CNC Programmer Career Guide 2024

Table of Contents

CNC Programmer Salary in United States for 2023

Average Annual Salary: $60,800 Hourly Rate: $29.23

Data sourced from the U.S. Department of Labor via the ONET Web API. Updated at December 8, 2023

Best Colleges and Universities for CNC Programmers in 2023

Projected Job Employment for CNC Programmer:

Estimated YearProjected YearEstimated EmploymentProjected Employment% ChangeProjected Annual Job Opening

CNC Programmer Career Path Overview

The journey towards becoming a CNC (Computer Numerical Control) programmer involves several steps, beginning with obtaining the necessary education and training, and progressing through different levels of experience and expertise. This career path is characterized by growth opportunities, technical challenges, and rewarding outcomes.

Education and Training

The first step on the CNC programmer career path is acquiring the appropriate education. Most CNC programmers have at least a high school diploma or equivalent. However, a post-secondary degree in a related field such as mechanical engineering technology, machine tool technology, or CNC programming can be advantageous. Many technical and vocational schools offer certificate or degree programs in these areas. These programs typically cover topics such as blueprint reading, computer-aided design (CAD), computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), and CNC programming languages like G-code or M-code. Alongside formal education, practical training is crucial for aspiring CNC programmers. This often comes in the form of apprenticeships or on-the-job training, where individuals learn the intricacies of operating and programming CNC machines under the guidance of experienced professionals.

Entry-Level Positions

Once they've obtained the necessary education and training, aspiring CNC programmers typically start their careers in entry-level positions such as CNC machine operators. In these roles, they gain hands-on experience running CNC machines, performing basic maintenance tasks, and making minor programming modifications. This practical experience is invaluable for developing a deep understanding of how CNC machines work, which is essential for progressing to more advanced programming roles.

Advancement Opportunities

With experience and continued learning, CNC machine operators can advance to become CNC setup technicians, responsible for preparing and setting up CNC machines for production runs. From there, they may progress to CNC programmer positions, where they are tasked with writing and modifying the complex programs that control CNC machines. Becoming a CNC programmer often requires additional training or certification in advanced programming techniques and software. Many employers offer this training, but it can also be obtained through continuing education programs at technical schools or colleges.

Further Career Development

Beyond the CNC programmer role, there are opportunities for further career development. Experienced CNC programmers might become CNC programmer/analysts, responsible for analyzing and improving manufacturing processes. They may also move into supervisory or managerial roles, overseeing a team of programmers and operators. Additionally, some CNC programmers choose to specialize in a particular type of machine or industry, becoming experts in their chosen niche. This can lead to opportunities in fields such as aerospace, automotive, or medical device manufacturing. Overall, the CNC programmer career path offers a blend of technical challenges and opportunities for growth. With the right education, training, and experience, individuals can build rewarding careers in this dynamic field.

CNC Programmer Career Path Education and Training

The career path of a CNC programmer involves several steps, starting with acquiring the necessary education and training. This is a critical step in your career path as it equips you with the skills and knowledge required to effectively operate and program CNC machines.

High School Diploma or Equivalent

The journey to becoming a CNC programmer often begins with a high school diploma or its equivalent. In high school, students interested in this field should focus on classes in mathematics, especially geometry and algebra, computer science, and any available vocational training in machinery or technology. These subjects provide a solid foundation for understanding the principles of CNC programming.

Post-Secondary Education

After high school, pursuing post-secondary education can further enhance your qualifications. Many employers prefer candidates who have completed a certificate or associate's degree program in CNC machine operations, precision machining, or a related field. These programs are typically offered by technical schools or community colleges and can take from several months to two years to complete. In these programs, students learn about the various types of CNC machines, how they operate, and how to program them. Courses may also cover topics like blueprint reading, machine setup, quality control, and safety procedures.

Apprenticeship Programs

An apprenticeship program is another excellent way to gain practical experience and hands-on skills in CNC programming. These programs combine classroom instruction with on-the-job training under the supervision of experienced CNC programmers. Apprenticeships typically last between one to four years and provide comprehensive training in various aspects of CNC programming, including machine operation, setup, maintenance, inspection, troubleshooting, and programming. Upon completion of an apprenticeship program, you may receive a nationally recognized certification that can increase your employability.

