A COBOL Programmer’s First Job–1996

Fresh out of my Programmer Diploma course in early 1996 and feeling great, with 2 COBOL courses, a “C” programming course, and a small intro to Visual Basic under my belt, I was ready for my first IT job. I was, of course, unaware that the first version of Java would be released in January 1996 and what that would eventually mean to the future programming world. I had COBOL in my focus and wanted that to be my first IT job.

The Job Search

A job hunt in 1996 was very different than it is today. If you were looking for a professional job in a large company, which a lot of programming jobs were back then, the first thing you did was to buy a Saturday newspaper and review the “Careers” section. This section featured those companies that had the most money to take out large ads to attract the best candidates. You would also go, in person, to the employment centers to see what jobs they had posted on their boards. This was a good way to get a contact name, address, and phone number. Word of mouth or Networking was also a popular route to find a job. If you knew someone that could refer you, that was one of the best ways to get your foot in the door. Even if you didn’t know someone, you could always do a cold call and ask to speak to someone in Human Resources. An uninvited solicitation wasn’t considered the best approach, but it was something to try when all else failed. Similar to today, you could register with an Agency to help you find a job in your field. However, unlike today, the agencies didn’t seek you out through Social Media, you had to register with them and follow up by phone. If you were lucky enough to get a contact name and address through one of the above methods, you still had to prepare a mailing package, which included a custom covering letter and your resume. You could then follow up by phone in a couple of weeks to see if it had been received. By today’s standards, a very time-consuming and uncertain process.

The First Job

I ended up sending out approximately 60 resumes and covering letters. Ironically, it was the first one that I sent out that gave me my first job offer. In school, I knew someone who had done their Coop work terms at Metlife. He suggested that I apply there and gave me a contact name and address. I ended up having an interview. I had my heart set on a programming job, but they were interested in my degree in business and offered me a “Business Consultant” job. I accepted immediately. The job was to act as a liaison between the business area and IT. Today, this would be a Business Analyst position. I was to query the data to find answers to business questions.  All in all, a very cool first IT job.

The offer and the job

Finally, a Programmer

After a year in the Business Consultant role, the company was looking for programmers. Someone in the area suggested me, and I transferred into a job as a Programmer. That was where my COBOL career officially started, but over the years I’ve often used the skills that I acquired in that first job in writing and interpreting SQL. It was fortunate for me that I was able to switch when I did since Metlife was bought out by another company a year later. A lot of people were laid off, but the programmers were kept on for data conversion to make sure that the data was compatible with the format of the new company. At the time, I was just happy to finally be a programmer.

 

Do you recall your first IT job? Was it a positive or negative experience?

 

Author: Donna Jennings

I have a BA and a BComm, as well as a Diploma in Programming. I have been a COBOL system designer and coder for over 20 years, and I am still trying to demystify the language for myself...I Love the culture of COBOL and how it has provided so many people, including myself, with a lifelong livelihood. The opinions in my posts are completely my own, based on my many years of experience working in a COBOL development environment.

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