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.

Photos courtesy of Dreamstime

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

Photo courtesy of Dreamstime

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.

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.

8 thoughts on “How Do You Demystify COBOL?”

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