What, Where & Why is COBOL?

COBOL AND fortranCOBOL & Fortran were two of the first programming languages. COBOL was developed for business whereas Fortran was developed for scientific use. COBOL is ancient technology and it is verbose i.e, there is lot of code to write to execute one function. But that is it’s strength for which it is used.

Although both are in use but COBOL dominates as it formed the basis of business processing from the 1950s. Business functions that depend on COBOL includes Banking, Accounting, Insurance, Billing, Inventory management.

In fact, more COBOL code is written annually than all other programming languages combined. The frontends may look like windows but behind that it’s all COBOL. If there is a mainframe in your organisation, it most probably runs on COBOL.

Why still COBOL?

There were many competitors for COBOL; in the 70s it was C/C++, then in the 80s it was Pascal taking over. In 90s, Java was THE language…..Such ancient technology serves a role because of its reliability, consistency of performance in execution and ability to handle heavy dataloads. Although archaic, it does the job and no contender has yet emerged.

Everybody would still be using COBOL had it not for Y2K. COBOL used to save date as a six digit number, viz for May 18th 1984, it’ll save it as 051884, but what happens after Dec 31st 1999? Although most companies took care of this problem, some changed their programming language altogether.

How come I don’t meet COBOL programmers?
That’s because a lot of them don’t come from a computer science background. Most of them are above 35 years and have been trained for this job by their companies. The training they got was specific to the company, hence they aren’t “COBOL programmers”.

Should I learn COBOL?
Doing a quick search in Naukri, we found 201 jobs for the query “COBOL”, 42 jobs in Pune itself. As such there is a niche market for this kind of skill and as a result the package is far better than for other computer skills. But getting the training is what’s difficult.
But let’s say you did get this skill, will this technology be around?

There is an IBM guarantee that any TEXT deck (object code), compiled on any MVS system is executable in all of their MVS system. So you can rest assure that as long as IBM systems are around, you will have a job with COBOL skills.