Is COBOL a Good Fit for Today’s Workforce? A Millennial Perspective

Image from Canva, Edited in Canva to add text

“Millennials want to find meaning in their work, and they want to make a difference. They want to be listened to. They want you to understand that they fuse life and work. They want to have a say about how they do their work. They want to be rewarded. They want to be recognized. They want a good relationship with their boss. They want to learn. But most of all, they want to succeed. They want to have fun!”

The above is a quote by Chip Espinoza, an expert on generational diversity, referring to the Millennial generation (that group of people born 1980 to 1996). This is a great summary of characteristics you want to see in a good work environment, but it’s very general and, at this high level, could describe the workplace wish list of any of the generations.

Survey results, collected by Great Place to Work, has provided a more detailed insight into what Millennials currently want in their workplace. Claire Hastwell, in the article Top 5 Things Millennials Want in the Workplace in 2021, gives a fantastic review of the Millennial perspective, using the survey findings.

I thought it would be interesting to discuss her 5 summary subjects from the viewpoint of a person who works on a software development team with Millennials of all ages. I’ve reused her subject headings below, but the discussion is strictly my own opinion and experience. I’ve worked with students entering the workforce as well as younger, more established workers, and these are my observations.

Fair Pay and Personal Meaning

In the conventional workforce, seniority, along with pay increases and more interesting job assignments, usually comes with age and experience. However, Millennials want to move into senior, high pay roles faster than was expected in a traditional workplace. Employers will have to address this need in Millennials or lose employees who won’t wait to accumulate experience before getting more money and more fulfilling work.

Inclusive Benefits that go Beyond Parenthood

Although they aren’t usually at the point where they appreciate the benefits of being part of a pension plan, the Millennials I’ve seen have welcomed vacation and sick leave benefits. Employers will definitely need to be creative in providing other benefits that appeal to this group, such as the “Pawternity”, pet leave, described in the article.

Gender Equity at all levels

Traditionally a male dominated field, programming is now representing both male and female workers equally. Women have shown that they excel in the technical field and are as good as, if not better than, their male counterparts. Employers will need to continue to ensure that women programmers are given equal opportunities, or they may lose valuable employees as a result.

Post-Pandemic Flexibility

As mentioned in the article, Millennials will prefer the Hybrid model of working post-pandemic, where there is a mix of remote and in-office work. My experience has been that Millennials are anxious to meet with team members but would prefer flexible work arrangements where they could still work remotely at least part of the time. Having already had that experience during the pandemic, Millennials will want to continue this way of working.

Safe Spaces Where They can be Involved

According to the survey results, Millennials want to work where they can bring fresh ideas and be heard. This might be a challenge in the COBOL programming role where the infrastructure and tools have been used in the same way for many years. They may enjoy a role in the modernization of COBOL in terms of rewriting old code or adding a more modern GUI front end to a COBOL backend. In any case, Millennials will not settle for “micromanagement or being put in a box”.


Will COBOL survive an entire workplace of Millennials? Since more senior members on a COBOL developer team are still Baby Boomers and Generation X, this question remains to be answered. Millennials want the opportunity to create and bring new ideas to their workplace. In the end, the traditional COBOL workplace may go through some changes that can’t even be conceived of yet. Stay tuned…


Generations in COBOL Programming

Image from Canva, Edited in Canva to add text

“Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it” is a famous quote by George Orwell.

Generations in the Overall Workplace

It’s probably safe to say that the general workplace of today encompasses people ages 18 to 70. This range includes 4 of the recognized generations: Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z. In the articles, Main Characteristics Per Generation  and  Hiring Tips for a Multigenerational Workforce: From Baby Boomers to Gen Z,  the work traits of each group are documented. Not surprisingly, there are distinct differences between the attitudes and behaviours of each generation.

Age of COBOL Programmers

According to Zippia, an online platform that matches job seekers to career opportunities, in their website segment titled, COBOL Programmer Demographic Statistics in the US, the average age of a COBOL Programmer is 46 years old. That’s a wide potential age range for this group. If it’s a strict average, these programmers could range in age from 26 to 66. There will, of course, be those outliers that will be younger or older. As a result, COBOL Programmers fall into the 4 generations found in the workplace today.

