Refreshing Insights for Modern COBOL

Introduction In its seventh decade, COBOL’s heritage is legendary. This month sees yet another stride forward in COBOL innovation, with the latest release of the…

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July 3, 20206 minute read


In its seventh decade, COBOL’s heritage is legendary. This month sees yet another stride forward in COBOL innovation, with the latest release of the Micro Focus Visual COBOL and Enterprise product sets.

But what of its practitioners? Where is the investment? We caught up two new members of the COBOL community, from our recent Graduate Recruitment program, to discuss how and why COBOL still attracts attention everywhere.

Meet Giulia Sermann and Jennifer Osborne. Both joined Micro Focus recently as members of the International Region Graduate Recruitment program. Both relative novices in IT, and no pre-conceptions of technology. And both are teaching themselves COBOL as part of their training activities.

Derek: A few words please about yourselves?

Giulia: I’m an Art School Graphic Design graduate from Northern Italy. I moved to Belfast looking for a suitable position for my skills and, surprisingly, ended up in the software industry with Micro Focus, as part of the Sales Graduate Program in March 2020. As soon as we received the Application Modernization and Connectivity training, I was fascinated by this area of the business and committed myself to finding out more about it.

Jennifer: I joined Micro Focus as a part of the Belfast graduate scheme in March 2020. Prior to that I come from an events & hospitality background. As a part of the training course, we were given a short demonstration of COBOL and how to write a couple of lines of code – it was at this point I realised just how easy COBOL is to understand and from this point I became intrigued, and set myself the challenge of dipping my toe into the COBOL world.

Derek: Tell me a little about your COBOL career

Jennifer: Prior to Micro Focus, I had never even heard of COBOL and I had very limited exposure to the programming world. What made me decide to take the COBOL path was seeing how passionately people feel about it. I’m a member of the Facebook COBOL Programmers Group and I love the sense of community where everyone is willing to help and support each other, whether they have been a COBOL programmer for years, or only a matter of weeks.

Giulia: My COBOL career is very short – as we finished our training, I immediately started trying to find connections and resources to learn more about it, and as part of my career path I was recommended to learn COBOL itself. It’s only been a couple of weeks now, but I’m very passionate about it and seeing other people being so passionate creates an amazing sense of community that I haven’t seen before.

Derek: And more recently where did that take you?

Giulia: I’ve been reading two books – the SAMS guide to COBOL, and the Visual COBOL Guide for Developers, issued by Micro Focus. I’ve also been following webinars on BrightTALK as well as the countless resources on the Micro Focus and other websites. I’ve also been relying a lot on the invaluable support of the Facebook COBOL Programmers group and one or two technical colleagues (they know who they are!). I’ve also successfully built a few COBOL applications.

Jennifer: I have been teaching myself COBOL from scratch with the help of webinars, books and internal resources within Micro Focus. I recently wrote my first ‘Hello World’ program, of which I am incredibly proud! I am also following the SAMS Teach Yourself COBOL in 24 Hours book, which, despite not covering the more contemporary Visual COBOL product, is well structured and clearly written, perfect for complete beginners. The biggest challenge I have found so far is navigating Visual Studio and learning new technical buzzwords.

Derek: We all enjoy pivotal or landmark moments in our careers. What’s your highlight so far?

Giulia: The feeling of eureka each time I finally understand something I have been researching for a while is incredible! It just amazes me how simple solutions are when learning COBOL.

Jennifer: My biggest highlight so far was creating my first program! This was especially exciting for me as not only was it my first program written in COBOL, it was my first program written period!

Derek: As someone relatively new to the language, what are your views as to why it has been so successful?

Giulia: The simplicity of the language itself is remarkable. I have done a little web design before, and learning the logic of HTML and CSS functionalities was so complex compared to my journey with COBOL so far – which is incredible, when you think these languages are only meant for design purposes. Its success is probably mainly due to the fact that it works really well for what it was designed for, which is business operations – it works better than more modern and complex languages.

Jennifer: I think COBOL owes its success due to the passion its developers hold for the language. Every COBOL developer I have met so far will happily sing its praises – I have not seen that kind of passion about any other language!

Derek: Looking ahead, where do you think COBOL fits in to the ever-changing technical world of the future?

Giulia: I see COBOL as the backbone of future business applications for several reasons: it is less expensive to maintain, easier to manage, and more efficient for its purposes. It’s not a matter of not fixing something that isn’t broken, it’s a matter of picking the most appropriate tool for what needs to be done.

Jennifer: I have high hopes for COBOL’s future, as it is mission critical to so much of our day-to-day life. I think the main challenge will be to encourage more people to learn the language but I am proof that COBOL is extremely easy to learn.

Derek: Thanks for speaking to us. Any final words?

Giulia: I am excited to see where this new skill I’m taking up will bring me. I also hope to inspire other young programmers to disentangle themselves from the common belief that COBOL is dying – it is here to stay, as its 60-year history proves. Follow me on Twitter to find out where COBOL ends up taking me!

Jennifer: I am really looking forward immersing myself in the language being part of the #WomenInTech community and I hope to encourage more young developers to do the same! Follow me on Twitter to keep track of my progress.

What is COBOL?

Visual COBOL 6.0 is now available and if you’d like to start your own COBOL journey like Giulia and Jennifer we’d recommend an initial trip to the Micro Focus Academic Program and then join the COBOL Programmers Facebook group.

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