Continuing Education and Certification

Once you have gained some experience in the field, it is crucial to continue learning and upgrading your skills. The technology in CNC programming is constantly evolving, so it's important to stay current with the latest advancements. Several organizations offer certification programs for CNC programmers. For example, the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) provides several certifications for CNC programmers that can enhance your credibility and increase your career prospects. In conclusion, the journey to becoming a CNC programmer involves a combination of formal education, practical training, and continuous learning. With the right education and training, you can set yourself up for a successful career in this dynamic and rewarding field.

CNC Programmer Career Path Progression

The career path for a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) Programmer can be both rewarding and challenging. With the right combination of education, experience, and skills, individuals can progress through different levels in this career path. This progression often includes roles such as CNC Operator, CNC Machinist, CNC Programmer, and eventually, to a supervisory or managerial role.

Entry-Level: CNC Operator

The first step in the CNC Programmer career path is usually the role of a CNC Operator. As an operator, you'll be responsible for setting up the CNC machines, loading raw materials, and executing the programs created by CNC Programmers. This hands-on experience provides invaluable knowledge about machine operations, safety procedures, and quality control. In addition to a high school diploma or equivalent, some employers may require a certificate or associate degree in CNC operations or a related field.

Middle-Level: CNC Machinist

After gaining experience as a CNC Operator, the next step on the career path is often the role of a CNC Machinist. In this position, you'll not only operate the machines but also begin to interpret blueprints and perform minor edits to the CNC programs. Understanding complex mathematics, measuring instruments, and machine setup procedures are crucial at this stage. Some companies may require a machinist to have completed an apprenticeship program or have several years of experience in CNC operations.

Advanced-Level: CNC Programmer

After mastering the skills of a machinist, individuals can progress to become a CNC Programmer. This role involves creating and modifying programs that drive CNC machines. A deep understanding of CAD/CAM software, machine tooling, and geometric dimensioning and tolerancing (GD&T) is needed for this role. A degree in mechanical engineering or computer science can be beneficial at this stage, as would be a comprehensive knowledge of the latest industry software and technology.

Senior-Level: CNC Supervisor or Manager

With significant experience and a proven track record in CNC programming, individuals may advance to supervisory or managerial roles. These positions involve overseeing the operations of a team of CNC professionals, ensuring quality control, and liaising with other departments to ensure production targets are met. Strong leadership and communication skills are crucial at this level, as is the ability to solve complex problems. Some companies may prefer candidates with a bachelor's degree in engineering or business management for these roles. In conclusion, the CNC Programmer career path offers plenty of opportunities for growth and advancement for those willing to continuously learn and adapt to new technologies. From starting as an operator to potentially managing an entire team, each step of the journey equips you with valuable skills and knowledge that can lead to a rewarding career in the manufacturing industry.

CNC Programmer Career Path Specializations and Subfields

When venturing into the field of CNC Programming, you'll find that it offers a variety of specializations and subfields. Each of these focuses on a unique aspect of the industry, allowing you to specialize in a particular area based on your interests and skills. This diversity also provides a plethora of opportunities for growth and advancement within the profession.

CNC Machining

One common specialization within the CNC Programming industry is CNC Machining. A CNC machinist operates and maintains CNC machines, which are used to cut, shape, and finish materials like metal, plastic, and wood. In this role, you would be responsible for interpreting blueprints or models, setting up the machine with the correct tools, monitoring the machining process, and ensuring the finished product meets specifications.

CNC Milling

CNC Milling is another popular focus within this career path. As a CNC mill programmer, you would write the programs that control the milling machines. This involves selecting the appropriate tools, determining the sequence of operations, and defining the movements of the machine. Your goal would be to create efficient programs that produce parts precisely and quickly.

CNC Turning

In contrast to milling, CNC turning involves rotating the workpiece while a single point cutting tool is moved parallel to the axis of rotation. If you specialize in this subfield, you would write programs that control CNC lathes. These machines are used to produce cylindrical parts with various features such as holes, grooves, and threads.

CNC Grinding

CNC Grinding programmers operate grinding machines that remove excess material or burrs from surfaces, sharpen edges or corners, or buff, hone, or polish metal pieces. They need to understand the properties of metal and how heat changes them as precision is crucial in this role.

3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing

With the advancement of technology, a new subfield has emerged in the form of 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing. Here, CNC programmers work with 3D printers and similar machines that add layers of material to create a product. This requires a strong understanding of 3D modeling and computer-aided design (CAD).

