Long live COBOL?

Long live COBOL?

Summary: Search390 reports the results of a Micro Focus survey on mainframes and COBOL.  According to the survey, COBOL is still the dominant language on mainframe computers and the median age of COBOL programmers is 45-59.

TOPICS: IT Employment

Search390 reports the results of a Micro Focus survey on mainframes and COBOL.  According to the survey, COBOL is still the dominant language on mainframe computers and the median age of COBOL programmers is 45-59.  This leads to the question: where will the next crop of COBOL programmers come from?

An important data point and one that I didn't see in the report was how many new COBOL applications are being written?   There's reported to be 180-200 billion lines of COBOL code out there, but let's be frank--no one really wants to prepare for a job maintaining 20 years old code. 

When I was CIO for Utah, we had old COBOL applications running on the mainframe.  For many agencies, these were some of the most mission critical and important applications.   On the other hand, we were also actively working to replace them as we could.  It wasn't the case that we were replacing them just because they were in COBOL, but they were old and not meeting functional needs.  No one thought we ought to do major refactoring in COBOL to add feature functionality. 

One of the points of the Search390 article was that we should encourage CS students to learn COBOL. I wouldn't recommend it to my students and certainly not to my children.  I try to move my students toward knowledge, skills, and jobs that are somewhat protected from offshoring.  COBOL maintenance jobs don't fit that category as far as I can see.   

Topic: IT Employment

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  • Businesses will train and migrate

    My first career was as COBOL and Assembly programmer. I thought Java might replace COBOL gradually. But it did not happen due to sloppy implementation and crappy packages. All to blame Sun for its workmanship.

    I think they will migrate to web-based applications. For the rest, they may to train internally!
  • COBOL is dying -- but Java is DEAD

    >>I wouldn?t recommend it to my students and certainly not to my children.
    >>I try to move my students toward knowledge, skills, and jobs
    >>that are somewhat protected from offshoring.

    Fair enough, I wouldn?t recommend it to my children either. COBOL pay rates are declining and COBOL programmers get no respect from employers.

    BUT, what would you recommend? Not Java ? that doesn?t meet the ?protection from offshoring? criterion. Neither do C or C++ or C# or .NET.

    If you?re going to give the usual argument about ?business skills? or ?aligning IT with business,? then COBOL is better than all these ?modern? languages, not one of which was designed to be a ?common business-oriented language.?

    So it seems that we have discovered why fewer and fewer students are majoring in IT-related degrees.

    And how will YOU earn a living when you have no more students
    • from what i have seen java is not dead

      and with all the new java IDE's it just keeps getting more popular, but you are right, no language is offshore safe :(
  • Where are all the jobs then?

    IF there are so many mission critical applications written in COBOL, why don't we see more people looking for COBOL programmers?
    • US Parents Should Teach Their Children To Rule

      So much anti-Ameicanism is taugh in the schools that the self-hating American youth will become the serfs of China and have a standard of living less than Mexico. We offshore because the American People have been taught in the school they and their country are worthless. Day is comming when the Whites will feel the lash of the so-called minorites world wide. YOu bet tech will go Oriental very soon. Good Bye Americs you suckers. The rest of the world is taking everything you created and calling it theirs as they preach their hate of the USA.
      • Accept it. Racism lost. You are a living fossil

        In the past, messages like yours would make those that you call minorities feel that this country would go back to some of the dark pages of its past. But now, you are a caricature, a road not take in history. Racism lost. Accept it. No one would listen to your garbage, except for a good laugh.
  • Where will the new crop come from?

    Raise the pay enough and I think people will find it attractive. From what I used to hear 13 years ago, COBOL programmers made good money right out of the gate. My recollection is, at a time when the average starting salary for someone with a CS degree was $30,000, the average starting salary for a COBOL programmer was $45,000. I haven't kept track of it since, though.

