A computer numerically controlled (CNC) programmer develops machines that cut raw materials into useful outputs. The responsibilities of a CNC programmer include interpreting project blueprints, designing programs, and creating devices to produce the desired product.

CNC machines or those that CNC programmers develop are primarily used in manufacturing. These include conventional devices such as drills, lathes, and milling machines that you can learn more about in the Read More section.

A CNC programmer can be likened to a dishwasher operator. He or she arranges the kitchen utensils to wash and tells the dishwasher how to do so. In the same manner, a CNC programmer tells a manufacturing machine what tools to use and how to cut a raw material to fit the final product.

Other interesting terms…

Read More about a “CNC Programmer

CNC programmers make two general types of CNC machines work. Watch this video of a day in the life of a CNC programmer:

What Should a Wannabe CNC Programmer Study?

CNC programmers don’t have to complete a specific university degree, although certificates, associate degrees, or apprenticeship program completions are helpful.

Employers typically prefer to hire CNC programmers with at least five years of experience. They should have communication, critical-thinking, and problem-solving skills; systems analysis and mathematical abilities; knowledge of computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software. Examples of CAD software include Centerdrill, Countersink, and Centerbore. CAM software, meanwhile, include PowerMill and MasterCAM.

CNC programmers typically work with plastic and metal materials, so knowledge and expertise in these help as well.

What Skills Should CNC Programmers Have?

CNC programmers are expected to:

  • Read and interpret blueprints
  • Program mills and lathes
  • Maintain raw materials inventories
  • Know how to do preventative maintenance
  • Verify machine settings and positioning

What Machines Do CNC Programmers Operate?

  1. Conventional technologies: These include drills, lathes, and milling machines. Drills spin and move bits about on a stationary block of raw material. Lathes, meanwhile, move sideways to mark materials on where these should be cut. Finally, milling machines use rotary cutting tools to remove unwanted blocks of raw materials from the outputs.
  2. Novel technologies: These include electrical or chemical machines and other cutting media. Innovative technologies are highly specialized and used in mass-producing a particular type of material. Some use laser, oxygen, plasma, or water jets to cut materials.

What Industries Use CNC Machinery?

Several sectors use CNC machines, including automotive and racing (for engine parts), defense (for aircraft components, etc.), medical (for MRI machines, etc.), aerospace (for engine components, etc.), and power generation (for cooling blades, etc.). These sectors require engines and tools that require precise measurements and specifications.

How Does CNC Programming Work?

To know the right order of required actions to make an output part, a CNC programmer first needs to study the specifications for it. The programmer then considers what material is used, how quickly it should be fed into the machine, where holes or other fabrications need to be placed, and so on. All those are turned into a series of instructions for the device to follow.

What Companies Hire CNC Programmers and How Much Can They Earn?

Practically all manufacturing companies that sell plastic and metal products hire CNC programmers. A CNC programmer is also called a “CNC machinist.” Other related job titles include “CAM operator,” “CNC machine operator,” “machine shop supervisor,” and “manufacturing engineer.”

CNC programmers based in the U.S. can earn an average of US$56,175 a year.


Did you know that the first CNC machines built in the 1940s and 1950s received instructions coded onto punched tape? Punched tape or perforated paper tape is a means to store data on a long strip of paper with holes punched in. It looks like this:

Source: Wikipedia