A COBOL Programmer’s Unique Story

All of my friends who have younger siblings who are going to college or high school – my number one piece of advice is: You should learn how to program.” This is a famous quote by Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook.

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The Discovery

I wish I would have had that advice presented to me when I finished high school. In the end, I did learn how to program, but my journey was very roundabout. I spent many years in University, getting a 3-year Psychology Degree and a 4-year Commerce Degree. With all that education behind me, I was still having trouble finding direction. As a result, I read an amazing, self-help book for job seekers called What Color is your Parachute? Surprisingly, the exercises in the book pointed me toward a career in programming, mostly based on my interest in the one programming course I had taken at University.

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The Becoming

Given a new path toward programming, I decided to go the quickest route and get a programming Diploma. I used my University courses to get exemptions in the non-programming courses and finished a two-year Computer Programmer Diploma in a year. I loved it. Luckily, I was able to get a job as an entry-level COBOL programmer shortly after I graduated, which has led to a rewarding 25-year career as a Programmer-Analyst and IT Specialist.

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The Next Step

The natural continuation of this lifelong journey is to write about it. To answer some questions that can only come from experience. What is it like to be a woman in technology? What has it been like to work with newer technologies at the same time as older ones? What is it like to be in the computer field with multiple generations of people?  There is so much to write about–so many topics to explore, drawing on my many years of experience. All the facets of the past have come together to create my story, which is, I hope, unique enough to share.

What’s your story? Where are you on your own journey? Are you still becoming, or are you considering your next step?

Who is the Online COBOL Audience?

When you want to get to know someone in person, how do you generally accomplish that? Initially, you probably try to learn their characteristics, then you determine how to talk to them. The process is similar for online connections. First, you want to get to know their demographics and their psychological traits (psychographics), then you find ways to communicate with them.

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Assuming that the majority of the online COBOL-related audience are COBOL programmers, their average age would be 55. Also, in an Evans Data Corporation survey, 27.5% of software developers in the world are women. Thus, the demographic of an online COBOL audience is probably men around age 55. Based on this demographic, some psychographic information about this group is that they are conservative, upper-middle-class, and are followers. In addition, according to the survey mentioned, one-fifth of men software developers have a personal interest in the technologies they are using. Consequently, one in five of COBOL listeners have a personal interest in COBOL technologies.

Now that we have identified some characteristics of COBOL online listeners, one of the ways to find out how to communicate with this audience on social media is to search on Twitter. In this case, a Twitter search on #cobol came back with several related people to follow. Similarly, a search on COBOL in Google Trends resulted in 23 related queries and 19 related topics to investigate. In terms of Facebook communities, related groups and pages included a COBOL Programmers group with 16,000 members and a COBOL page with 3200 members.

A screenshot of a COBOL search in Facebook

It is important to remember not to initiate a conversation too quickly in an unfamiliar COBOL online community. Some are primarily for job postings and others are used to sell online courses. Become a listener.  Get to know the demographics and psychographics of the group you are interested in before you start communicating.

What is your online style? Are you mainly a listener? Which online communities do you enjoy following?

 

 

A COBOL Programmer’s Pandemic Vacation To-Do List

Before I tell you about my most recent vacation, let me tell you a bit about myself. According to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, I am an Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging (INTJ) person. Being logical, methodical, and conceptual makes me ideally suited for my profession as a computer programmer,  which is a suggested career for the INTJ personality type.

Since the pandemic lockdown started six months ago, I have been spending most days continuously at home on my computer doing coding, analysis, system testing, mentoring, or attending meetings in this new virtual work world. No more breaks for water cooler gossip or work kitchen chats. No long commute to psych myself up at the beginning of the day or wind down at the end.

By the summer, I badly needed a vacation break. As usual, in keeping with my scheduled, systematic nature and the list-making preferences of my personality type, I wrote down all of the things I wanted to do on my time off.