    I tried COBOL in college (I believe it was COBOL85) and didn't like it much. The most objectionable part of it was the way it handled variables (all global, primitive scoping rules). It reminded me of old-style BASIC (think GW-BASIC). I know that techie's dislike that it's so wordy, but personally I didn't mind that. The command structure was pretty easy to work with.

    What I used to hear a lot is that COBOL was used for writing automated reports or billing most of the time. So if people enjoy that, then maybe they'll go for it.
    Mark Miller
    • Obviously the market system has a flaw

      >Raise the pay enough and I think people will find it attractive.

      That's an excellent point, but salary decisions by those who have highly limited knowledge of hands on technical matters.

      Without intending to be offensive to the previous poster, comparing a COBOL85 college course taken many years ago to any language today ? including modern COBOL -- is not helpful.

      COBOL?s primary purpose is no more writing reports, than Java?s is controlling toasters.

      I?m always amazed out what a high percentage of non-functional text Java and C# programs contain. That, I am certain, is why software written in these languages is so often defective and hard to maintain. It?s hard to locate the business rules in all this verbage. (This does not necessarily apply to software designed to run machines ? but I?d hardly write that in Java or C# either.)

      It?s a pity that there are so few people who are competent at both COBOL and other languages that we rarely get sensible, informed comments.

    I just graduated from a Medium Sized college in Illinois (12,000). Are college prides itself on the fact we have a very strong COBOL background (course that might be due to just lack updating by the college) where many other colleges have sense have dropped there COBOL program. In any event 2 major corporations, State Farm and Catapillar are at our college numerous times throughout the year kissing ass to all the CS students. If you have somewhat good grades and know COBOL you are basically hired. So i think there are job opportunities available for COBOL programmers. Companies have made a huge inventment 20 years ago with cobol with there 200 billion lines of code and they are not about to throw that away at the drop of a hat. Besides, i dont think current systems can run for 5 years without a hitch like cobol mainframes (according to State Farm IT).
    • Illinois is what Illinois does

      OMG - I usually don't complain about people's grammar skills - but you CLAIM to have graduated from college. Your skills in English grammar are attrocious! I hope no employer asks you for a writing sample!
      Roger Ramjet
      • My thoughts exactly (NT)

        Their != There != They're
        Real World
  • COBOL lives!

    The client/server paradigm was to replace mainframes and migrate software into a more "flexible" and cost-effective platform. Back in the 80's, mainframes were high cost, and you were limited to giant corporations like IBM, that charged and arm and leg for support. The promise of UNIX and client/server became a campaign promise for a few reasons:

    1. The "forking" of UNIX.
    2. The (initial) lack of GOOD high-level languages.
    3. The lack of trained programmers and support people.
    4. The intertia of legacy COBOL code.

    Linux represents what UNIX was SUPPOSED to be - an utilitarian opsys that was consistant across many platforms. AIX was the stake through the heart of UNIX, as IBM decided to go it alone and use Carnegie Mellon as their own "Berkeley". After a while, corporations got tired of looking for specialists to run their desparate systems - and client/server was relagated to a nitche.

    Rear Admiral Dr. Grace Murray Hopper was just a no-nonsense person that came up with a good software language - and its simple elegance makes it timeless.
    Roger Ramjet
  • COBOL is just another language ...

    Any decent Computer Science program teaches students a variety of programming languages -- each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

    COBOL could be -- but does not have to be -- one of them! Why? Because, if a shortage of COBOL programmers actually comes about, any Computer Science graduate should be equipped to pick up COBOL (or any other language) in a matter of weeks.

    My personal favorite is Fortran because it has a very small instruction set yet it is possible to implement almost any data structure within Fortran. My other favorite is any kind of assembler language. There are no secrets with assembler -- if you can program in assembler, you can program in ANYTHING!

    Many many shops are staffed with programmers with no formal training who learned to program by the seat of their pants. The fact that a huge number of people without formal Computer Science training are getting MS certifications every day demonstrates how common this is.

    Don't get hung up on the shortage of programmers in any one language. There is always someone coming along who is bright enough and motivated enough to learn to program in whatever language you need for them to code.
    M Wagner