Celebrating COBOL at 60 with the next generation of developers

My colleague Guy Sofer had the opportunity to catch up with Shira Israeli -a friend and COBOL programmer at the forefront of her development career. The conversation provided some interesting insights on both the future of software engineering and the opportunity ahead for those willing to learn older programming languages such as COBOL.  September 2019 celebrated the 60th anniversary of this legendary language and presented another opportunity to discuss the future of this programming language with one of the next generation of developers.  Here are some the highlights of his discussion with Shira…

<Guy>  Good day Shira.  Could you give us a short introduction please?

<Shira>  Good day Guy. Of course.  Hi! My name is Shira Israeli, I am 29 years old, married, with four kids. I work as a Development Team Manager for Clal Insurance, a major insurance company based in my home country of Israel.

I previously worked with the Eclipse development toolset and currently develop COBOL directly on UNIX, but we are now promoting the installation and deployment of Visual COBOL for Eclipse on our workstations.

<Guy> Thank you Shira.   So, why did you choose IT as a career path?

<Shira> I loved math and logical problem solving, both in elementary school and high school. Taking a degree in computer science (BSC) led to my first job, developing COBOL applications in an insurance company. It meant an immediate start in an industry that puts a premium on experience. My connection with COBOL was immediate and I spent the next eight years in COBOL development.

<Guy> That’s very interesting Shira.  Having worked with the COBOL language for as long as you have what would you say are the major advantages of the language?

<Shira> I believe COBOL is unique.  Major advantages would include…

– COBOL’s strong logical processing capability makes it suitable for heavy financial systems.
– Most COBOL programs are procedural rather than object-oriented and this usually means you are working with big pieces of the application and the programmer writes most of the logic themselves, great for those interested in development.
– COBOL works at the heart of core business systems, requiring business understanding as well as development knowledge.  The programming language was originally designed for business use.
– .Net/Java programmers must monitor the progress of the language as these technologies are constantly changing.  Changes in COBOL are minor, and do not require major re-investment in education.  Industry vendors such as IBM and Micro Focus also make learning COBOL a lot easier through integration with modern development tools such as Eclipse and Visual Studio.

<Guy> OK that make sense Shira.  But every language has its drawbacks….

<Shira> The COBOL GUI is hardly a thing of beauty, but you can connect it to Java, .NET or web technologies and create modern user interfaces.

Also, investing in modern syntax, object orientation and managed code all of which are now available for the latest COBOL technology, could be seen as a significant advantage for new developers joining the business.  That newer syntax could help them come up to speed much faster.  This is a big improvement over traditional COBOL syntax.

<Guy> That’s exciting Shira.  With all these advances in the technology, what do you see as the future of COBOL?

<Shira> Today, COBOL’s benefits can be combined with the advantages of new languages, and beautiful user interfaces can run core processes written in COBOL. When I think about the future in IT, I see technological acceleration, new languages and many automation tools, but remain confident COBOL will endure for many decades to come. The continued advancement of the language along with business need to support critical business applications are two drivers for its continued relevance in IT. We’ll see COBOL for many years to come.

<Guy> Great to hear.  Do you have any advice for younger developers following in your footsteps?

<Shira> Of course.  There’s ample opportunity out there and it’s largely untapped.  Having satisfaction and interest in your work is key to longevity. Always try and do what you love. 

<Guy> Thanks again Shira for your time and perspectives on the COBOL language.

<Shira> You’re welcome.  It’s been my pleasure to discuss with you.

Summary

For those interested in reading more on the full story of COBOL, particularly in light of its 60th anniversary this month, I would encourage you to visit our COBOL at 60 website and download a free copy of the whitepaper – COBOL at 60 – A Living Legend.  The research within touches on the core reasons why COBOL has endured for so long and why its best days are still ahead.  You will also hear from many industry experts as they share their experiences and perspective on this popular programming language.  For those interested in engaging with local educators and learning more about COBOL in the classroom, we would encourage you to visit our COBOL Academic Program.  Lastly, for those that wish to see the next generation of COBOL technology that Shira discusses above, you can download your free personal edition copy at www.microfocus.com/visualcobolpe.

cobol-60-years-old

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