Search This Blog

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

What's Your Language?


Human nature has a strange way of not letting a person recognize valuable information or ideas, even when they are right in front them. Advertisers and sales people are always trying to draw your attention away from your current interest to the ‘newest’, ‘latest’ or ‘most innovative’ bauble. You and your company have a very valuable corporate asset that’s been in place for a number of years, silently working in the background to make you and your company profitable: your COBOL based applications.

Now bear with me, I know what you’re thinking… “COBOL??? You have GOT to be kidding!”. Yes, COBOL. Whether you “speak” Java, C#, RubyOnRails or any of the other newer languages consider what it is your COBOL applications have been doing all these years, what you’re looking for in a new or replacement application (or language) and the estimated costs of replacing those COBOL applications in terms of both effort and risk. There is significant value in the applications that have been running your business.
Silent Partner

COBOL has been a silent partner in your company’s success. It has been providing information to you day in and day out for too many years to remember. Yes, it’s old but honestly… so what? It is still doing the job for which it has been designed for, to process data and provide a competitive advantage to you. Yes technology has changed and you keep hearing “COBOL can’t do that”. The truth is it probably can but more on that later.  So COBOL has been processing the data it’s been receiving all these years, analyzing it, generating reports and keeping the lights on for your organization. The people who designed and maintained the application(s) may have moved on to other companies, are retired or in worst case have passed on. Yet the COBOL application they created is still doing its job and you want to replace it with ‘the shiny new bauble’. Why?

What does that bauble have that COBOL doesn’t? Is it a new user interface? Is it the ability to support web services, including JSON and REST based services? Is it the ability to process XML data or access .NET or JVM classes and extend your applications reach to these new platforms? Are you trying to get to a mobile platform? If you answered ‘yes’ to any or all of these questions then you need to take another look at COBOL. All of the technologies or techniques mentioned are supported or obtainable from your current COBOL application. The key is knowledge and being able to research the capabilities of the language, which is where IBM and Micro Focus come into the picture.

Skills Shortage

All the CxOs of your organization, and perhaps you as well, have heard is “COBOL can’t do that” or “COBOL is dead” or “no one is teaching COBOL anymore”. Some companies have had advertisements out for COBOL developers for months and haven’t had a single qualified applicant. They interpret this as validating the information they’ve been hearing all along, that COBOL is indeed a dead language. This however is far from reality.

Two of the largest COBOL vendors in the world, IBM and Micro Focus each provide a wealth of training scenarios.  From basic language courses to more advanced topics in integration with the new technologies. The IBM approach is more mainframe centric and can help you get new developers up to speed and productive in a short period of time. Micro Focus can also provide training for the mainframe centric developer but it can also provide training for those developers working in a distributed environment and looking to access new technologies such as .NET or JVM frameworks. Additionally Micro Focus has created an academic alliance with secondary education facilities around the world to help those institutions teach COBOL.

Rather than trying to hire a ‘COBOL programmer’ why not look for a developer already familiar with Visual Studio or Eclipse? New developers coming out of technical school, college, or existing developers looking to make a change in their career know one or in most cases, both of these development environments. The biggest obstacle, objection, learning curve to learning COBOL has been the environment in which it was maintained in. This should no longer be an issue as both Micro Focus and IBM have adapted the Eclipse environment and Micro Focus has even extended the development experience to Visual Studio. Developers already know these IDEs, they know how to manipulate the environment and are generally already productive in it. So a significant part of the learning curve has just been eliminated. So what’s left? The language…

Parlez-vous fran├žais?

While I do not speak French I can understand the basic constructs of the language, common phrases and can decipher enough to ask for help in translating it to English, which is my primary language. I can do the same for German and Russian. In actuality, anyone of us can do the same. We learn a primary language and through necessity, want or influence learn additional languages as we grow in our lives and expand our circle of friends and co-workers. The same can be said for computer languages.

I am a COBOL developer at this point in my career. I didn’t start out that way, but I learned it. The very first language I learned was Pascal. I then went on to Visual Basic, COBOL, JCL, SQL, SAS, CICS, REXX, Windows Scripts, VB.NET and finally C#. I am more fluent in computer languages than I am in spoken languages. What is the difference in all of these languages? Syntax. As a developer I know and understand how to formulate a series of expressions into a comprehensive set of instructions that instruct the computer to perform a series of tasks to complete a unit of work. Regardless of the language, the underlying logic flow is very similar in all circumstances. HOW I choose to implement the requirements is based on the environment in which I am running in. I may be coding a series of expressions in C# in the morning and a different set of expressions in the afternoon in COBOL. The language used is determined by the environment being employed and the requirements of the request. One constant though in all of the languages noted above is Visual Studio. I use Visual Studio for all my coding.

Any developer in the workforce today knows at a minimum three programming languages. These are dependent on the environment they are working in, but at a minimum, three languages. They can switch between these languages with ease (ok, you may have to stop a second to think about the syntax) and complete tasks quickly and efficiently. Why can you not add COBOL to that mix? You already know your development environment. You already are multilingual. You can adapt to the requirements of the request. You can learn COBOL and you can become a more strategic resource to your organization while expanding your career into areas never dreamed of. COBOL truly does run the world of business and you can help integrate it with the new technologies available.

