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Computer programming is a subset of software development. Computer programmers, also known as coders, create, alter, test, and maintain code so that programs function as required. Various industries, including software publishing, information systems design and services, manufacturing, finance, and insurance, require professionals with relevant programming skills.
Career prospects for programmers
The job market for computer programmers is in a period of moderate shrinkage. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 10 percent decline in jobs for computer programmers in the United States over the period from 2020 to 2030. At the same time, however, the BLS expects roughly 9,700 programming jobs to be created each year.
In 2022, demand for programmers and developers was actually higher than it was in 2021. Demand is especially strong in the areas of web development, DevOps, AI and machine learning, data science, and cloud computing. Prospects look good for programmers who have experience in these specialties and are capable of quickly creating robust, functional, and scalable programs.
Looking back, forging ahead
The programming archetype is changing. Computer programming is a dynamic discipline. From its earliest decades, programming has been evolving in step with technological developments and changing customer demands.
In the beginning, programmers wrote code in machine language. Then came more advanced languages that enabled developers to specify what was required in machine-neutral language and compilers would generate code in language that the computer could read.
Since then, languages have kept evolving. Today, popular languages come with several reusable libraries, making it possible to focus on developing more and more complex apps without having to write line and lines of fresh code.
Cloud computing and the shift to the cloud, cybersecurity, AI and machine learning, robotic process automation (RPA), and the Internet of Things (IoT) have made programming both more complex and more demanding. On the one hand, programming is now much easier than it once was.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is now capable of performing some routine, repetitive, and time-consuming programming tasks — such as crawling lines of code for errors or incorrect code strings — faster than humans.
With open source code, and low-code tools that speed up programming by offering a range of prebuilt modules, auto-formatting tools, APIs, and standards, it takes programmers less time to write programs. More advanced than low-code are AI code generators, such as GitHub Autopilot and Open AI Codex. AI is now capable of generating code to some extent.
Not everyone is enthusiastic about these developments. Some programmers and developers worry that human programmers will eventually become redundant. Before AI took a hand, however, there were compilers that handled some aspects of implementation. Demand for programmers and developers didn’t dry up — rather, it increased.
Software development involves several stages: determining specifications and functionality, design, implementation, testing, correction and enhancement, deployment, and maintenance. At present, AI and automation can handle the time-intensive, routine tasks of implementation, freeing up time for humans to focus on higher-level creative aspects of development.
Humans are creative and able to solve problems, assess the business value of different features and functions, and come up with ideas for enhancing user satisfaction. They can think of multiple possibilities and arrive at the optimal solution. Programmers can figure out how a program can be applied to address a particular problem.
AI uses training data to generate code. Humans are needed to curate this data, examine any hazy areas that crop up, and sort them out in order to generate effective code. With AI and automation platforms handling mundane tasks, programmers can spend more time on design, functionality, and enhancement, and work more quickly toward delivering software that make users happy.
In order to be able to collaborate with AI and automation tools, programmers need to learn how to leverage new technologies and platforms. It is a process of continuous learning because technology evolves so fast.
For now, no one in the computer programming sphere needs to worry about being entirely replaced by automation and/or AI. AI technology hasn’t yet developed the human characteristics necessary to replace human programmers, and it’s unlikely to happen in the near future.
Get in the game, stay in the game
Those keen to pursue a career in programming need to decide which specialty they are most interested in and best suited for. Different areas include web development, mobile app development, data science, machine learning/AI, cloud computing, and cybersecurity.
Once you’ve identified a specific field, you need to figure out which are the most in-demand languages currently used to create new tech in that field. It’s essential that whatever programming language(s) you choose to learn are sought after by recruiters. In addition to a top programming language (or languages), you will need to develop relevant technical skills.
If you aren’t already writing programs, then you need to start building your portfolio. Recruiters will want to see your work. Online communities, such as GitHub, are a great place to start. Aspiring programmers can work with others on projects and learn how to operate in a collaborative environment.
Top programming languages and technical skills
There are hundreds of programming languages to choose from, but that doesn’t mean than any language you learn will get you a job. Here are some key languages to focus on:
Java is one of the most sought-after programming languages in use today. According to the Popularity of Programming Language Index (PYPL), Java is the second most popular programming language as of February 2022.
Created more than 25 years ago, Java is widely used for enterprise business application development. It is also most commonly used for developing mobile apps for Android. Recently, use of Java has been increasing in the IoT industry. It has become the programming language of choice for embedded devices because it is flexible, secure, scalable, and it has more than 40,000 libraries.
Python has been one of the most in-demand programming languages for quite a few years now. It remains one of the most popular in 2022. It is versatile and relatively easy to learn.
A server-side object-oriented language, Python lends itself well to a range of tasks, including coding web development applications, scripting, software development, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and data science. Python is widely used in the AI, machine learning, data science, and software publishing industries.
SQL or Structured Query Language is a querying language used for retrieving and managing data in a relational database management system. Programmers who work with data need to know SQL to query databases. SQL skills are in high demand among employers both in the United States and overseas.
Should you embark on learning two or more languages simultaneously? According to experienced programmers, that may not be the best approach when you’re just starting out. It’s advisable to identify the most suitable language and learn that well. Once you are very proficient with your language of choice, it will be easier to learn another language.
In addition to knowing at least one relevant programming language well, programmers need to have a variety of specific technical skills. Programmers with technical capabilities in AI/machine learning, web development, data science, and cloud computing are in high demand.
Finding suitably qualified candidates for full-stack and back-end programming jobs is proving a challenge for recruiters in 2022. Technical skills that are in demand at present include:
• The ability to work with open source and low-code platforms is a key point of demand.
• Frameworks are useful for automating time-intensive, repetitive programming tasks. (Popular frameworks include Node.js, React, and .NET Core.)
• Node.js is very popular among developers and recruiters largely because of Express, a Node web application framework that offers flexibility and robust tools well suited to mobile and web application development.
• .NET Core is an open source agile cross-platform framework designed for building web, mobile, and other applications. Apps developed on .NET can be deployed to Linux, Mac, or Windows servers.
• Knowledge of data structures and algorithms is a key point of demand.
• Integrated Development Environments (IDEs) consolidate a set of basic tools that enable coding, testing, and debugging. Tools usually include source code editors, compilers, code libraries, and testing and debugging platforms.
Stay on your toes
It’s important above all else to be committed to continual learning and skills development. Stewart Brand, founder of WELL, one of the earliest online communities, is reported to have said, "Once a new technology rolls over you, if you're not part of the steamroller, then you're part of the road."
Programmers who learn the latest technologies are unlikely to be out of work. They can leverage AI and automation to increase their own productivity by focusing on creating programs that best serve user needs and are suited to conditions in different companies.