Remote Work: Better or Worse for a COBOL Programmer

There are a lot of quotes from famous and powerful people about the impact on mandatory work-from-home over the last 2 plus years. I’ve been reflecting on my own experience as someone in the trenches, working from home, and this article describes some ways that it improved life for me and some ways that it made it worse. This is no reflection on my employer and is strictly my own opinion, from the perspective of a COBOL Programmer.

10 Ways Things Are Better Working from Home:

  1.   There is no commute. Previously, there was a commute to get into the physical office. In the new work world, it’s just a matter of going to your computer and logging on.
  2.   Less distractions. There are less interruptions during the workday. Most of the time there are no people working around you to potentially have loud conversations
  3.   More flexibility of time. There is the option of working irregular hours, around your own schedule, contributing to a better work personal balance.
  4.   Less long meetings and time to get to them. There used to be travel time involved in getting to meetings, even if it was in the same building. With virtual meetings, that time wasted isn’t a factor anymore.
  5.   More time with family. With no commute time, it’s possible to spend more quality time with your family.
  6.   More comfortable work environment. Your workspace is in the comfort of your own home, where you can even regulate the temperature.
  7.   Easier access to other workers on chat. You don’t have to spend time tracking down coworkers. They will either be available on chat or not available. There’s no need to go to their desk to look for them.
  8.   Easier to have a pet. You don’t have to worry about leaving your pet alone at home all day. There are no costly pet daycare fees..
  9.   Easier to look after children. Instead of your children fitting into your work schedule, your work schedule can now fit into your children’s schedule.
  10.   Can work from another city. There are more options for remote work when you work from the virtual office. Depending on the job, you can live in one city and work in another easily.

10 Ways Things Are not Better Working from Home:

  1.   Less in person time for meetings. Meetings are more impersonal, with virtual meetings replacing boardroom meetings. There are often hundreds of people in one online meeting.
  2.   Less chance to socialize. No opportunity for hallway, bathroom, or water cooler impromptu mingling. Often short training sessions or work meetings could previously be accomplished easily that way, face to face.
  3.   Less chance to be visible. You can go off the radar when working from home. Your work may not be as recognized if you aren’t among others in the office.
  4.   More distractions. There could be more distractions at home. For example, children and pets may need your attention during the workday.
  5.   Less structured time. With the computer so close, you can log on any time, so you may end up working at odd hours or more hours because of the convenience.
  6.   Downtime from connection issues. There is more disruption of work due to technical issues with your work link. The Internet disconnects or your work connection may be lost at various times during the day.
  7.   Have to be constantly available for chat and calls. You are almost expected to be consistently available for unexpected meetings and work calls. There is an expectation to let the team know when you are leaving your desk.
  8.   Blurring of work and family time. Since it is more convenient to work at home. Work hours might extend into family time, confusing the line between work and family.
  9.   Harder to develop work relationships. It’s much harder to develop a work connection with people on your team, especially new people who you haven’t met before. Unless you’re constantly on video calls with them, the body language factor is eliminated when talking through emails.
  10.   Harder to learn from others. Training sessions used to occur in a classroom setting. Now, virtual instruction may have hundreds of people attending and interactive turned off. This makes asking questions more difficult, since the questions come up in chat only for the instructor. Impromptu training also has to be online.

As you can see, there are both pros and cons to remote work. Some of the pros may also be cons, depending on the situation of the worker. No scenario will be perfect in all cases. There will still be some bad and some good about working remotely, just as there was with working in the office.

 

If you’re currently working from home, what are some of the things you struggle with, and/or are thankful for, about your new arrangement?

 

COBOL Blogging

Several readers have sent me comments asking me how to blog. I’m sure there are as many ways to blog as there are bloggers, but I do have a specific method that I follow and wanted to share that here. It’s not really anything unexpected.

Platform

First of all, the host I chose for my demystifyingCOBOL domain is SiteGround, which provides WordPress as my site manager. I maintain my blog through the WordPress dashboard. It’s not free: I pay a yearly fee to keep and manage my domain. I wouldn’t say it’s cheap either, but it is secure, and the WordPress interface is very user friendly and efficient. It beats web page development from the early 1990’s, when you had to add all your HTML tags yourself, and it sometimes took an hour to load your changes back up to the server. You can really see the difference when you “lived the dream”. With WordPress, I just basically add my post content and hit “publish”.

Ideas

I get my inspirations for each blog post from a variety of sources. Sometimes it’s something that I remember from my many years experience as a COBOL Programmer, or it might be something new to me that I came across in my related readings. For example, I enjoy reading about COBOL history, as well as modern innovations such as Digital Transformation. I’m also intrigued by women in technology and would love to write more in that area.

Template

In terms of format, I try to keep the length to around 500 words. Also, as a rule, I include the following in each of my blogs:

  1. An appropriate title that is descriptive of the topic discussed. The title should try to catch the reader’s attention with key words.
  2. At least 3 paragraphs of text. Add headings to break up the blocks of writing.
  3. Links to supporting articles or facts presented as hyperlinks. Don’t add the whole link in the text. Put a shorter description instead.
  4. Multimedia such as images or videos, if appropriate.

The Ending

The last sentence or two in a blog may be the most important, because it’s what the reader is left with and should be strong. It should call the reader to action, to somehow ask them to relate the blog content to their own experience.

The following are some examples of types of endings, specifically applicable to this COBOL blog, but they can be used in other contexts as well.

  1. Ask a question such as “what would you do differently if you were an aspiring COBOL blogger?”
  2. Suggest a challenge like the following: “try to come up with your own COBOL related blog topic and see where it takes you.”
  3. Ask the reader to help by sharing this blog post in a COBOL related forum that they belong to.
  4. Offer help with any COBOL-related questions that the audience may have or ask what content they would like to see in future blogs.

 

The most important thing about blogging is to pick a topic that you enjoy writing about. The rest should fall together naturally.

 

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?