What degree do I need to become a Lead Programmer?

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Someone has to stand between labor and management. On the one side stand the software engineers, developers and programmers building the programs we use every day. On the other, stand the project managers, keeping an eye on the time and money and making sure their bosses get the product they paid for. Someone has to talk to both of them – the geek and the suit.

That someone is the Lead Programmer, a software engineer tasked not only with developing programs and writing code, but keeping all of the other programmers on task and efficient. In other words, cat herder. If you’ve considered a career in computer programming, and have a little more ambition, but don’t want to leave your tech-nerd love behind in management, think about becoming a Lead Programmer.


Since lead programmers are trained as programmers, you will need a degree in physics, math, or computer science from an accredited program. You can get hired as a programmer with an associate’s degree, but for a better chance at a higher-paying position like Lead Programmer, you’ll be better off with a bachelor’s.

In your schooling, you will need to become fluent in programming languages such as C++ and Java. You’ll also learn to build computer assisted software engineering tools (CASE) to automate code writing, develop and maintain code libraries, and especially develop skills in debugging code (a major part of the Lead Programmer’s job). One of the fast-growing segments of programming is Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), building programs in a language that works across platforms – learn it, know it.

An internship, preferably during your college years, is especially recommended. An internship with a software company will give you the chance to learn coding hands-on, understand the ways a software company works, and make connections for your first job out of school.

Of course, a technical field is always changing as technology evolves. Even after graduating, you will need to keep up to date on current technologies, training and retraining with continuing education and professional development courses and workshops.


As with many computer-related fields, there are many vendor-specific certifications available that you can add to your resume and prove your expertise. These can help you stand out from your competition, especially if you’re looking to be a Lead Programmer.

Job Expectations

As a Lead Programmer, your job may not be precisely the same from one company to another, but in general, you’ll be overseeing work being done by a team of software engineers, anywhere from two to ten or more. It is a highly technical job: you won’t just be in a managerial role; you’ll be getting your digital hands dirty with the rest of the team. You’l need some managerial skills, but most Lead Programmers see themselves as one of the tech staff rather than management – the real workers of the electronic age. Most of your responsibilities will be learned on the job or in short training sessions, and you’ll report to a program manager on behalf of your team.

Most of your actual work is programming – writing code, turning designs from developers into working programs, though the jobs (designer and programmer) can sometimes overlap. As Lead Programmer, in charge of the overall scope of the project, a lot of your work will be debugging.


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the field will grow 8% between 2012 and 2022, so there is no shortage of work.

According to payscale.com, the median pay for programmers is $80,000, though the highest may make over $110,000. Video game programming offers some of the highest pay, and is a boom industry within a boom industry. Lead Programmers can expect pay on the higher end.

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