Generations in a COBOL Development Team

Due to the differences observed between the generations of workers, there is a diversity in the way people on a development team approach their work. COBOL development teams specifically illustrate this variety, since they are comprised of a range of the 4 generations, senior to junior members.

Baby Boomers (born 1946-1965)

Firstly, Baby Boomers are the older colleagues of a COBOL team. At this writing, they are aged 58 to 76. These are the workers that are very experienced but ready to retire.  They live to work and are competitive, process-oriented, loyal to the job, enjoy working in the team, and are self-motivated. They want to know that they have made a difference after their years of hard work and devotion to their job.

Generation X (born 1965 to 1980)

This group are ages 42 to 57 and are part of the older team members but not quite as senior as the Baby Boomers. They may even be waiting for people in that group of COBOL Programmers to retire, so they can take over their role. They work to live, are independent, adapt to change (particularly changes in technology), value education and are eager to learn. This is the group who are focused on achieving results in an efficient way

Millennials (born 1981 to 1996)

These are the members of a COBOL Programming team that are 27 to 43 years old and are mid level, not senior but not junior either. This generation is interested in work-life balance, prefer detailed instructions and favor solutions involving technology. Millennials want to make an impact and share everything. They are achievement oriented.

Generation Z (born 1997 to 2020)

These are the newest generation of COBOL Programmers. They are 7 to 26 years old. Clearly, the work-related age range in this discussion would be those 18 to 26 who are working in a COBOL Programming team. This is the first generation to grow up with the Internet. They are open to technology and are accepting of others. Generation Z are very entrepreneurial, and self directed. They are fresh out of school and ready to bring their newly acquired knowledge to the workplace.


With all the COBOL Modernization and Digital Transformation projects going on today, once the Baby Boomers, and maybe even the Generation Xers, have retired, it will be interesting to see how the Millennials and Generation Z are able to convert COBOL into something more technologically advanced and progressive.

Which generational group do you fall into? Do the traits from the articles fit you? Maybe you overlap into two groups.


The Venting of a COBOL Programmer Baby Boomer Tailgater

Background from Canva, Edited in Canva to add text

Like the last child in a very large family, I was born at the tail end of the Baby Boomer generation–1964. As a result, I always seem to be at the end of the receiving line for everything in my life. I’ve had to compete with a large number of others and work very hard for everything I’ve ever gotten. Looking back, it reminds me of the ‘more please’ scenario in Oliver Twist: you work very hard for what little you get, but you still have to work to get more.

Entering University and the Job Market

By the time I finished high school, for example, Universities, Colleges, and the job market, in general, were full to the maximum. There were mass lineups to register for University (it was a multi-day event), and there were rooms full of people writing tests for government jobs. I had to work hard to start out on the bottom. When I did start out at the bottom, it was tough to get a raise and move to another level. In the job market, I competed for higher-level jobs that I couldn’t get because I didn’t have the highest education.

The Education Cycle

When I realized I needed more education to get to a better job (or even to keep my job), I went back to school. The problem was that I ended up in another field that was already saturated with the Baby Boomers that had come before me and advanced. It seemed to be a cycle: go to school, end up in a dead-end job, go back to school, etc. I did the only thing I could do…go back to school again. This time I was a little luckier. I picked a high-tech field at the beginning of the mass need for computer-trained workers—Y2K. The head of the line, at last, I got into a higher-paying job. Advancement was available. As the technology field took off, the problem was that the competition came from, not only the older Baby Boomers, but also the post Baby Boomer generation who were quicker and, of course, younger. As a result, I retreated from the Java jobs back into the COBOL/Mainframe jobs, where I knew the competition would be older, and I could potentially keep up.


As retirement looms, it’s still not looking good for those of us on the end of the line. By the time I retire, I don’t know if there’ll be funds left in the government pension for me. I may have to continue to work to pay for the pensions of the younger generation, and ironically, the older generation who took all the high-paying jobs. I can only hope that I don’t get sick and need one of the hospital beds being used by the other Baby Boomers who came before me. If I wait for everyone else to retire, I hope to finally come into my own in the job market—time will tell.