Occupational Outlook for Programmers and Developers

Computer programmers create the code that allows a computer, software, and other applications to work. There are computer programmers across the entire world that work on systems for virtually every industry. While many computer programmers are self-taught, most have bachelor’s degrees. Most programmers focus on specific areas, whether it be on a few specific programming languages, specific operating systems, or even specific platforms such as desktop computers (including notebooks), mobile devices, embedded devices, and more. 

In reviewing data on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, we can get an idea of the future for computer programmers. You can also get an idea of how computer programmers rank compared to other computer occupations as well as to all occupations. 

Computer Programmers Versus Software Developers

It is important to point out that the role of a computer programmer is considered different from the role of software developer in the Bureau’s data. A computer developer is considered someone who writes code that allows computer applications and software programs to work properly. A software developer focuses on creating applications or systems that run on a computer or another device. In general, most people would consider these to overlap, and many might believe they are the same. In this article, I will first cover the data on computer programmers before showing that of software developers. 

How Many Computer Programmers Are There?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2019, the number of computer programmers employed in the United States was 213,900. There were roughly 6.1 thousand self-employed computer programmers (roughly 2.8%) versus the 207.9 thousand that were wage/salary employees. 

By 2029, the number of computer programmers in the United States is expected to go to 193,800, which is a drop of over 20,000 or roughly 9.4%. Of this, the number of self-employed computer programmers is expected to drop 21.1%, and waged computer programmers are expected to drop by 9.1%. (Source)

The expected decrease of computer programmers in the United continues to be tied to outsourcing. The wages for computer programmers in many countries outside of the United States are expected to continue to be lower. For those looking to move into computer programming, it is still recommended that they consider a bachelor’s degree. They should continue to focus on a variety of programming languages to increase their flexibility. Additionally, they should stay up to date with the newest programming tools, concepts, and languages. 

How Much Are Computer Programmers Paid?

Most computer programmers work full time. For those workers in the United States, the annual median wage as of May 2020 was $89,190. This wage is more than double the median of all occupations in the United States, which is $41,950, yet slightly less than all computer occupations, which is $91,250. 

The variation of salaries for computer programmers is extremely wide. A computer programmer that makes $146,050 or more is in the top 10%. A computer programmer that makes $51,440 or less is in the bottom 10%. 

How Many Software Developers Are There? 

The information on computer programmers might be a little concerning, knowing the demand between now and 2029 is going to drop by over 9%. Fret not, however – the future of software development offsets the loss. In fact, the role of software development is much more reflective of the overall development industry in the United States.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics combines software developers with quality assurance analysts and testers, so this impacts the numbers a little bit. Even so, the employment numbers in 2019 were 1,469,200, or almost seven times that of computer programmers. More importantly, these roles are expected to grow to reach 1,785,200 by 2029. That’s an increase of 316,000 positions or 22%. 

How Much Are Software Developers Paid? 

For the grouping of software developers, quality assurance analysts, and testers, the median pay as of May 2020 was $110,140, which is notably higher than that of the computer programmer. Additionally, the top 10% of software developers’ wages start at $170,100 or higher, whereas the bottom 10% is at $65,210 and lower. 

Programmers Compared to Other IT Occupations?

You might have noticed that all computer occupations had a higher median wage than computer programmers. To highlight this, here are a few other similar occupations to computer programmers and the median salaries for each. 

  • Computer and Information System Managers: $151,150

  • Computer Hardware Engineers: $119,560

  • Computer Network Architects: $116,780

  • Software Developers: $110,140

  • Information Security Analysts: $103,590

  • Computer Systems Analysts: $93,730

  • Database Administrator: $98,860

  • Computer Programmer: $89,190

  • Web Developers and Digital Designers: $77,200

  • Computer Support Specialists: $55,510

This list also includes a couple of roles that make less than computer programmers as well.

Salaries for Developers

A Key Takeaway 

In looking at the data from the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, one thing is clear. It is more important to position yourself as a software developer rather than a computer programmer when it comes to salary and job outlook. With a median wage difference of over $20,000 and a positive rather than negative job outlook, software developer is the role to focus upon. While some might not think there is a difference between being called a computer programmer versus a software developer, clearly, the wages – and the future – tell a different story.

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