How Much Can You Expect to Make as a Beginner Programmer?
As the world becomes more digitalized and computers are commonplace in everyone’s life, jobs that create and uphold this trend become equally important. At their most basic foundations, tech companies are held up by their hard-working programmers. As the industry grows, such jobs may seem to be lucrative opportunities with room for growth, making the question of pay imminent.
Entry-level programmers can expect a salary ranging between $39k-$83k a year or a wage of $13-$38.95 an hour. While well below the heights of Bill Gates and Larry Page, the field is full of opportunities. That earning gap closes by combining:
- Strong work ethic
Although a salary on the lower end might seem like an insult to a gifted and talented programmer, this is surely a temporary number. Programmers with the right set of skills and knowledge can successfully navigate their career options and achieve their goals. Read on to learn about how this can be done and what can be achieved.
Starting Off As A Programmer
If you’re considering becoming a programmer but haven’t started yet, you may be unsure of where to begin. Firstly, most programmers have obtained at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science, but this is not always the case. Some have studied different subjects in school or have come from other jobs.
Whether you learn programming formally or informally, you’ll have to keep up with the basics. It’s a competitive field, and programmers should be familiar with the following tasks/concepts when they train:
- Code Libraries: simplified collections of codes used to ease overlap between programmers and developers to design programs
- Test: create various scenarios to apply as you go through lines of code in different programs to and identify weak points
- Update: understand and expand on already existing programs
While these may seem mundane to some, the majority workload for professional programmers will be comprised of these tasks. If one is serious about entering a career as a programmer, you should be comfortable and prepared to work with these for hours on end.
Overview Of Pay
As mentioned in the introduction, a programmer in an entry-level position should expect a base salary ranging from $39k-$83k. In addition, most in these positions, unless they are freelance or contractor roles, receive some form of medical and dental care. Of course, average earnings will change as experience is gained, as follows (these are not intended to represent annual increases):
- Early Career (1-4 years): 4% increase
- Mid Career (5-9 years): 24% increase – over several years
- Late Career (10-19 years): 38% increase – over several years
- Experienced (20+ years): 51% increase – over several years
Overall, the typical salary for the average, non-entry level programmer usually ranges from $41k-$100k. These projections certainly vary from company to company, but if you’re in the shoes of an entry-level programmer, this is the path you’re set on for the time being. Of course, there are different ways to alter and enhance your career to suit your own goals and needs.
Pay By Area
One factor that should be noted before we move forward is the variance in pay by area. Needless to say, rural areas typically don’t offer high-end programming jobs with large salaries. However, the best states for pay as a programmer in the United States are:
- District of Columbia
And the best cities for programmers are:
- Charlottesville, Vermont
- Redding, California
- San Francisco, California
- San Jose, California
- Seattle, Washington
While it isn’t necessary to drop everything and move to these locations, familiarity and connections there will help. Due to outsourcing, projections for programming jobs in the U.S. show a 9% decrease by 2029. Keeping these locations in mind could give you a competitive edge in this narrowing field.
Pay By Coding Language
As you learn how to code, you might be curious about which languages to focus on. If you’re driven by money, you’ll want to keep in mind some of the more profitable languages:
- Scala: used by developers for its reliability and associability
- Go: used often in Google production systems
- Objective-C: largely used on Apple devices
- Kotlin: similar to Java and is used on Android programs
Being proficient in these languages will make you right at home with some of the higher-paying companies in the business. Make sure to include these languages in your training and resume.
Branching Out Your Career
Working with computers and programming on a technical level doesn’t start and end with just programmers. There is actually a rather large variety of different positions one can take, and experience as a programmer will help immensely. Each position can be obtained depending on a set of criteria involving:
Some of the related possible job positions and salaries are as follows:
- Software Engineer: $63k-$129k
- Software Developer: $51k-$106k
- Web Developer: $41k-$89k
- Data Analyst: $44k-$86k
These positions can be sought internally at your company through hard work and promotions but can also be achieved with some outside work. With the help of credentials and training, your status as a beginner can be enhanced beyond what may currently be possible.
Going To College
Post-secondary education is not something everyone has, even in the tech industry. Those that are older have made their way through experience and connections. However, those in the younger generations do not have that on their side. The competitive nature of the business leads them to turn to college as a means to catch up.
College gives students the chance to learn not just programming but also what they hope to achieve with programming. There is also the added benefit of having the ability to have discussions with their professors and classmates with similar interests. This means that those who wish to enter the career can equip themselves with perspective and the opportunity to network.
Going beyond a bachelor’s degree can also set your sights upon more upscale job opportunities. Obtaining a master’s or doctoral degree in computer science puts you in a league of jobs with salaries that range from $105k-$118k. If one has the time and money to invest in their education, going to grad school can help out programmers looking to climb economic ladders.
Having said that, the degree itself does not guarantee a job. Employers are more concerned with your ability, performance on coding tests, and your portfolio. College can help you learn and prepare these skills, but it will only work if you take the opportunity and use your time wisely.
