Reports of COBOL’s Imminent Demise Premature
Colleges, corporate initiatives help venerable language stay vital
By Geoff Koch
January 1, 2007 —
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Yet Huang acknowledged that Central Michigan is among a dwindling number of campuses to devote time and resources to COBOL. Many schools have adopted the perception that COBOL is dying and replaced their COBOL courses with other hot programming courses in languages like Java and C#, he said. This is the current trend in higher education and it may not be turned.
Comments like these fuel fears of an onrushing legacy skills gap as mainframe pros start eyeing retirement en masse while billions of lines of COBOL remain installed in business-critical applications around the world. And more than a few mainframe modernization vendors do their part to pour gasoline on these smoldering concerns.
Since the end of October, Micro Focus has announced support for Eclipse and Windows Vista, updated products to help COBOL developers bridge to the .NET Framework, and ongoing work through a variety of its offerings to bring service-oriented architecture to mainframes. And on Nov. 7, the company announced the purchase of HAL Knowledge Solutions, which provides application portfolio management software.
We want mainframes to take their rightful place alongside more contemporary Java- and .NET-based platforms, said Julian Dobbins, a Micro Focus director of product management and a former COBOL programmer. Were saying, Come out from behind the green screen and play.
BABY BOOMER CRISIS?
Another company, PathPoint Software, offers a mainframe application analysis tool, and prominently displays a datasheet on its home page with the title The Baby Boomer Mainframe Application Crisis Is Coming!
Still another is BluePhoenix Solutions, which advocates moving assets off mainframes. Tom OConnell, BluePhoenix director of research and development, recently told SD Times, Its not just the COBOL programmers; its the whole mainframe environment that is destined to become scarce in the future, making it difficult for companies to maintain their mainframe applications. (See Following the Rules for Mainframe Modernization, Nov. 15, 2006, page 4.)
Forrester analyst Phil Murphy is skeptical about projections of any sudden shortage of skilled mainframe personnel. In a Nov. 23 research report last year, Murphy said that most such projections rely on fuzzy math that assumes programmers dont move around and acquire new skills, interests and career directions beyond their college or university training.