Los Cobolleros

It’s arguably the least sexy computer language in existence, but that’s not the reason why you should probably brush up on COBOL:

I predict that over the next few years, new COBOL programmers are going to be in high demand and very possibly paid a premium for their efforts. Generally speaking, the COBOL programming skill set resides in baby boomers that have been programming in COBOL their entire career. The issue is that these baby boomers have begun retiring in enormous numbers. Additionally, new college recruits have neither the skill set nor the interest in replacing them. The problem for companies employing these COBOL programmers is that if the software stops, so does the company.

And if that seems a bit much, hey, there’s always Fortran.


  1. Francis W. Porretto »

    16 February 2013 · 3:20 pm

    If you haven’t heard this one…


    There was once a COBOL programmer in the mid to late 1990s. For the sake of this story, we’ll call him Jack. After years of being taken for granted and treated as a technological dinosaur by all the UNIX programmers and Client/Server programmers and website developers, Jack was finally getting some respect. He’d become a private consultant specializing in Year 2000 conversions. He was working short-term assignments for prestige companies, traveling all over the world on different assignments, and making more money than he’d ever dreamed of.

    Jack was working 70 and 80 and even 90 hour weeks, but it was worth it. Soon he could retire. But several years of such relentless, mind-numbing work took its toll on Jack. He had problems sleeping and began having anxiety dreams about the Year 2000. It reached a point where even the thought of the year 2000 made him nearly violent. He must have suffered some sort of breakdown, because all he could think about was how he could avoid the year 2000 and all that came with it.

    Finally, Jack decided to contact a company that specialized in cryogenics. He contracted to have himself frozen until March 15th, 2000. This was a very complex process, but totally automated. He was thrilled. The next thing he would know, he’d wake up in the year 2000; after the New Year celebrations and computer debacles; after the leap day…nothing else to worry about except getting on with his life. He was put into his cryogenic receptacle, the technicians set the revive date, he was given injections to slow his heartbeat to a bare minimum, and that was that.

    The next thing that Jack saw was an enormous and very modern room filled with excited people. They were all shouting, “I can’t believe it!” and “It’s a miracle” and “He’s alive!” There were cameras (unlike any he’d ever seen and equipment that looked like it came out of a science fiction movie.

    Someone who was obviously a spokesperson for the group stepped forward. Jack couldn’t contain his enthusiasm. “It is over?” he asked. “Is 2000 already here? Are all the millennial parties and promotions and crises all over and done with?”

    The spokesman explained that 2000 had gone, but that there had been a problem with the programming of the timer on Jack’s cryogenic receptacle – it hadn’t been year 2000 compliant, and it was..well…a few years past that. But the spokesman told Jack that he shouldn’t get excited as someone important wanted to speak to him.

    Suddenly a wall-sized projection screen displayed the image of a man that looked very much like Bill Gates. This man was Prime Minister of Earth. He told Jack not to be upset, that this was a wonderful time to be alive–that there was world peace and no more starvation–that the space program had been reinstated and there were colonies on the moon and on Mars–that technology had advanced to such a degree that everyone had virtual reality interfaces which allowed them to contact anyone else on the planet, or to watch any entertainment, or to hear any music recorded anywhere.

    “That sounds terrific,” said Jack. “But I’m curious. Why is everybody so interested in me?”

    “Well,” said the Prime Minister. “The year 10,000 is just around the corner, and it says in your files that you know COBOL.”

  2. CGHill »

    16 February 2013 · 3:41 pm

    Ha! Perhaps there is no such thing as a permanently obsolete skill set after all.

  3. Joseph Hertzlinger »

    17 February 2013 · 2:23 am

    Learning Fortran or Lisp is a bit like learning Latin, Greek, or Hebrew. It makes it possible to read the great classics in the original.

  4. Baby M »

    18 February 2013 · 2:12 pm

    According to my son the computer engineering major, once you learn to program proficiently in one computer language, learning others is just a matter of learning another syntax.

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