In life, a few things, like wine, get better as they age. But can we say the same for technology? We are constantly on the lookout for the latest gadget that serves as a hallmark of the future, but is it so?
When we talk about programming languages, COBOL, invented in 1959, still holds its ground to date. But some opine that it is dead.
But if you think about it, why would people still be using COBOL if it was dead? This fact alone negates the idea of COBOL being a thing of the past.
In life, a few things, like wine, get better as they age. But can we say the same for technology? We are constantly on the lookout for the latest gadget that Sitting at the heart of enterprise computing, COBOL teaches all the new technologies. It is easy to use and works well.
But there is another challenge lurking in the background—the challenge of finding COBOL programmers. Yet, IBM is working to modernize COBOL and may mitigate this challenge for good. Let us find out how.
What is COBOL?
Before dissecting the opportunities, challenges, and much more about COBOL programmers, let us first understand what COBOL is.
Over 62 years old, COBOL is short for Common Business-Oriented Language. It’s an enterprise-level programming language. Despite being old, it is still used in various business and financial applications.
Unlike most other programming languages, COBOL is considered easy to understand because it uses familiar words.
Before COBOL came into existence, organizations used their own programming language. This was a hefty task that involved working with various computer brands. And, since COBOL has launched, it is greatly used because of its portability and ease of use.
The primary linkage of COBOL is with mainframes. If you talk to COBOL developers, they will tell you that learning the language is not as difficult as understanding the ecosystem in which the language is used.
To understand COBOL better, you need to know the features of the language:
- COBOL is very easy to learn. It is a standard language that can be compiled on a wide range of computers. It also supports a vast vocabulary.
- COBOL is still used in more than 70% of transactions globally. It is used in both simple and complex transactions because it has advanced file handling capabilities.
- Since COBOL has been around for far too long, it has adapted to years of business transformations. It comprises debugging and testing tools for most computer platforms.
- COBOL is one of the most reliable, easily scalable, and portable languages out there.
Opportunities for COBOL Programmers
While COBOL was initially invented for government entities, various other industries also use it. Since many businesses rely on COBOL for their routine transactions, finding the right programmers with good expertise is a priority.
This ensures that there are great opportunities for COBOL programmers. IBM claims that about 240 billion lines of COBOL are in use today, and about 5 billion lines of COBOL code are written each year. Based on this, COBOL programmers are in huge demand.
Still, COBOL programming is not being taught on the desired scale. Most developers are also not as interested in learning COBOL because they believe it is dead. Typically, developers are more interested in programming languages like Ruby, TypeScript, or Go.
Even when you look for job openings, you will find more vacancies for Go, Ruby, or JAVA programmers than COBOL.
Currently, numerous companies are trying to integrate modern software development techniques with mainframes. But that will not be enough to solve the need for COBOL programmers.
You can even see an increase in unemployment claims because legacy systems that use COBOL have no one to do repairs. Colleges stopped teaching COBOL as a part of their curriculum back in the 1980s. This means that people who know COBOL are now 50 years old, if not older.
A very small number of universities offer COBOL courses, yet the number of individuals who study it is thinning as time goes by.
The present age of apps, the cloud, and smartphones have shifted the programming demand and many companies fathom retiring their mainframe systems. But is it possible?
It could have been done if IBM had not sold various mainframes run on AS400 COBOL. This has created an instant surge in demand for COBOL programmers. This led to a new initiative- “Calling all COBOL Programmers.” Additionally, to promote COBOL learning, IBM launched an open-source training course on COBOL.
Challenges with COBOL
The opportunities for COBOL programmers are not dead, but there are still many challenges associated with this ancient programming language. These are:
- COBOL is too verbose for many people. For instance, one IBM technical paper with the same process was written in various programming languages. While COBOL used about 80 lines, other programs used somewhere between 40 to 2 lines. That is a difference of more than half.
- TO GET THE WORK DONE WELL, a COBOL programmer might need to be proficient in two languages, including COBOL. You require knowledge of machine language code to use COBOL.
- The time taken to work with COBOL is fairly greater than any other more “modern” language. This is attributed to the verbosity of the language and because every elementary item has length specifications. These specifications cannot be forgotten while working with the program.
- Since COBOL is not used in computer games, operating systems, programming tools, and most software globally, it is no longer in extensive need. Additionally, people have the image of COBOL being the programming language of their grandparents’ time. This makes it seem more obsolete.
- Most of the COBOL codes were written many years ago. They use old paradigms and lack any documentation. This adds some obsolescence to COBOL.
COBOL Programmers are Back in Demand
With IBM iSeries using COBOL, we can say that COBOL programmers are back in demand. Not just that, but COBOL programmers are needed by companies that rely on COBOL mainframes for their daily operations and transactions.
Along with C++, C, RPG, and CL, IBMi has also based its ILE on COBOL. iSeries COBOL developers are required by all the companies that opt to use iSeries.
Adding to that, using COBOL is a necessity. It is used because it was initially used. Many businesses have retained it because the switching cost to using another language is much higher. While the conversion is not improbable, it may pose various issues. These can be:
- The exactness of the software will not be retained. The performance may suffer as a result of this.
- The business logic may change due to conversions. If the use of non-standard and undocumented features is prevalent, there could be chinks in the code.
- The maintenance cost of the new programming language might be high.
- It might not consider the BCD conversions and decimal arithmetic. And it’s a big problem because these are important for mainframe applications. COBOL natively supports these.
From the above pointers, we can say that switching from COBOL is not the best option. Then what choice is left?
Clearly, finding COBOL programmers seems the only way. But the idea is not to bring back the industry veterans who retired. Instead, teaching COBOL to programmers can be our best bet.
While numerous universities think that teaching COBOL might be “uncool,” the contrary is true. Yet, the industry experts believe that it is essential to teach COBOL to fill the skill gap created in the IT industry.
Some think that the language is not intellectually challenging enough to be taught. But do not lose heart as there are various courses of COBOL out there that one can learn.
An Approach from Integrative Systems
As the topmost IBM iSeries or AS400 modernization service provider, Integrative Systems is a company that will meet all your COBOL development needs.
We provide a range of services, including design solutions, custom software development, iSeries consulting, COBOL/RPG application development and maintenance, and mainframe systems technology consulting.
If you have been struggling to find the right COBOL developers, then Integrative Systems offers you expert COBOL programmers, along with AS400 iSeries software services and support.
Have a word with us through email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will respond to you within 2-3 working days.