Beginning COBOL for Programmers

 When, in 1975, Edsger Dijkstra made his comment that “The use of COBOL cripples the mind; its teaching should, therefore, be regarded as a criminal offence,1 ” he gave voice to, and solidified, the opposition to COBOL in academia. That opposition has resulted in fewer and fewer academic institutions teaching COBOL so that now it has become difficult to find young programmers to replace the aging COBOL workforce.2-3 This scarcity is leading to an impending COBOL crisis. Despite Dijkstra’s comments and the claims regarding COBOL’s imminent death, COBOL remains a dominant force in the world of enterprise computing, and attempts to replace legacy COBOL systems have been shown to be difficult, dangerous, and expensive.

 In this chapter, I discuss some of the reasons for COBOL’s longevity. You’re introduced to the notion of an application domain and shown the suitability of COBOL for its target domain. COBOL is one of the oldest computer languages, and the chapter gives a brief history of the language and its four official versions. Later, the chapter presents the evidence for COBOL’s dominance in enterprise computing and discusses the enigma of its relatively low profile.

An obvious solution to the scarcity of COBOL programmers is to replace COBOL with a more fashionable programming language. This chapter exposes the problems with this approach and reveals the benefits of retaining, renovating, and migrating the COBOL code.

 Finally, I discuss why learning COBOL and having COBOL on your résumé could be useful additions to your armory in an increasingly competitive job market.

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