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The Cobol Crunch

Because most people are consumer-focused, we are naturally oriented to hearing about consumer products. And even those of us who examine enterprise products tend to gravitate toward the shiny new toys.

I think of myself as someone who doesn’t gravitate toward the shiny new toys. But even in my case, discussion of shiny old toys is limited to discussions of Internet Explorer version 6, or perhaps AOL.

That is just part of the story.

How many of us pay attention to the Cobol programming language? Those of us who have heard of Cobol think of it as a dim memory from the Kennedy/Johnson years.

ComputerWorld notes that Cobol is actively being used by many organizations today. In a survey of 131 IT professionals, 53% said that their organizations were developing new applications using Cobol.

But there’s a looming problem:

In a recent Computerworld survey of 357 IT professionals, 46% of the respondents said they are already noticing a Cobol programmer shortage, while 50% said the average age of their Cobol staff is 45 or older and 22% said the average is 55 or older.

But it’s more than a skills issue. ComputerWorld quoted one manager from the Bank of New York Mellon who worries about the loss of business knowledge that will occur when these people retire.

If this were a consumer world rather than an enterprise world, I suspect that Cobol users would receive warning messages similar to those that Internet Explorer 6 users received. For Cobol users, the message would look something like this:

We have detected that you are using a Cobol application. Cobol is as old as your grandfather. Get with the times!

However, it’s easier for an enterprise to change a web browser than it is to change a programming language. (And because of all of the legacy applications that need to be tested and tweaked, it’s not easy for an enterprise to change a web browser.)

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