COBOL: No longer a silent partner

COBOL has come a long way with new syntax, new interfaces, new techniques that could enable your application to take a drastic step forward. Instead of trying to replace COBOL, why not work alongside it to achieve rapid, stable results for you and your company?

You didn’t know the languages you are working with today, you learned them through spending time and writing code. Spend some time and write some COBOL code in Visual Studio or Eclipse. You’ll see you can do it and you may even say it wasn’t that bad.
Happy COBOL Coding!


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Want to Learn O O?

Yeah, I know....

I've been quite for some time.  It's like I went out for a ride and never came back.  Well it is a 600 hp Mustang after all... :)

Short answer is that my job changed and I've just not had time to do much with the blog.  I'll try to do better.

To get started, what better way to jump back in by offering free training?   Well, I'm not actually doing it but...

Micro Focus is starting up a new series of training sessions for those that are interested on the ins and outs of Object Oriented COBOL.  You can register for the seminar by visiting this website location.

From the description of the sessions, it should go a long way in helping you to start taking advantage of the OO support in the Micro Focus Visual COBOL product.  And I'm thinking the concepts should translate to the other tools out there that support OO syntax as well.  You'll just have to deal with syntax differences between each vendor's implementation I'm thinking.

That's all for now. 


Monday, May 20, 2013

COBOL Developer Days in Chicago and Atlanta

Hey folks,

Just a quick update...

Micro Focus is holding a free one-day technical workshop this June that you might want to attend.  The workshop was created for the COBOL developer wanting to learn more about the next generation of the COBOL language when used with Micro Focus Visual COBOL.

It is being held twice, once in Atlanta Georgia at the JW Marriott in Buckhead on June 18th and again in Oak Brook (just outside of Chicago) at the Chicago Oak Brook Marriot on June 20th.

Click here to register


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Free Mainframe COBOL Developer IDE

If you are currently logging onto a mainframe to do COBOL application development, you now have access to a free graphical editor.  Visit and download your own copy of Micro Focus Enterprise Developer for free!

It works with either Eclipse or Visual Studio and is 100% free.  Use it at work or take it home.  It beats the heck out of logging onto TSO and won't require you to go get a purchase request approved by the bean counters. 

For those of us who are a bit thrifty (you know who you are), it could also make a great Christmas gift for your cubicle mate!  Then they can't say you never got them anything. *grin*

Friday, October 26, 2012

COBOL is Trending UP

As we all know, COBOL has been announced "dead" or "dying" multiple times over the years.  And for many shops it has left the building as the applications written in this language have been replaced with packages such as SAP and PeopleSoft.

What you may not know is that COBOL has recently climbed from the bottom end of the Tiobe Programming Community Index to a healthy 26th spot on the chart. 

How high will it climb?

Monday, April 23, 2012


Where else is COBOL being used?

When I get asked this, my first impression is that the person asking feels all alone in their use of the language, almost ashamed, believe it or not. 

The media, tool /software vendors, consultants, and even college professors have made the statements telling us all how COBOL is the "old" and we should be doing the "new".  They've done a good job promoting the fact that if you are using the new gadget then you must be missing out.

My answer to them is always the same.  COBOL is an ever advancing language and is as current and modern as anything else out in the market.  COBOL is in use every day in literally thousands of companies.

But the number is shrinking.

And I believe it is because of this perception that "we must be all alone".

Well, I've got news for everyone...  COBOL is still alive and kicking.

The problem is that no one is waving a flag saying "We use COBOL".

Yes, usage is down.  The numbers will continue to shrink until reaching an equilibrium or point of balance. 

Here's why - Back when COBOL took the stage, there were only so many options available to a company.  Nowadays, there are literally hundreds if not thousands of ways to create and deploy a business application. 

How many companies will be using COBOL in 5 or 10 years?  Idunno. 

I think a very scientific number will be "a bunch of them".  Not as many as there were, but enough to be significant.

Today thousands of software companies, banks, insurance companies, manufacturers, and credit card processing companies are spending millions of dollars on their COBOL applications.  And they will continue to do so.

As for those of us who write COBOL applications and are trying to figure out what they should focus on for the future, my advice is simple: 

Learn a framework like .NET and become somewhat language independent.  Learn as much as you can about how to leverage things like .NET and other technologies that are used within your shop.  And use your expertise with COBOL to become the expert at briding that gap. 

My buddy Doby!
Learn some new tricks!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

COBOL Developer Conference. Ya'll Come!

If you or your company has an investment in COBOL, you need to be in Dallas in April for the 2012 Micro Focus Developer Conference.  Micro Focus will be hosting this event at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown Dallas Texas.  Registration starts at 5:00 p.m. April 16th with sessions running the 17th and 18th all day.

Want to know where COBOL is headed?  Trying to figure out how to take advantage of the years of application code that run the business?  Can you take COBOL to the Cloud? 

All good questions.  And this is the place to find out.  Best of all, admission is free!

To learn more, visit the registration site by clicking here!