Computer Programming and Its Applications: A Basic Guide
Computer programming is the most foundational skill in information technology, and for good reason. Programming knowledge makes up every computing innovation we see. Without computer programming, the world as we know it would cease to function.
Almost all modern tools and institutions—including global commerce, finance, information systems, and more—are built on computer systems. You might have the most innovative app idea in the world, but that idea will only see the light of day if someone has the computer programming knowledge to make it happen.
What is computer programming?
Computer programming is the art of writing instructions for a computer. These instructions are called “programs.”
As “smart” as they seem to the layperson, computers can’t do anything on their own. Everything a computer does is the result of programs people develop to solve problems, meet needs, or achieve goals.
What is a computer program?
A program is a sequence of commands. Each command causes the computer to perform a specific action. Every action in a computer is a precise set of electrical signals.
When a computer program is correct and the commands make the computer do what the programmer intends, the computer successfully completes a task.
Today, programmers write their instructions in code, which is text written using the rules of a particular computer language. There are numerous programming languages out there.
Some of the most popular programming languages include:
Most professionals specialize in a few programming languages. But understanding programming languages on a high level can help professionals learn the fundamentals of many more.
Each language works by taking a programmer’s instructions and translating them into binary code, a sequence of “on” and “off” (or “0” and “1”) instructions. Differences exist in the details, such as syntax, the ways in which the computer translates the language, and more.
Uses of computer programming
The languages you’ll learn as a programmer will depend on what you want to do. For example:
- SQL sends messages to and from databases.
- C codes operating systems like Windows or Linux.
- Python is popular for machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms.
Many languages have multiple uses. For instance:
- Python handles advanced data processing and data structures, but programmers also use it to create web applications.
What do computer programmers do?
Professional computer programmers spend most of their days doing one of four things:
- Creating new code from scratch.
- Building off existing code to create new functionality.
- Testing someone else’s code before releasing a product.
- Debugging code to achieve a desired function.
The end goal is to create a working application, web page, or piece of computer software. If something goes wrong, the programmer searches for the error (“bugs”) and finds the right fix.
Computer science vs. computer programming
A common question is: What is the difference between computer science and computer programming?
Computer programming involves building things with code. Programming is a hands-on technical skill that involves designing, creating, and refining code to solve problems, build applications, and more.
Computer science is a theoretical field that spans mathematics and computer systems. Instead of building applications, computer scientists solve more abstract problems such as algorithms (finding faster methods of computing numbers), graph problems, and more. Computer scientists are also planners and designers that study computer systems and software. They often develop ideas for how to best solve problems using computers that programmers later on implement in their own work.
An analogy: If programmers are digital builders, then computer scientists are the digital architects. Both are necessary for the final product.
Are computer programmers the same as software developers?
Software developers can be considered “domain-specific” computer programmers. More than just code, they look at software and applications from a high-level perspective and design the technical elements that will work together to achieve a final result.
A computer programmer might automate a task and write a simple script and call it a day. A software developer, however, is responsible for creating an entire application. They must choose and implement specific features based on user needs and create models that determine what code the app will need—software developers must consider more complicated design questions, such as whether to use so-called “object-oriented programming,” “functional programming,” and/or more.
Not all computer programmers are qualified software developers, but most software developers have programming skills.
Benefits of computer programming knowledge
In 2019, there were more than two billion computers across the globe. As long as computers run, programmers will be in demand.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) anticipates 9,700 new computer programming job openings every year through 2030. Programming jobs pay a median wage of $89,190 per year, more than twice the national median.
Because programming is part of every computer innovation, computer programming is the perfect skill for aspiring tech entrepreneurs. With a background in computer programming, you can:
- Develop and market an app.
- Start an app development agency.
- Create a Software-as-a-Service product (a subscription-based software like MailChimp or Hulu).
- Teach programming online.
- Create video games with game design and game development.
These are only a few of the business options available to savvy programmers. If you have a tech idea, all you need are the skills to launch it.
Lucrative career options
Computer programming is a gateway skill that opens doors to other technical careers, including:
- Software Engineering and Development ($110,140/yr)
- Data science ($126,830/yr)
- Cybersecurity ($103,590/yr)
- Database management and administration ($98,860/yr)
A computer programming education is a solid background for any of these fields. Even if you’re not sure which way to go, start with programming and branch out when the time is right.
Getting started in programming
For years, most programmers entered the workforce with a bachelor’s degree. Today, there are many more pathways to entry, from the traditional degree program to certificate programs and self-study.
If you want to study programming without general education requirements or electives, consider edX’s bootcamp-style coding programs. These focused options let you study part-time or full time, depending on your schedule and professional goals.
Not ready for an extended bootcamp? edX offers a range of stand-alone courses and certificate programs, many of which have no prerequisites. Check out edX’s computer programming courses today and take your first step into the world of coding.