In our modern age, computers impact practically every aspect of daily life. But before we can type an address into our smartphone or book a restaurant reservation online, a programmer was necessary to create the software these programs rely on. Still, programmers aren’t as in demand as they once were. Following the programming hiring boom of the pandemic, fewer programmers are now needed in the workforce, especially as programming becomes increasingly automated in the age of AI.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates a 11% decline in employment for computer programmers between 2022 to 2032. Still, BLS projects that there will be about 6,700 job openings per year over that decade because of workers transferring to other occupations or retiring. “The amount of code that you write is going down, but the impact that you have with that code that you write is going up,” explains George Heineman, an assistant professor of computer science at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts, of the current need for programmers.


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For those who are interested in pursuing programming jobs, here are 10 of the field’s top-paying roles.

1. Chief Technology Officer 

Highest-paying cities: San Diego, Calif. ($298,291), New York, N.Y. ($225,432), Phoenix, Ariz. ($216,956), according to Indeed.

Description: This C-suite position oversees a company’s IT department and research and development department. Part of this job includes researching new technology and finding weaknesses that can be fixed with new IT technology. 

Heineman says this C-suite position carries “a huge amount of responsibility,” and that it’s more about hiring people than actual programming. “You don’t get to do the good stuff. You hire people who get to do the good stuff,” Heineman explains. “It’s understanding the mission of the company and how to translate that mission into action.”

Education: It’s common for chief technology officers to have a bachelor’s in IT, business or cybersecurity; an MBA can provide business acumen and leadership skills.

2. Machine Learning Engineer 

Highest-paying cities: New York, N.Y. ($188,965), Cupertino, Calif. ($183,159), Santa Clara, Calif. ($182,851), according to Indeed.

Description: Machine learning engineers create software that can run automatically and contend with problems it encounters by “learning” to improve upon its tasks without assistance from humans. This wide-ranging skill can be applied to virtual assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, self-driving cars and recommendation algorithms. 

“You don’t have to be a programmer to be a machine learning engineer, although a lot of programmers go in that direction,” Heineman says. “They really understand how to take that very specific domain and model it and run these machine learning algorithms through their paces.”

Education: Machine learning engineers are usually required to have at least a bachelor’s in a related field; most job postings require a master’s in computer science, data science, software engineering or a similar field.

3. AI Engineer 

Highest-paying cities: Bolinas, Calif. ($181,995), Kensington, Ky. ($178,838), Summitview, Wash. ($173,838), according to ZipRecruiter.

Description: AI engineers research and develop machines that simulate the thinking patterns and behavior of humans. Using machine learning and artificial intelligence, AI engineers create applications and systems that assist companies to increase profits and efficiency, cut costs, and make better business decisions.

Education: AI engineers typically hold a bachelor’s in a related field such as IT, computer science, data science or statistics. Though not usually required, it’s also common for AI engineers to hold a master’s degree in a field like data science or computer science.

4. Cloud Architect 

Highest-paying cities: San Jose, Calif. ($170,922), San Francisco, Calif. ($159,685), Washington, D.C. ($154,236), according to Indeed.

Description: Cloud computing allows companies to access large-scale storage without maintaining their own physical servers. Cloud architects set up these clouds for companies, maintain systems and communicate with third-party cloud servicers. Cloud architects must be deeply knowledgeable about security to protect the cloud. 

“You can’t just start off as a cloud architect. You need experience,” Heineman says. “There is no single cloud. There’s not just one programming language, or there’s not just one computer architecture.”

Education: Earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field is often preferred by employers. A cloud architecture certification can also be helpful.

5. Data Science Professional 

Highest-paying cities: Palo Alto, Calif. ($169,540), Bellevue, Wash. ($167,827), Redmond, Wash. ($141,286), according to Indeed.