While it may be easier for young aspiring programmers, the same can’t be said for those in another career or in another line of work. Being a part-time student when you’re working can be a long and difficult path.
Studying At A Boot Camp
When you’re starting out as a programmer, it may be unclear which career path you’d like to take. Even if you already understand the basics, you’ll want to better yourself and your chances of success with a coding bootcamp. Bootcamps are intensive educational training programs that can teach both beginners and professionals alike. Even programmers can go into them to learn a specialized area.
There are three types of bootcamps that can suit different scheduling needs:
- Full-Time: ideal for beginners, as they’ll cover a lot of ground in less time than they would on their own. Students of full-time programs can become hired within months
- Part-Time: typically held during off-hours, part-time classes are mostly taken by those already in the industry looking for a leg-up
- Online: classes are held remotely but still offer the same materials as an in-person class would. Learning speeds may be self-paced.
If you already have a job as an entry-level programmer, a part-time camp is likely the best option for you. When looking for a class, keep your eyes open for what branch of programming you’d like to enter.
While the price of tuition may deter some prospective students, the education will bolster your value as an employee and open up possibilities for you. In addition to the technical skills, you can also receive professional skills, such as networking and interview practice, that make you a more effective programmer.
Tech companies are taking bootcamp graduates more seriously now, reporting satisfaction with hiring graduates and hoping to hire more. Graduates also report being quickly hired and see a 50% salary increase within 2 years.
Becoming Officially Certified
Along with your education, a great way to prove to prospective employers that you’re a capable programmer is through certification. Getting your proficiency certified is a great idea in any field you’re in, as it shows you can keep up with a certain standard. The IEEE Computer Society can get you set up with the following possible certifications:
- Associate Software Developer: basic knowledge for developing software
- Professional Software Developer: advanced understanding of software engineering requirements, design, construction, and testing
- Professional Software Engineering Master: builds off of the last certification with the areas of software maintenance, configuration management, engineering economics, engineering management, engineering models and methods, and engineering process and quality
Taking the test and buying studying materials can cost over $1,000 for respected certification programs. Again, this is another instance of when an investment should be carefully considered before a decision is made. If you truly do care about gaining progress in your career, then your status as a certified programmer can help your image as a serious candidate.
Taking Jobs As A Freelancer
Whether it’s in addition to a programming job or your only connection to professional programming, freelancing is a great way to profit from your skills. As long as you have the abilities and determination to get the work done, taking contracts is a valid way to transform your career.
The biggest pro of being a freelance programmer is the freedom it provides. Rather than work for a single employer and be tied down to their needs, you’ll be open to working with a variety of different projects and ideas. This will not only be interesting but will also make you more valuable throughout your career. A downside to freelancing, however, is that nothing is guaranteed. You’ll need to ensure you’re an attractive contractor if you want to get any work.
Assuming you’ve gone through the steps of learning how to code and handle coding projects, you’ll need to prove it. The first thing you should do before getting set up is to prepare a resume and portfolio showcasing your abilities. If you have never gone through an assignment for work or school before, then make your own self-directed projects and present them. This will be a significant determination as to how much others are willing to pay you, if at all.
As you move on in your career, you’ll want to decide if you’ll become, and advertise yourself as, a generalist or specialist. A generalist will take on essentially any type of project, while a specialist focuses on a small number of projects with a higher performance level. If you’re new, then you are naturally a generalist. However, as you become more comfortable and experienced, you may want to focus on the work you enjoy and excel at with better pay.
Generally speaking, a standard freelance programmer earns somewhere from $28-$200 per hour. It seems promising, but only if you understand what you’re getting yourself into. Freelancing does not offer:
- Insurance plans or
- Constantly available work
- Employment/business and income tax deductions
What it does in return is provide the chance to learn more about yourself as a programmer while you make some money on the side as well.
Deciding Your Path
As a programmer, you’re used to creating and adjusting countless lines of code. Now, it’s time to create your own life and plan out what tools you’ll want to strengthen and develop. This depends on how you want to make your money and the life you are able to live.
If you’re young and ambitious, school and internships are a great way to slowly but surely make a name for yourself as a programmer. If you’re older with a career you wish to switch; a part-time boot camp followed up with freelancing as a generalist is a more likely scenario. Be honest with what’s possible and what makes you happy to create a real plan for yourself.
Clearly, the issue of pay for one’s career is not a cut-and-dry scenario. While working a basic job as a beginner programmer can offer a decent but modest salary of $39k-$83k, you’ll have a lot of room to grow. By carefully balancing the different aspects of life, each programmer will find a different path.
Going the corporate route can land you with cutthroat peers but can also provide you with a strong salary of over $100k and job security. Living as a free agent can give you more wiggle room in your life but will likely not see you reach the heights of corporate managers and project directors. Ultimately, you must consider what you wish to prioritize.