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CIOs Should Prepare for Lack of COBOL (Yes, COBOL) Developers

Those who eat COBOL programming every day for breakfast should be pleased to know that many companies have decided to retain this old-school technology. By contrast, the companies who use COBOL should be worried, since many developers are leaving the table with no one to replace their expertise. In an article for, Sharon Florentine describes the continuing legacy of this legacy programing language.

Not Dead Yet

Florentine interviews Micro Focus legacy consultant Ed Airey who reveals the fact that many formidable companies still use the aged language. Institutions like banks, insurance companies, and firms in the transportation sector employ it for important everyday transactions. This may seem counterintuitive, but real benefits still exist in this 1950s/1960s developed code. For instance, business language (the language of finance) is processed quite effectively and securely with COBOL: up to 32 places to each side of a decimal point.

Who will Teach COBOL?

While the technology stays, the talent responsible for its continual maintenance and use leaves. Airey states that the average COBOL programmer is 55 years old – not far from retirement. So what will it take for companies to innovate on top of existing COBOL systems? The colleges and universities certainly aren’t helping. By catering to students' desires to learn newer languages like Java and C++, the higher ed. sector is inadvertently maintaining the shortage of COBOL-savvy youth.

New Dogs – Old Tricks

Airey maintains that companies who are desperate enough will find a way to acquire new talent – even if they have to create it from scratch.

Some organizations with deep investment in Cobol-based systems are handling the shortage by creating internships within their company, or by sponsoring education and learning opportunities to train existing staff. Micro Focus itself has modernized the language and integrated Cobol into the top two software development environments, Visual Studio and Eclipse, to make the language easier to learn and remove the 'proprietary' nature of individual companies' implementations…

With more programmers of COBOL back at the table, the companies who still gain value from this outmoded method can maintain their competitive advantage while building a safe path to a non-COBOL future.

To read the full article, visit: 

About Eric Anderson

Eric Anderson is a staff writer for CAI’s Accelerating IT Success. He is an intern at Computer Aid Inc., pursuing his master’s degree in communications at Penn State University.

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