and would eventually lead to the creation of Structured Query Language (SQL). The internet would further the expansion and use of databases.

Today, databases are a ubiquitous part of the average person’s day-to-day life. Not only are they used by consumers for things like personal cloud storage, but they’re also an integral part of “big data” and data processing technologies. According to an article from Big Data Quarterly, the database management professionals of the future may need to harness general expertise in database management, as well as pursue knowledge in specialized areas and emerging technologies.

The Definition of Computer Programming

computer programming

Computer programmers use coding languages such as Java and C++ to write computer programs, operating systems and more. It can be beneficial for students looking to get into this career to specialize in certain programming languages. Computer programmers often work closely with software developers, who design the program before the computer programmer creates a code that allows that software to function. In some businesses, these two jobs may even overlap. This is a good career for people who prefer to work alone because much of the work is solitary. They spend their time writing code and then testing it. If the code does not work properly, they need to check it for errors to discover the problem. This means computer programmers need significant problem-solving skills to do their jobs well.

One of the most interesting facets of computer programming is that the earliest computer programmers developed their language in the 1880s. The first known computer programming language was created by Ada Lovelace and an inventor named Charles Babbage. Babbage invented a mechanical computer that was called the analytical engine, and Lovelace created the first algorithm that would become what historians believe was the first computer programming language.

Almost 70 years later, Assembly Language was invented and began a decades-long evolution of advancements in programming languages. Today’s computer programmers must be aware of the earliest programming languages ever created, as well as be highly proficient in the most recently invented languages. One of the primary differences between database management and computer programming careers is in the training. While each profession is open to anyone with a bachelor’s degree, each job requires vastly different knowledge.

Required Education

computer programming and database management

A computer science degree, information technology degree or other degree related to computers and network infrastructures is usually necessary to work in either one of these occupations. Most tech degrees are offered as associate’s degrees, bachelor’s degrees and advanced degrees. Specific software certifications may be useful or even required. Hands-on education that involves using databases, fixing programming errors and testing programs will be very beneficial. Computer programmers may be able to secure work with experience and skill, while database managers almost always require a degree to find work. There are advanced degrees specifically offered in database management.

Anyone who hasn’t made up his or her mind as to which profession would be best could base the decision on the amount of time it might take to become employed as a database manager or computer programmer. If a student takes four years to complete a bachelor’s degree and two years to complete an associate’s degree, it might be possible to become a computer programmer more quickly than a database administrator. While it’s possible to become a computer programmer with an associate’s degree, it’s rarely possible to accomplish the same as a database administrator.

One of the differences in education for database management vs. computer programming is the fact that database administrators must learn and understand Structured Query language (SQL), which is commonly pronounced “sequel” in its abbreviation, while computer programmers may need to know SQL but will not always need to use it in day-to-day work.

For computer programmers, the knowledge required is quite extensive as far as programming languages are concerned. In fact, many computer programmers must take continuing education classes whenever a new programming language is developed. Computer programmers must often attend professional development conferences to learn about new programming languages and how those languages might benefit a company.

Simply put, database managers will utilize database languages each day, and computer programmers will use programming languages for their work. There is some crossover of knowledge between database management vs. computer programming, but the difference in primary computer languages is one of the reasons there are different degree paths for each of these jobs.

Outlook Comparison

computer programmer

Unfortunately, computer programming careers are actually expected to decline by 7 percent over the next several years per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, making it one of the few tech jobs in decline. The reason for this decline is largely due to outsourcing. It is often cheaper for a company to outsource computer programming operations to cheaper laborers overseas. However, it is still possible for students to enjoy a successful career as a computer programmer by making the right connections and possessing a number of marketable skills, such as knowledge in a wide variety of programming languages and up to date knowledge of key programming tools. Raw, creative talent also plays a significant role. This is a major difference between database management and computer programming – database management is expected to grow faster than average.

One of the reasons for the expected growth of database administrators over the next several years is the significant need by companies for massive amounts of data to conduct their business. Database administrators will be needed to organize and handle huge amounts of data while also presenting it to individuals in the company who aren’t knowledgeable about raw data and databases.

