Cobol, that mainstay of business programming throughout the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, is not going away anytime soon. In a Computerworld survey early this year of IT managers at 352 companies, 62% of the respondents reported that they actively use Cobol. Of those, three quarters said they use it “a lot” and 58% said they’re using it to develop new applications.A very interesting article on a growing niche job market. Maintaining old code. It's interesting, because we certainly don't train new programmers/developers/SEs to maintain old code or to re-engineer old systems, but that's often what they end up working on at the beginning of their careers. And schools certainly don't teach COBOL anymore. Fortunately it's easy to learn. I took two courses in it way back in my CS days at Concordia and even they I realized that the second, advanced course, in COBOL programming was a waste of time. I really wanted it to be a advanced database/systems course, but it was just plain old COBOL. A wasted opportunity from the prof (whose name I still remember), who was just calling it in for a course that I'm sure was viewed as low priority by the school.
Nevertheless, with a few exceptions, companies aren’t enthusiastically expanding their use of Cobol. In the survey, of those who use Cobol, 36% said they are “gradually migrating away” from it, 16% said they will replace it “every chance we get,” and 25% said they’d like to replace Cobol with something else but have found that too difficult or too expensive.
The persistence of Cobol — welcome or not — presents a dilemma for many companies. Their legacy code will require significant resources for years to come, yet younger software developers often don’t want to work with Cobol, and in most cases, they’re no longer learning it in school. And while there are thousands of Cobol coders still in the workplace, a large percentage of them are nearing retirement age.
For years, pundits have said that the way to avoid the headaches of maintaining Cobol — and mainframes, green screens and other legacy paraphernalia — is to replace them. But that hasn’t happened, even in the massive Y2k remediation effort.
Indeed, Cobol promises to be around for many more years, challenging the IT managers who must support it. “A lot of people have said they were going to get rid of the mainframe, but that hasn’t happened,” says Mark Washik, a consultant at Schneider Electric SA in Palatine, Ill. “And for us, all that code is working. There’s no sense in rewriting it.”
Of course, a small chunk of that old code out there may very well be mine. For 5 or 6 years, I did a lot of COBOL coding as part of the Wang PACE 4GL system. It was the back-end language for the PACE UI and data dictionary functionality. You also had to do any really tricky reports involving specialized calculations in COBOL.
My first, and favourite, programming language was FORTRAN.