Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Let's Hear It for COBOL!

I know that this blog is supposed to be primarily about DB2, but I like to sneak in mainframe-related topics from time to time. And I read a great article today in Computerworld that I want to share with you. The article, titled Confession of a COBOL Programmer, talks up the need for COBOL coders. Just like with other mainframe technologies, as the baby boomers retire there is an insufficient supply of newbies available to step in and continue the care and feeding of the COBOL legacy.

I've written briefly about COBOL before, in my Data Management Today blog. COBOL is still all over the place and in no danger of dying off. According to the Computerworld article, 75% of the world's businesses data is still processed in COBOL, and about 90% of all financial transactions are in COBOL.

Yet there is a lingering perception "out there" that COBOL is dead (or at least dying). And as far as graduating seniors and new programmers are concerned, COBOL ain't cool! New programmers don't want to learn it and most universities don't teach it in their computer science or information science curricula. Just like the mainframe (which is alive and well, too), COBOL is ignored and a big problem is developing.

Analysts at Gartner estimate that there are 180 billion lines of COBOL code in existence and about 90,000 COBOL programmers. To convert all of that to something else "each programmer will require 100,000 hours to complete the conversion of 2 million lines. That works out to 12,500 eight-hour workdays. If we figure 250 workdays per year (though it’s unlikely any Cobol programmers are settling for just two weeks of vacation per year), these guys should be done in 50 years."

Who knows, when I retire (sometime in the far-off future) maybe I'll hang up a shingle and offer my services as a COBOL coder... after all, that is what I started out doing right out of college (all those years ago)...


Anonymous said...

I am a fairly recent graduate, and guess what I got my first job as a COBOL
developer. I have been a COBOL developer for three years since graduating.
I can truly say I wish I stayed away from COBOL and so should all you recent

It really doesn’t matter whether or not there are 70 billion lines of COBOL
and all that other stuff; if you can’t get a job in this area (trust me I’ve
been looking). All you have to do is type COBOL in a job search (and there
we have it – the last time I got 100 hits) – “COBOL IS DEAD” if you want to
get a job. When you narrow down your search to say London and you only get
about 12 hits – so if you want to work as a software developer stay away
from COBOL.

It really doesn’t matter if some developer says “COBOL is not dead, I’ve
recently got a job in COBOL”. These people probably been programming in
COBOL for a life time (that’s like 25 years) so you are competing with these
guys for those handful of jobs.

It really doesn’t matter if one says “there will be plenty of jobs when
these old people retire and a company will give you loads of money if you
have COBOL experience”. They may give people with COBOL skills loads of
money to fix a bug but how often do these bugs cause faults (remember if its
working don’t touch it). So you maybe sitting unemployed for years before
anything goes wrong, waiting for your one off big contract payment (sounds
like too much of a risky investment).

Anyway I’ve been looking for work out their and finding it very hard (almost
impossible) to find a job. I am a First Class graduate and have a Masters
and even with these academics three years of doing COBOL has crippled my
chances. I wish I had not done COBOL and stayed with the skills (what you
should be learning at university) that have jobs. I have got 3 years COBOL
and someone has 3 years of Java or C or C# etc.. so I am out of the
competition when looking for jobs. Don’t listen to those that say it don’t
matter what the language is (because it does), all you have to do is look at
the job specs (they generally mention the programming language because it
really does matter).

I am now hoping to build on those skills at university and then will keep
trying to apply for jobs. I am also hoping to do some courses to refresh my
knowledge in areas I have neglected over the last three years (which from my
experience you don’t get from COBOL and my opinion is this language should
not be taught at university). Certainly its IT and you have too keep up
with recently skills set (that’s RECENT!! skills set), but why get into the
position I am in and many (I hope not too many) recent graduates may be in.

I know this is very negative and may not read well, but COBOL has made it
very difficult for me to forward my career and I really don’t want this to
happen to any other graduate.

Basically “COBOL is truly dead” if you look at it from the perspective of
your career. Go out there, do the research and see the truth for yourself !!

Anonymous said...

Hi Craig
I'm sure this is not the right place to post my question related to DB2. But I dont know where else to post and whom better to ask. So I'm posting a question which is totally unrelated to this blog. Please pardon me for that.

Question: Lets say I have a table A which has 500 columns. Out of those 500 columns only 5 columns have been defined as not nullable and the rest have been defined as NULLS allowed. And out of those 500 columns I have found that 300 columns are unused(empty) totally. My business allows me to remove those 300 columns. My doubt is if I remove those 300 empty columns will I save on DASD space occupied by DB2? Will empty columns occupy DASD space?
Would be really helpful if you can guide me on this.

Craig S Mullins said...

I will answer this in a new blog posting today. Thanks for the question.

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P├ęter said...

One of our partner has an ERP software written in RM/COBOL. It’s an old program, the are to change a new one, but they need their data of course.
They have lots of information stored int he program, but the developer copmany no longer exsists.

I think you’re a professional and could give advice what to do, if we have any chance to get the data out from there.
We have only COB files ( i think that one is the progam but seems to me compiled )
We have .dat files (this is the data butt seems to be binary)
we don’t have any copybooks, FD file sor such :/

I can give you example files,
can you give me solution and price to do that for us?

Sincerely yours,
Gabor Peter

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Anonymous said...

Hi All, I am from Italy, I use cobol for work and since I have found the opencobol compiler I am just trying to help the grow of the product. I wrote a debugger (open source) written in cobol and right now I am just working around an experimenta gui cobol tool. please visit the site of mine to get more information

cobol is still used !