CNC Supervisor and Management Roles

After gaining experience and developing expertise in CNC programming, some professionals move into supervisory or management roles. These positions involve overseeing a team of CNC programmers or machinists, ensuring quality control, coordinating production schedules, and dealing with any issues that may arise. Each of these specializations offers its unique challenges and rewards, providing an array of options for those interested in a career as a CNC Programmer.

CNC Programmer Career Path Job Market and Outlook

The job market for CNC programmers is booming, and it's projected to continue growing steadily over the next decade. This is largely due to the ever-increasing need for precision in manufacturing and production processes. As technology advances, companies are seeking more efficient ways to produce high-quality products, and CNC programming plays a pivotal role in this. CNC Programmers are in high demand across a wide range of industries, including automotive, aerospace, electronics, and healthcare. These industries require intricate parts that can only be made with the precision of a CNC machine, creating numerous opportunities for skilled programmers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of computer numerically controlled tool programmers is projected to grow by 7 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations. This growth rate suggests a positive outlook for those considering a career in this field. However, the job market's health also means competition can be fierce among CNC programmers. Those looking to stand out in this field may want to consider obtaining additional certifications or specializing in a specific industry. Many companies prefer applicants who have an Associate's degree in CNC programming or a related field, as well as experience with computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software. In terms of geographical location, certain regions have higher demand for CNC programmers due to the concentration of manufacturing industries. For instance, states like Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana – known for their automotive industries – often have a high demand for these professionals. One key aspect of the job market for CNC programmers is its ever-evolving nature. As technology continues to advance, there will be a need for programmers who are up-to-date with the latest software and equipment. Continuous learning and professional development are therefore crucial components of a successful career in CNC programming. To sum up, the job market and outlook for CNC programmers are promising, with a steady growth rate and opportunities across diverse industries. Despite the competition, those with the right skill set, education, and willingness to stay updated with industry trends have a high chance of securing stable employment in this field.

CNC Programmer Career Path Salary and Compensation

As a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) Programmer, your salary can vary greatly depending on your level of experience, the complexity of the projects you handle, and the industry in which you work. However, overall, CNC Programmers can expect a competitive compensation package that often includes benefits such as health insurance, retirement plans, and paid time off.

Entry-Level CNC Programmer Salary

Starting out in your CNC Programming career, you may begin as a CNC Operator or Machinist. In these entry-level positions, you'll gain valuable hands-on experience with CNC machinery and begin to understand the intricacies of programming. As of 2022, the average salary for a CNC Operator in the United States is around $40,000 per year, according to Payscale.

Mid-Level CNC Programmer Salary

Once you've gained a few years of experience and have proven your skills and knowledge in CNC programming, you may advance to a mid-level position. At this stage, you're likely to see an increase in your salary. The median annual wage for a mid-level CNC Programmer in the U.S. is approximately $55,000, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Senior-Level CNC Programmer Salary

As a senior-level CNC Programmer, you'll be expected to handle more complex projects and possibly oversee junior programmers or operators. You may also have more direct involvement in project planning and execution. According to Payscale, senior-level CNC Programmers can expect to earn an average salary of around $75,000 per year.

Additional Compensation

In addition to base salary, it's common for CNC Programmers to receive additional compensation. This could come in the form of bonuses for successful project completion or achieving company goals. Profit-sharing schemes are also common in some industries. Moreover, many employers provide comprehensive benefits packages that include health insurance, dental and vision coverage, retirement contributions, and paid time off.

Factors Influencing CNC Programmer Salary

Various factors can influence a CNC Programmer's salary. These include geographical location, with salaries typically higher in urban areas due to higher living costs. The industry in which you work can also impact your earnings. For example, CNC Programmers in the aerospace or automotive industries often earn more than those in smaller manufacturing sectors. Experience and education also play significant roles in determining salary. Those with advanced degrees or certifications related to CNC programming, or who have a significant amount of experience, are likely to command higher salaries. In conclusion, while the salary of a CNC Programmer can vary, it's clear that this career path offers good earning potential and opportunities for advancement. With the right combination of education, experience, and dedication, you can look forward to a rewarding career in this field.

CNC Programmer Career Path Tips for Success

To be successful in the field of CNC programming, there are several key steps and strategies you should consider. Whether you're just starting out or looking to advance your career, these tips can help you navigate your journey more effectively.

