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Programmer/software developer

Programmer/software developer

A programmer writes code – but that’s not all there is to the job. Programmers must have a range and depth of skills and a strong knowledge of related areas to create “good” code.

Alternative job titles for this role

  • Software developer
  • Systems programmer
  • Applications programmer
  • Hardware programmer

Introduction

Programming is at the very core of IT. Many IT graduates start out on their career path as programmers, and programming is the basis of a wide range of processes, skills and activities. But what does it actually involve?

What the job involves

Well, the work varies hugely, depending on both the organisation and the software being produced, but all programmers essentially write instructions that a computer can interpret. This means establishing a detailed specification and clarifying exactly what a programme needs to do, then breaking the specification down to its simplest elements and translating this into an appropriate programming language. Different tasks require different programming languages, but those most in demand are Visual Basic, Java, XML and C++. Most programmers specialise in a few different languages, and the ability to learn and adapt quickly is a must.

How your career can develop

There are two distinct areas of expertise within programming: applications programmers and systems programmers (also known as systems developers). Applications programmers write programmes that process and manage incoming information on the computer (database systems): including anything from payroll data to scientific calculations.

Systems programmers deal with the internal operations of the computer: this could involve designing diagnostic programs to finding faults or controlling the way a computer runs several applications simultaneously. Programmers usually create programmes from specifications designed by systems analysts or borne out of direct consultation with clients – the size and role of the organisation will determine the source.

Programmers generally specialise in commercial data work, scientific applications or computing, or programmes for the home or educational computer market. Working hours are generally a standard seven to eight-hour day but this can change depending on the project, and flexibility is important. Programmers can work anywhere – IT and programming language skills are universal and very exportable.

The UK and the USA are common destinations; many American companies are based in Ireland so opportunities for transfer within the same company do exist. If you’re multilingual, there are also opportunities all over Europe. Today’s programmers don’t just confine themselves to, well, programming. With the exception of large organisations, fewer ‘pure’ programming jobs now exist than in the past. An analyst/programmer can successfully analyse a small organisation’s computing needs, design an appropriate system and write the applications programme. 

The future of Programming

In the future, the job of the programmer may need to evolve to include an expanded range of responsibilities, as we’re now reaching a stage where computers can programme themselves from an analyst’s instructions! And programmers, like workers in many sectors, may have to accept that they may not always be in permanent employment, as programming work is increasingly contract and project based, but good programming skills will always be in demand.

What do you need to become a programmer?

Patience, mathematical aptitude and strong problem-solving skills are a must. Being able to work as part of a team is essential, as is proficiency in more than one computer language, along with knowledge of software engineering. Opportunities for promotion are good; a background in programming is valued in most IT careers as it provides a solid backbone of knowledge. Programmers can discover their strengths and then use their skills to move into other areas; for example, those with a flair for teamwork and communication often end up becoming project managers.

Typical employers

  • Financial services
  • Manufacturing firms
  • Educational institutions
  • Banks
  • Specialist software development houses
  • Consulting firms
  • Telecommunications firms
  • Public sector organisations
  • Self-employed

Typical salary

  • Graduate/Starting is approximately €30,000 according to gradireland research
  • Senior/Potential up to €75,000 for experienced Java or C++ coders

Typical qualifications

Degrees in computer programming, computing, information technology, software development and software engineering are common gateways to the profession.

Further information

The Code Institute of Ireland: http://www.codeinstitute.net/

Irish Software Association: www.software.ie

Irish Computer Society: www.ics.ie

Irish Software Research Centre: www.lero.ie

Gareth McGrath, Software Engineer, Guidewire