This summer, at the top of my list, was a family get-away vacation to a cottage on Otter Lake in Quebec. With limited travel allowed between provinces this year, we booked it ahead, sight unseen, with very few pictures. It was a risk, but in the end, it was a beautiful peaceful, waterfront location about a half-mile from the main road. We had rented it for two weeks at the end of July. It was gorgeous weather and very relaxing.

Otter Lake view from our cottage

Another thing on my list of things to do on my vacation was to give my daughter some practice driving. She just passed the written test at the beginning of the year and driving school classes and in-car lessons immediately shut down in mid-March.

It was very awkward being in the car with her over the summer. As a teenager, she was sure everything I told her was wrong. Ultimately, we made it through driving sessions and online practice tests together. It was a valuable bonding experience.

My daughter at the wheel

My vacation to-do list would not have been complete without having a computer-related item on it somewhere. With no end in sight for remote programming work, I took some time to set up my own separate home office space with a desk, monitor, new chair, and treadmill.

I faced my desk to the window, put up a bird feeder, and found I had some work-at-home buddies. My cat, Oreo, loves to lie on my desk and look out the window, watching the birds eat. Of course, once I had my new office in place, I also had to take a sneak peek at the work emails I was getting during vacation.

   

Oreo on my desk and the Finches on the bird feeder

In the end, I did not get everything on my vacation list done, but overall, it was a relaxing, successful, semi-productive time off.

 

Have you looked at where you fall on the Myers-Briggs scale?

It may surprise you to see that your career choices, as well as your list-making tendencies, correspond to your personality type.

COBOL on Social Media

The Programming Professional on Social Media

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When you think of the various Social Media Networks, LinkedIn is the first one that comes to mind as the main professional Social Media resource. Professionals looking for, and providing, information in their field would tend to look there first. Unfortunately, what’s often missed, are the sometimes hidden gems of information garnered through Facebook pages and groups, Twitter tweets, or Pinterest pins. For the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to use the example of “COBOL Programming” to illustrate that there is information to be found on each of these Social Media Networks for Programming Professionals

Facebook as a Programming Resource

After doing a search for the word “COBOL” on my Facebook account and scrolling through the results, I can see that there are several types of information that are available and useful to both the new and experienced COBOL Programmer. Of course, given the volume, you would need to take time to filter through each type and determine if it is current, valid, and useful to your context. On a cursory first glance though, in the list of pages to “like” and groups to join, one group that stands out is “COBOL Programmers”, which currently has 10,775 members and has daily activity. Members frequently post interesting information and other members ask related questions. With almost 11,000 experts at your fingertips, how could it not be a useful resource?

The COBOL Facebook search result also came up with PDF links for COBOL tutorials, programmer guides, and professional blogs (such as the Micro Focus Company blog). If they were to be cited as professional sources of information, these documents would have to be verified as reliable resources. This article, “How Can I tell if a Website is Credible”, provides some helpful ideas for what to look for in determining the credibility of a source.

Professionalism in Twitter Tweets

A search for COBOL on Twitter revealed a smaller presence than on Facebook. However, there are some Twitter COBOL-related profiles that are recently active and have tweets with interesting links. One of note is “COBOL60” that celebrates the 60th birthday of COBOL in a professional manner. The tweets on this profile typically contain links to courses or related websites. Again, some time would be necessary to read through thoroughly and filter the information, for credibility.

Below is a screenshot of my COBOL search result on Twitter. As well as several COBOL-related “People”, there is also professional noteworthy information under the “Photos” and “Videos” sections from such companies as Micro Focus, Red Hat, Raincode and others. As you can see, COBOL information for the professional is also present on Twitter.

Pinterest for Computer Professionals                                                                               

Pinterest is a Social Media, online service, that allows users to organize and share images and videos. A search on COBOL in Pinterest resulted in many, many pins. From a Professional perspective, several of the pins are for COBOL courses and tutorials of varying levels, debugging tools, and related programming information.

To be honest, I hadn’t considered Pinterest as a resource for job-related information before. After this first look, I can see that there could be a whole separate discussion on the programming information and categories available on Pinterest. I can’t wait to get back to it to start organizing and filtering some of the useful information I’ve seen.