Educational Requirements

A high school diploma is typically the minimum educational requirement for a CNC programmer. However, most employers prefer candidates with post-secondary education in a related field such as mechanical engineering technology or CNC machine technology. Some vocational schools and community colleges offer certificate or associate degree programs in CNC programming. These programs typically cover topics like blueprint reading, computer-aided design (CAD), computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), and mathematics.

Hands-On Training

Practical experience is crucial in this field. Many CNC programmers start their careers as machine operators and gradually learn programming skills on the job. Internships and apprenticeships can also provide valuable hands-on experience. In addition, some schools offer simulated training using virtual software, which can help you get a feel for the job before you start working with real machines.


Although not always required, certification can demonstrate your competence and commitment to the profession. The National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) offers several credentials that are recognized by the industry, including CNC Programming certifications for milling and turning.

Continuing Education

Technology evolves rapidly, so it's essential to stay updated on the latest advancements in CNC programming. This could mean attending industry conferences, enrolling in continuing education courses, or simply reading industry publications. In addition to keeping your technical skills sharp, continuing education can also help you develop soft skills like problem-solving and communication that are crucial for career advancement.


Building a strong professional network can open doors to new opportunities and provide support throughout your career. Join professional organizations like the Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT) or the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME). These groups offer networking events, industry news, and professional development resources.


As you gain experience, consider specializing in a particular area such as aerospace, automotive, or medical devices. Specialization can make you more marketable to employers and potentially lead to higher-paying positions. By following these tips for success, you can navigate your CNC programmer career path more effectively and achieve your professional goals.

What is a CNC Programmer?

A CNC (Computer Numerical Control) Programmer is a highly skilled professional who designs and programs the software necessary to run CNC machinery. These machines are used to cut, shape and form materials into precise shapes and sizes in various industries, including automotive, aerospace, and manufacturing. A CNC Programmer's role involves interpreting project blueprints, designing the necessary machine code, and troubleshooting any issues that may arise during the manufacturing process.

What Skills are Needed to Become a CNC Programmer?

CNC Programmers need a range of technical and soft skills to excel in their role. On the technical side, they should have a deep understanding of mathematics, especially geometry and trigonometry, as these are often used when programming machines. They also need to be proficient in programming languages, most notably G-code, which is commonly used in CNC programming. Additionally, CNC Programmers must have excellent problem-solving skills, as they will often need to troubleshoot issues with the machines or the programs they create. Attention to detail is also crucial as even small errors in programming can result in significant defects in the final product. As for soft skills, good communication is essential for explaining complex technical information to colleagues and clients.

What Education is Needed to Become a CNC Programmer?

Many CNC Programmers start their career path with an associate degree or certificate in a field related to manufacturing technology, industrial technology, or CNC machining. These programs usually cover topics such as blueprint reading, CAD (computer-aided design), CAM (computer-aided manufacturing), and CNC programming. While not always required, some employers prefer candidates with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering or a related field. Additionally, gaining practical experience through internships or apprenticeships can be extremely beneficial.

What is the Job Outlook for CNC Programmers?

The job outlook for CNC Programmers is generally positive. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for computer-controlled machine tool operators, a category that includes CNC Programmers, is expected to grow by 15% from 2020 to 2030, faster than the average for all occupations. This growth is largely driven by the increasing demand for precision parts in various industries. As companies continue to automate their production processes, the need for skilled CNC Programmers who can create and manage these complex systems will likely remain strong.

What is the Average Salary of a CNC Programmer?

The average salary for a CNC Programmer varies depending on factors such as location, level of experience, and industry. According to PayScale, as of October 2021, the median annual salary for CNC Programmers in the United States is around $60,000. Entry-level CNC Programmers can expect to earn a lower salary, while those with several years of experience or specialized skills can earn significantly more.

What Career Advancement Opportunities are Available for CNC Programmers?

CNC Programmers have several paths for career advancement. With additional training and experience, they can move into roles such as Senior CNC Programmer or CNC Programming Manager, overseeing a team of programmers. Alternatively, they may choose to specialize in a particular type of machinery or industry, becoming an expert in that area. Some CNC Programmers also transition into related roles such as Manufacturing Engineer or Quality Control Inspector. For those interested in management or strategic planning, obtaining a bachelor's or master's degree in a field like industrial engineering or business administration could open doors to higher-level positions within a company.