Building cool stuff like games, apps and websites is what makes most people try out programming for the first time. But what makes them want to turn it into a career? It’s an exciting and ever-developing industry, for one thing. There are always new skills to learn and new things to create. But if you ask any programmer for a truly honest answer, money is going to be one of the most important reasons.
Technology is a vital part of everyone’s lives, and programmers have a particular set of skills that help to build that technology – and yes, we mean any and every technology. That, in turn, means that programmers are always in high demand. More importantly, they’re very well paid for their efforts. Straight out of college an entry-level programming job can earn you from $40,000 a year. With years of experience under your belt that figure can triple. The average median salary of a computer programmer in the US is around $80,000. That’s definitely enough to pay off those college loans, right?
Of course, it all depends on what type of programming you master, which languages are your speciality, and where and how you work. Most of that is something you’ll have to figure out for yourself. When it comes to programming languages however, here’s what you should be learning if you want to bag a job at the top end of that pay scale…
Ericsson’s Erlang is not a very popular language, and there are multiple reasons why. The syntax is not exactly simple and very different to the ’trendy’ languages like Python or Ruby. It’s over 25 years old. It’s known for its slow pace of development and rather small, tight-knit community. Basically, it marches to its own beat and makes no apologies for that fact. While it may not be a general-purpose, easy to learn language, it does do one thing extremely well: scalability. If you didn’t already know, Erlang is the language that keeps 1 billion users happily instant messaging each other on WhatsApp. People are only now realising the enormous capability this language has – especially in the communications industry – so now is the time to jump on this very lucrative bandwagon.
If up until now you’ve been toying with Python, Java, Objective-C or PHP, you’ll have been using object-oriented programming languages. Scala, while also falling under the OOP category, has many features of functional programming languages like Haskell and Erlang. This means you can build more with less code (which, as any Java developer will tell you, is a godsend). Functional programming is not beginner-friendly, but it is very secure and usually very high-performance. By mastering Scala you have the best of both worlds; short, expressive code that is type-safe, powerful and scalable. That’s something that will be valued very highly by any employer. Even if you’re unable to use Scala in whatever project you’re working on, the principles and processes you’ll learn from it will vastly improve your code elsewhere, making you a top class coder that everyone will want to work with!
There’s a reason why Java is so ubiquitous. It’s another cross-platform language, it’s the language all Android apps are written in, it has endless tools for just about any Java-related project, and it’s been around for so long that available resources are infinite. Java developers are paid handsomely at every level and there is never a lack of jobs. But there’s something very important to keep an eye on; Java is the language of choice for the next big thing in technology – the Internet of Things. That means everyday items like fridges or alarm clocks will have smart connectivity, so they’ll know to alert you when your milk spoils or when there’s a traffic jam and you’ll need extra time to get to work. And Java will be what makes that happen. There’s never been a better time to get involved.
By default, every business is now a digital business. Whether it’s a popular Facebook page for a restaurant or a full-blown e-commerce site, every company has some kind of online presence. And that means data is becoming more and more important. That’s where SQL (Structured Query Language) comes in. This highly specialised language is specifically designed to send queries to data and retrieve tailored information. If you know SQL, you can mine, manipulate, combine and manage your data in any way you wish – and that is worth a LOT to any digital business. In 2016 there were more SQL programming jobs up for grabs than any other type of language – including Python. In short, if you like data, you’ll love SQL.
If you really, really, REALLY want to become a top-of-class, high earning programmer, set your sights on C. Yes, it’s an old language and is sometimes overlooked by new kids on the block like Ruby and Python. However, learning C can be much more beneficial in the long run. C is the language that is closest to the raw fundamentals of computer science. Python etc. will get you good results fast, but C will give you an unrivalled understanding of how you got those results. It will make you a better programmer overall, and it will make building programs where excellent performance is essential easy peasy (as well as embedded systems). Oh, and senior C developers make around $100,000 a year. Not bad!