Programming skills are what we use to tell a computer, application, or software what to do. These skills are applicable in various career paths — from software engineering to data analytics — and, arguably, even a wider variety of industries. So, what exactly are programming skills, what careers do they apply to, and how can you master them? In this guide, we’ll cover:
- Programming Skills Defined
- Careers for Programming Skills
- How to Learn Programming Skills
- How to Show Your Programming Skills in a Job Application
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Programming Skills Defined
First: what is computer programming? Computer programming is the process of writing instructions for a computer, application, or software.
Programming skills, also known as coding skills, are what you use to write those instructions.
We use programming languages to write computer programs.
However, the survey shows slight differences in language popularity between current professionals and people learning to code. People learning to code are more likely to report using Python (58% vs. 44%), C++ (35% vs. 20%), and C (32% vs. 17%).
Programming experts advise having mastery over one language with proficiency in two to three others.
Other programming hard skills include programming concepts. Programmers use these principles, rules, tools, and guidelines to make their code effective.
Some common programming concepts include:
- Data structures and algorithms: Data structures are ways to store data. Algorithms are formulas for tasks that take an input to get an output.
- Development frameworks: Libraries, tools, and templates programmers use to make building applications easier. Front-end framework examples include React, Angular, and Vue.js. Back-end framework examples include Node.js, Django, and Ruby on Rails.
- Testing: The ability to write tests to ensure the code works as intended.
- Debugging: Finding and fixing any bugs (errors) in the code.
- APIs: API stands for “application programming interface.” An API is a messenger that allows two programs to interact with one another.
- Cloud computing: Delivering IT resources like servers, storage, and databases over the internet. Examples include Amazon’s AWS, Google’s GPC, and Microsoft’s Azure.
- Networking: Writing programs or processes that connect with other programs or processes in a network.
- Version control: Tracking changes made to code.
- Cybersecurity: Securing technology to make sure private information remains safe and confidential.
With so many hard skills to learn, which should you focus on?
(Note: some certifications can cost money and require you to take an exam.)
Programming skills are more than just the hard skills you need to write code. Often, you’ll need soft skills to work effectively with team members and explain your work to people outside of your team. Soft skills for programming include:
“A coachable programmer who can communicate with the team will always be preferred over a programmer with more certifications, if they are not easy to work with,” Beard says. “Public speaking practice, which can be done through clubs like Toastmasters, can pay huge dividends.”
Careers for Programming Skills
When we think of using programming skills in the workplace, software engineering is one of the first careers that might come to mind. It’s true — programming skills are highly in-demand for software engineering career paths, regardless of what type of software engineer you are. Most software engineers write, test, and review code as their primary responsibility.
However, that’s just one of many careers that uses these skills. Some other career examples include:
- Data analyst: Uses programming skills to present and visualize data that helps companies make critical business decisions.
- Technical product manager: Uses coding when managing the technical aspects of a product and collaborating with software engineers.
- Business intelligence analyst: Informs management decisions using code to build dashboards and reports.
- Quantitative analyst: Uses coding to help companies and businesses make decisions about their finances.
- Web developer: Creates website layout and applications using programming languages and concepts.
- Technical recruiter: Uses programming knowledge to assess if candidates in their pipeline have the right skill set for roles they’re hiring for.
You can apply programming skills in a variety of careers, as well as a broad range of industries. From health care to technology, you can apply programming skills to any industry that works with software or uses data to help drive business decisions.
How to Learn Programming Skills
So, how can you learn programming skills? There are a few different ways, depending on how much money and time you’d like to invest:
- College or university: Majors like computer science, information technology, software engineering, and data analytics will include courses that teach you programming skills.
- Online coding bootcamps: There are tons of bootcamps that offer various length and cost options, as well as different types of programming skills (e.g., front-end vs. back-end). >>MORE: Learn the best online bootcamps for 2023.
- Virtual courses: One-off courses — like virtual experience programs on Forage — can help you practice your skills without an extended time commitment or a cost.
>>MORE: Develop your programming skills for free with Accenture’s Know the Code Virtual Experience Program.
How to Show Your Programming Skills in a Job Application
Ready to show off your programming skills in the job application process? You’ll need to list them on your resume, demonstrate them during the interview process, and include examples in your application materials.
On Your Resume
List your programming skills on your resume, either in a “skills” section or within the job descriptions in your experience section. Don’t just list “programming,” though — be specific about what languages and concepts you’re familiar with. Be sure to include every skill you have that’s listed in the job description.
Whatever skills you list, be sure you’re ready to discuss or demonstrate those skills in the application process.
In the Interview
For roles that require programming skills, you’ll likely have to complete two types of technical interviews: one with a hands-on assessment and another where you discuss technical concepts.
>>MORE: Practice interview coding assessments with Girls Who Code’s Technical Interview Prep Virtual Experience Program.
Don’t be too academic when answering technical interview questions about concepts, and avoid giving a textbook definition. Instead, show you know how to apply the concept to your programming work.
“The biggest tip I have for early career candidates (and what made the biggest difference in my job search early on) is to have a personal project you are actively working on,” says Danielle Ford, a software engineer specializing in front-end and web development. “It’s a lot easier to engage in technical conversation when you’ve been coding recently and can refer back to stumbling blocks or other aspects of that project from within the last week or so. When I was a junior developer, my success in interviews improved dramatically when I had an active side project.”
Most importantly, you should include any programming projects you’ve done within your application materials.
“This can be a collection of programming projects, code samples, documentation, or anything relevant,” Robert Johns, technical editor at Hackr.io, says. “Adding solid projects with no bugs and clean code is so important! Each project should also have a detailed description, including the problem solved, any challenges you faced, and why you chose the solution.”
Even if you’re not working on your own project, Johns says you can highlight work you’ve done on open-source projects or GitHub pull requests you’ve had approved.
“The idea is to demonstrate your programming abilities, problem-solving skills, and ability to work collaboratively. It’s also a chance to show you can write clean, readable, efficient, and professional code.”
Build programming skills like basic coding, Python, Git, React, TypeScript, and web applications with JPMorgan’s Software Engineering Virtual Experience Program.
Image credit: Christina Morillo / Pexels
Programming skills, or coding skills, are the skills we use to write instructions for computers, applications, or software. They include different programming languages and concepts.
To start, you’ll need knowledge of at least one programming language. You should also be familiar with common programming concepts, like data structures and algorithms, cloud computing, and development frameworks.
No, you don’t need a degree to learn how to program. Instead, you can learn coding skills through online bootcamps, courses, or self-teaching.
You can list your skills on your resume in a skills section or within the job descriptions in your experience section. You should be specific about what languages and concepts you know.