Confessions of a Cobol (COBOL) programmer

February 20, 2008

http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=9062478&source=NLT_AM&nlid=1

Yes young people are discovering Cobol (or isn’t it spelled COBOL?) By young, taking the example of a newly converted Cobol programmer the article starts off with, we mean age 40. Mark Zuckerburg of Facebook probably doesn’t think he’ll live to see 40 (or can’t imaging doing so), but there it is in Mainframe World.

The experienced Cobol programmers who can best do that job, however, are dying, or at least retiring. In a 2007 Micro Focus survey of its customers, more than 75% of CIOs said they would need more Cobol programmers over the next five years, and 73% were already having a hard time finding trained Cobol professionals.

Dying?? I can see programmers giving their last full measure, pounding away at their keyboards until they expire in their cubes. The last thing they see on Earth, a green screen.

We surveyed Cobol programmers and companies involved in the Cobol field and determined that the market these days supports two types of careers:

  • An emerging role in which the programmer serves as a bridge between Cobol code and new applications. Such jobs require people who understand Cobol, the business rules and processes on which old Cobol programs are based, and more modern languages such as Java.
  • A more traditional programming path, in which the employee maintains and fixes old Cobol code in addition to writing new code, also still in Cobol.

Now I know a number of mainframe programmers who do the first point, some in combination with the second. I’ve known mainframe programmers who in the post-Y2K blues of 2000, 2001 who had been out of work for a year, so having some recognized roles for them is a good thing.

Is this a good career move, going into mainframes and Cobol? It’s the B-52 of business software development, used by the grandchildren, if not great-grandchildren, of the original pilots (developers). I don’t agree with the pundit at the end who says that it will all go away in a decade or so.

Not sure from the article though, whose confessions? The people interviewed didn’t seem to be ‘confessing’ to liking to work with the older technology.

From the comments to the article РPeople are obsessed with making sure COBOL is spelled COBOL. Indian Hills Community College is a small college in the heart of the financial and insurance industries in the mid-west (what state?) that has COBOL classes. Skepticism of the idea of the demise of COBOL. A few unemployed programmers, and nostalga for the good old days.

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