Database managers and computer programmers have similar options when it comes to location and the high likelihood of employment, but there are some differences in the occupational employment and wage statistics for each. According to the Occupational Employment and Wages page for database administrators and the similar page for computer programmers, these professionals most commonly find jobs in California, Texas, and New York. However, those statistics come from the fact that those are high population states and have many tech workers.

For computer programmers who want to earn the highest wages possible, the most attractive states for high pay include Washington State, Washington D.C., California, and Virginia. For database administrators, the highest wages are earned by administrators in New Jersey, Washington State, and Washington D.C. The industries with the highest concentrations of database management vs. computer programming employees are also different.

The most populous industries for database administrators include data processing and hosting, as well as scientific and technical consulting firms, and the industries with the most computer programmers include computer systems design and software publishers. Fortunately, both database management professionals and computer programmers are highly sought after in multiple tech industries, even if the most popular industries are a little different.

Common Degree Titles in Computer Programming and Database Management

A future computer programmer will usually pursue a Bachelor of Computer Science in Computer Programming or a Bachelor of Science in Computer Programming. Some schools will style their degrees as a Bachelor of Arts in Computer Programming, and others might offer students a Bachelor of Applied Science in Computer Science or Computer Programming. These degrees will often have similar curriculum requirements but may differ as far as electives and concentrations are concerned.

Popular degree concentrations and certifications for computer programming students include specializations in Android programming, Java programming, and object-oriented design & programming. Some of the classes a student of computer programming might encounter include Computer Information Systems, Windows Operating System, and Principles of Object-Oriented Design. Computer programming students may even learn about databases with classes like Database Management for SQL, Oracle, and Microsoft Access.

For database management students, degrees earned are commonly styled as a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Information Systems where the student chooses a specialization in Database Management or a related topic. For classes, a database management student might encounter courses like Google Data Analytics, the Basics of SQL, Database Management, and Introduction to Data Science.

One of the main differences in the degrees earned by database management vs. computer programming is that the future computer programmer will have in-depth knowledge of programming languages and basic knowledge of databases, and the future database manager will have in-depth knowledge of database languages and a basic knowledge of programming languages.

Another way to think of the two degrees is that database management degrees (or computer information systems degrees) will offer focused classes in a narrow area, while computer programming degrees will often provide the student with a very broad look at everything commonly associated with programming. It is often up to the computer programming student to choose a specialization or to pursue an advanced curriculum in a programming language that is particularly interesting to him or her.

Work Environments for Database Management Vs. Computer Programming

Most database administrators work full-time for companies that handle computer systems design and related services. Some administrators work for educational services at the state, local, or private level, and others work in the management of companies and enterprises. Other database administrators work for insurance companies and in related industries, while others work with computer hosting or data processing companies.

As for computer programmers, more than a third of those workers are employed in computer systems design and related services, which is similar to database administrators. Other industries that commonly employ computer programmers include the finance and insurance industries, manufacturing, and software publishers. One of the differences between the work found by database administrators and the jobs found by computer programmers is that many programmers are able to work as self-employed individuals.

Self-employment isn’t a common option for database administrators, and most administrators work on site. Meanwhile, many computer programmers are able to work from home since writing computer code is a job that can be accomplished in virtually any environment, as long as there is a power source and an internet connection for the programmer to use.

Best Personal Qualities for Database Management and Computer Programming

Not surprisingly, database management jobs and computer programming jobs require analytical skills, as well as workers who are detail-oriented. Programmers must work with many lines of code, and small mistakes can prove catastrophic for the overall programming result. Likewise, small errors can create major problems for database administrators who work with complex systems that hold significant amounts of data.

One of the differences in temperament in database management vs. computer programming is that database administrators must be able to effectively communicate with others since much of their work occurs in teams with other managers, developers, and various employees. Computer programmers, on the other hand, must be able to concentrate for long hours as they write their code, which means they must have the aptitude for working long hours without interruption.

A subtle difference in skills in database management vs. computer programming is that database administrators benefit from strong problem-solving skills while computer programmers excel when they have troubleshooting skills. The troubleshooting skills of a computer programmer stem from what he or she has learned in school. Computer programmers must know how to debug their code when an error occurs. On the other hand, database management professionals will often need to consider an entire project and a problem within it rather than what’s happening within a single line of code.


While these two careers may sound similar, they are actually substantially different. Understanding the difference between database management and computer programming will help students select the career that is the best option for them.

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