Computer Programmers Seek Security in Changing Times
If you think of a language, not a vitamin, when you
think of the letter C, you're probably a budding computer programmer. Computer
programmers write software and programs for computers. And there is lots of
work available for them.
Jerri Barrett is director of marketing at the Anita Borg Institute for
Women and Technology. She says that even during times of economic concern
and recession, this is still a good field to enter.
"Computer science is an excellent field to enter currently," says Barrett.
"The number of jobs is still projected to increase over the next 10 years,
according to the Department of Labor, and there is a wide variety of options.
"Some people have been discouraged from taking computer science," she continues,
"either by the image portrayed in the media of the loner living in their cubicle
or by the stories that all the jobs are being outsourced to India. In fact,
there are still plenty of exciting and challenging jobs in computing."
Outsourcing is one of the biggest issues facing computer programmers. Outsourcing
occurs when a company based in the United States hires workers overseas instead
of the place where the company is based.
This is done to save money, because companies can pay people in other countries
much less than they have to pay workers in North America. But some people
on the inside say outsourcing isn't as big a threat as others would have you
"Outsourcing has its limitations," says computer programmer Remy Saville.
"Large corporations already have enough problems due to time-zone differences
with some people working on the East Coast and others on the West Coast. Put
somebody on the other side of the planet and you've really made the problems
"Add in that English is never their first language and you've significantly
compounded the communication problem. All things equal, a corporation will
never ever outsource when they could have people on site instead."
"People were a lot more worried about the idea of outsourcing tech jobs
a few years ago," says Rikki Kite. Kite is the editor of a computer-programming
"Now the expectation is that you want and need the ability to work with
people around the world, but working smarter is more important than working
The number of people taking computer-programming and related courses in
universities and colleges has dropped. It's possible that people are afraid
they will end up unemployed.
"I can only speculate on why enrollment is down. Maybe girls don't want
to go in because it is mostly nerds and guys don't want to go in because the
girls aren't there?" says Saville. "There is definitely work."
Despite the fact that fewer people are now pursuing a computer-related
degree, getting computer-related jobs can be still be tough due to the large
number of former graduates trying to get jobs.
What's a budding computer programmer to do to separate themselves from
the pack? Saville believes that learning different programming languages on
your own time is a good start.
"Be proactive," he says. "If you learned C in school, teach yourself Java.
If you use Visual Basic at work, teach yourself C#. If you learned Java or
C# at school, teach yourself C++. Drive the changes at your company to take
advantage of new technology. Demonstrate you're able to provide benefits to
your employer as times change."
And as times change, computer programmers will feel it. Saville doesn't
deny that computer programmers get affected during the tough times, but no
more so than those in other careers. In fact, he says computer programmers
weather the storm a bit better.
"[Losing work because of the economy] is in no way unique to programmers;
people building cars or selling mortgages are also out of work," he says.
"On the up side, I can guarantee people with a computer science degree are
going to bounce back better than most others from this very unfortunate situation."
Kite agrees with Saville's assessment that computer programmers deal with
economic downturns better than most.
"I've noticed that when programmers are out of work," she says, "they tend
to use that time wisely by volunteering, which helps them network and adds
to their resume, or they focus on adding to their skill set."
So, this all sounds pretty good -- despite the gloomy outlook that some
have about this career, it seems like those in the know are saying it's a
good place to be. But are you wondering how to get there in the first place?
Saville offers a couple of tips on getting known as a programmer.
"If you can approach a potential employer and show them that in addition
to your degree that everybody else has, you've made some simple but reasonably
useful applications, you've just given yourself a huge leg up over your competition,"
"Also, seeing something through to the end is much more difficult than
people who start a bunch of different little projects realize.
"Another great opportunity to stand out is to make some open-source contributions.
[Open source is a method of programming where the source, or programming code,
is made available to anyone.] There are thousands of great open-source projects.
Start using one and find something that personally bugs you about it and then
Like a lot of careers, the range of what someone can make as a computer
programmer varies wildly. It depends on education and your employer. Kite
says people generally don't become computer programmers to get rich -- it
can happen, though!
"They do it because it's exciting and interesting and creative," she says.
"However, there's the potential to earn a lot of money in this field. I think
I speak for many people working in technology-related careers when I say it's
much more important to love what you do than to pull a six-figure salary.
Of course, if you're really lucky, you get both!"
One thing to keep in mind when pursuing your programming dreams: go to
a school with a good reputation. Computer programming jobs are getting harder
and harder. With technology and software getting more complex all the time,
you really have to know your stuff to excel. And the best way to start is
with a solid education. And don't forget to apply for internships!
"Go to a proper school for a real degree," says Saville. "Don't get tricked
into going to a video game course or something like that. It takes a while
to learn to program. They can't teach you any quicker. They will gladly take
your money and leave you unemployable, though."
Barrett agrees that education is key to getting -- and staying -- ahead
as a computer programmer.
"The best way to ensure job security is to get a good education and go
for an advanced degree in computer science," she says. "A PhD is worth it
in computer science -- it opens many doors."
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