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Why do Businesses and Governments need COBOL programmers?


Understanding Business Systems Through COBOL

COBOL which stands for Common Business-Orient Language has been used continuously for more than 60 years in developing transactional and management information systems. As you may have heard there is a dire need for COBOL programmers by banks, government institutions and large corporations. Why would there be a need for skilled individuals in a computer language that was first introduced in 1959? The answer is simple COBOL was designed for business like no other language both past and present. However, there are many other reasons COBOL has remained the backbone of many industries. First, unlike hardware which ‘ages’ COBOL does not, unlike some languages that are finetuned for a specific operating system or hardware platform COBOL is portable, unlike some applications that have outlived their transaction set the core business transactions COBOL supports have remained the same and the fact that COBOL has been the bedrock of ‘Backoffice’ systems for 60 plus years has contributed to the hundreds of millions of lines of working code  that represent this environment. That investment alone has guaranteed that COBOL will be running our backbone systems for decades to come. As they say, if ‘it’s not broken don’t fix it’ especially when COBOL has proven it is resilience, reliability, portability, and fitness to deliver.

So why is there a need for COBOL programmers? Typically, we need to write new lines code or fix bugs in existing code. However, that is not the case with COBOL. These systems have been running for decades so if they have bugs they are minor and inconsequential. Are the ‘Backoffice’ transaction sets changing, the answer is no. So why the need for COBOL programmers? Simply stated application scaling. The Y2K ‘crisis’, which really was not one, was based on COBOL programs using a 2-digit year. When the code was written, in 1970 or 1980, a 10, 20, or 72 meant 1910, 1920, 1972 no one thought the code would be around 20-30 years later so what would happen when we went back to 00 and what did 10 mean in this new current state, 1910 or 2010? Sorts were also impacted since 1901 was less than 2001, and a year without the century digits would be sorted incorrectly. So, coders had to go in and scale the year to include the century digits. This original restriction may have seemed short sighted but remember hard disk space was extremely costly so using less characters meant needing less disk space thus minimizing life cycle costs. The crisis we see today is similar in nature, scaling. The numbers are exceeding the data definitions. The original programmers may have set the value to be 5 characters (99,999) never expecting 6-character magnitudes so when the actual number went to 100,000 the system displayed and used zero which obviously was incorrect. Thus, the need was for coders to scale these COBOL systems not to rewrite them or replace them.
So why will there be a need for COBOL programmers tomorrow and in the far distant future? Simple, systems that work, have been in place for decades, have had millions of dollars in investment, are portable, reliable, easy to interface and continue to do their job provide no incentive for corporations or governments to spend millions of dollars in a multi-year, no guarantee of success software changes. Plus, what language will this new software be written in and will it have the life span of COBOL probably not. Thus, COBOL systems will be the ‘backbone’ of business transactions until we no longer have these transactions.

By understanding the syntax of the COBOL language, we will reinforce an understanding of common business transactions while providing the skill sets to ‘read’, interpret, and manage COBOL programs. As E.F. Codd would attest to and Commodore Grace Hopper, COBOL has withstood the test of time. Join us as we visit this robust language.

In this course, call for information, we will analyze business systems through the eyes of a COBOL designer. Designs of transaction processing systems (TPS) and management information systems (MIS) will be discussed employing a variety of COBOL programs. The transaction sets; will include the Sales Cycle (the creation of an invoice, then the accounts receivable entry, subsequent cash receipt and finally ending with postings to the subsidiary journals) and the Purchase Cycle (from purchase orders, through receiving, to accounts payables and finally disbursements) to name a few.