How to Become a System Programmer

How to Become a System ProgrammerSystems programmers are programmers that specialize in the development of system functions rather than applications. While there are fewer systems programmers in the industry, they tend to be higher paid and produce more challenging work. A systems programmer can look forward to solid job security and high wages.

What Is a Systems Programmer?

Bachelor's Degree
Find Related CareersSOURCE: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

A systems programmer designs, modifies and tests programs on an operating systems level. These programs can be intended for communications industries, military use and private corporate use. Operating systems are more complex than most applications as they are required to be extraordinarily stable, secure and versatile. Systems programmers will often work for very large corporations such as Microsoft or Apple. They need to be extraordinarily conscientious and knowledgeable about their work.

Most systems programmers will have prior experience within the programming industry and will have developed their knowledge and habits over the years. Systems programmers are usually not entry-level programmers and on the job training is usually not offered for the field. A systems programmer will make a mean annual wage of $102,550 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the field offers many opportunities for career development.

What Does a Systems Programmer Do?

Systems programmers design and develop systems-level programs such as operating systems. This type of programming is usually far more challenging than other types of programming and is compensated accordingly. Systems programmers may also be called upon to develop existing software systems and create specific modules that work with these systems programmers. Overall, the industry is fairly complex and demands someone with skill and intellect.

Unlike other types of programmer, very few systems programmers work independently. Systems programmers usually work on a large team of programmers, and thus they need to be able to collaborate effectively and take direction well. Most systems programmers will work for very large corporations or military projects, which means their projects may be fairly extensive. A systems programmer, unlike other types of programmer, usually won’t work on a contract basis but rather as a permanent employee.

How Do You Become a Systems Programmer?

Systems programmers have two main paths into the field: they can either enter in as an experienced programmer or they can have a degree and programming knowledge. Systems programming is usually not an entry-level position and it does require a certain level of experience. A degree can be used in the place of some experience but usually not all. Systems programmers may have a Bachelor’s Degree or Associate’s Degree in computer science or programming.

Fluency in common computer languages is usually a necessity for someone who wishes to become a systems programmer. Systems programmers also need to understand software development and project management, and they need to be able to follow specific development models for the benefit of their team. Systems programmers may also need to be current on the most recent programming developments as well as methods of software security.

How Do You Advance as a Systems Programmer?

A systems programmer is a highly qualified individual with a very high rate of pay. Advancing within this field usually means being promoted within a company and eventually heading a systems department. Those within the field can also achieve higher rates of pay by being consistently successful in their positions and by meeting deadlines.

Most other fields do not pay as highly as systems programming, though a systems programmer that is interested in another field can move easily into applications development. Applications development is less highly paid, with a median wage of $90,060 annual according to O*Net Online. However, applications developers usually work on more diverse projects and there are still many opportunities throughout the field.

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