Description: Data science professionals can take large sets of raw data, revise it, and analyze it to reveal actionable insights. Prevalent in industries like finance, health care, and technology, this role is especially useful for its ability to take data that was once incomprehensible and turn it into something constructive

“Information is data with meaning, and that’s the job of a data scientist—get the data to be meaningful,” says Paulus Wahjudi, chair and professor of the Department of Computer Sciences and Electrical Engineering at Marshall University.

Education: It’s not strictly necessary, but a bachelor’s degree in computer science is useful for this role. 

6. Enterprise Architect 

Highest-paying cities: San Diego, Calif. ($168,874), Herndon, Va. ($160,279), Chicago, Ill. ($156,416), according to Indeed.

Description: Requiring both IT and business skills, an enterprise architect ensures that a company’s technology is in line with its business goals. Enterprise architects set IT standards, buy software or get an IT department to create it, based on their analysis of an employer’s business goals.

Education: Enterprise architect jobs usually require a four-year degree in data science, computer science, or a similar field. These roles often require five to 10 years of experience and a master’s degree in a related field.

7. DevOps Engineer 

Highest-paying cities: Palo Alto, Calif. ($159,261), San Francisco, Calif. ($151,315), and Herndon, Va. ($151,190), according to Indeed.

Description: DevOps engineers work to improve software development processes by coordinating all teams involved with a product’s development. This role updates and maintains software processes with the aim of fixing bugs and improving user experience.

Education: Employers usually prefer DevOps engineers who have a bachelor’s degree in computer programming, software engineering, or a related field.

8. Full Stack Developer

Highest-paying cities: San Francisco, Calif. ($154,204), Irving, Texas ($144,535), Charlotte, N.C. ($139,145), according to Indeed.

Description: A full stack developer can do pretty much anything related to computer programming. With the back-end team, they help manage servers and create databases; with the front-end team, they assist with the creation of parts of the project that are client-facing. Full stack developers are in high demand because of their ability to assist at any stage of a project. 

Education: Full stack developers usually have at least a bachelor’s in computer engineering, information technology, computer science, or a related field. Some have certificates or specialized degrees in AI, web development, information security, or database management.

9. Database Developer 

Highest-paying cities: Washington, D.C. ($124,316), New York, N.Y. ($121,596), and Boston, Mass. ($120,549), according to Indeed.

Description: As the name of the role suggests, database developers oversee developing databases. In modern times, most companies constantly record and store data that’s used to conduct data analysis, record the company’s history, and comply with regulations. Databases and data warehouses are necessary to securely store this data and must be crafted to meet the needs of each individual business. After creating these databases, a database developer must constantly maintain them. 

“The databases, in some ways, are so optimized that they can run themselves, but you still need someone to know how to model the data, and that’s what a database developer does,” Heineman says. “They could have moderate programming skills, [but] that’s not really the strength. It’s modeling skills.”

Education: Database developers usually have a bachelor’s degree in computer science, software engineering, or a similar field.

10. Systems Administrator 

Highest-paying cities: Tallahassee, Fla. ($121,435), San Francisco, Calif. ($118,145), and Washington, D.C. ($98,807), according to Indeed.

Description: It is the job of a systems administrator to keep a company’s hardware and software up and running securely. From managing operating systems and servers to updating and installing new software to providing tech support, a systems administrator must be able to take on any task required of them. 

Having good people skills is a boon for this role, as systems administrators must often help non-technical employees. “They’re the one that gets called 24/7,” says Wahjudi. “If anything goes wrong, it’s your responsibility to get it back up.”

Education: To be a systems administrator, most jobs require a bachelor’s in a field related to information or computer science. Some positions may require an associate’s or postsecondary degree.

The takeaway 

Though the need for programmers has fallen since the boom of the pandemic, both Heineman and Wahjudi say that programming skills are useful and transferable. While demand may have slowed for these positions, people are still being hired for high-paying jobs that use programming.

“We tell our students that a computer is stupid,” Wahjudi says. “It’s only as smart as the programmer.”

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