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Graphics Programmers

The Job

Many diverse industries use computer graphics. In medicine, for example, physicians, nurses, and technicians can use computer graphics to view the internal organs of patients. Scanners feed vital information about a patient's body to a computer that interprets the input and displays a graphic representation of the patient's internal conditions. Computer graphics are used in flight simulators by airlines and NASA to train pilots and astronauts. Weather forecasters and television newscasters use graphics to explain statistical information, such as weather or stock market reports. Business people use computer-generated graphs and charts to make their reports more interesting and informative. Engineers use computer graphics to test the wear and stress of building materials and machine parts. The movie industry has found ingenious ways to use computer graphics for special effects. Professional artists have explored computer graphics for creating works of art.

The graphics programmer's job is similar to that of other computer programmers: determining what the computer will be expected to do and writing instructions for the computer that will allow it to carry out these functions. For a computer to perform any operation at all, detailed instructions must be written into its memory in a computer language, such as BASIC, COBOL, Pascal, C++, HTML, Smalltalk, Java, and Python. The programmer is responsible for telling the computer exactly what to do.

A graphics programmer's job can be illustrated by tracing how a program designed for desktop publishing is developed. Working with a computer systems analyst, the graphics programmer's first step is to interview managers or clients to determine the kinds of tasks the program will be expected to perform, such as drawing shapes, organizing text, and adding different colors. The programmer investigates current computer graphics capabilities and how to improve them.

Once the expectations of the program are identified, the programmer usually prepares a flowchart, which illustrates how the computer will process the incoming information and carry out its operations. The programmer then begins to write the instructions for the computer in a programming language, such as C++ or JavaScript. The coded instructions will also contain comments so other programmers can understand it. Programmers may use computer-assisted software engineering tools, which automate much of the software coding. This allows them to focus on writing the unique parts of the graphics.

Once the program is written, it is tested thoroughly by programmers, digital designers, and quality assurance testers to make sure it can do the desired tasks. If problems, or glitches, do exist, the program must be altered and retested until it produces correct results. This is known as debugging the program.

Once the program is ready to be put into operation, the programmer prepares the written instructions for the people who will use the graphics program in their daily work.

Graphics programmers can be employed either by software manufacturing companies or by the companies that buy and use the software (known as the end user). The programmer who works for a software manufacturer will work on programs designed to fit the needs of prospective customers. For example, the programmer might work on a report-writing program for businesses, and so develop simple ways for people to display and print statistical data in the form of diagrams, pie charts, and bar graphs. Programmers, working alone or as part of a team, must make the product user friendly.

Graphics programmers who work for end users have to tailor commercial software to fit their company's individual needs. If a company has limited computer needs or cannot afford to keep a programmer on payroll, it can call an independent consulting firm that has graphics programmers on staff and hire consultants for specific projects.

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