The future of Professionalism on Social Media

With Social Media advancing at such a fast rate, it’s hard to predict its future.  A recent article,“What Will Social Media Look Like in the Future” discusses possible future trends such as:

    1. More privacy and security
    2. More video
    3. Less personal content
    4. Premium services and fewer ads
    5. Mobile focused experience
    6. Less typing, and more visuals

Only time will tell if the future will find Social Media moving more toward the informal or more toward the formal.

If you haven’t done it already, think of your own work-related topic and try to research it on Social Media. You might be surprised by the wealth of information you find.

How Do You Demystify COBOL?

How do you go about demystifying a programming language? As an experienced COBOL programmer, I could write endlessly about syntax, design, debugging, development environments, etc. In the end, the real way to take the mystery out of COBOL is to explore its past through the people who have coded it and the history behind it. As a language that just turned 60, there’s a lot of background to search through and connections to be made.

Introduced in 1959, COBOL has managed to stay relevant through 5 generations of people, massive technological changes, as well as changes in the demographics of its coders. Did any of these influences affect methods and style of coding? Of course, they all had an impact on how COBOL applications were being designed and developed through the history of the language.

Future posts may be opinion pieces, based on subjective experience, or research essays, based on observations of others. However, over time, it is the hope that future posts on this blog will include topics of discussion taken from each of these 3 factors in an attempt to demystify COBOL.

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Traditionalists to Generation Zers

For example, there are 5 generations of COBOL coders: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z. This Generational Differences chart summarizes the differences between the first 4 generations and provides characteristics of each. Not included in this chart, the most recent generation, Generation Z, is the generation that was born between 1996 and 2010. This age group has grown up with the Internet and Social Media. Several interesting possible future blog posts would be how the values, attitudes and work ethics of each of these 5 groups may have influenced coding in programming languages, specifically COBOL.

Changing Technology

With technological advances, coding tools have also changed over the years. COBOL has managed to compete with newer coding languages like Pascal (1970s), C++ (1980s), Java (1990s) and has stood the test of time. This history of programming languages graphic provides a good illustration of programming languages in history (oddly, COBOL isn’t included). Also, the introduction of personal computers allowed for Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) as well as Integrated Development Environments (IDEs). The advent of cloud technology will no doubt lead to many fascinating future COBOL impacts.  As a result, due to the number of years that it has existed, evolving technologies can lead to a variety of comparative discussion topics involving COBOL.

Women in Technology

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One of the major demographic factors in any discussion topic involving programming, and its evolution over time, is gender. Women have played major roles in the history of technology, from Grace Hopper, who is credited as being the inventor of COBOL, to Ginni Rometty, who is the current CEO of IBM. There have been many fascinating women associated with the COBOL programming language. Something to share in this forum is how exciting it is to be a woman in technology today with a perspective on the past and anticipation for the future.

 The Future

As the name suggests, this blog, over time, will attempt to demystify COBOL with its posts, links and overall theme. The conversation will focus on the stability and relevance of the language, while the associated coders, technologies and the demographics have all continued to evolve over the 60 years of COBOL’s existence.

Even though these subjects will be the main focus of future posts, if you have a specific COBOL related topic you would like to see covered, feel free to suggest it.

COBOL – Its Forms and Uses

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Common Business Oriented Language is a very old, yet still widely used, computer language. Banks, insurance companies and governments still process their data through computer programs written in COBOL and run on Mainframes. There are different forms of COBOL programs that are run.

Job Control Language (JCL)

Batch COBOL programs can be scheduled through Job Control Language (JCL) to be run at a specific time, in a certain order. For example, data can be batched and processed overnight to update the database with the new data. JCL can be set to specify who has access to run the program as well as time parameters.

CICS

There are also CICS programs that are online COBOL programs that are run in real-time for screen display and data capture. For instance, when programs run, screens are displayed to a user. The user then enters data on the screen. The data is processed and saved in the background.