4 Coder struggles in Transitioning from COBOL to Java Programming

Background from Canva, Edited in Canva to add text

Being an older programmer in the Information Technology field, I can definitely relate to dealing with the introduction of new technology. During my over 25-year career, there were times when I had to decide whether the time and energy that I would have to invest in learning new technology was worth it. This is basically what I went through when I switched from my warm and fuzzy job in Mainframe/COBOL programming to a job in–something new for me—Personal Computer (PC)/Java programming.

If You Can’t Beat Them, Join Them

COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language) is an over 60-year-old programming language. The programs are typically compiled and run on a Mainframe computer, which has the ability to process large amounts of data. An example of an Integrated Development Environment (IDE) for Mainframe/COBOL development is the Interactive System Productivity Facility (ISPF). The code repository for Mainframe programming, that I’m familiar with, is Endevor. From my experience over the last 25 years, there have been few significant changes in COBOL development and the associated tools.

By contrast, Java, initiated in 1991, is a much newer programming language. The code is built and run on a Personal Computer. Eclipse is a typical IDE for Java coding, and the code repository is GIT. In this type of environment, the tools and code could change multiple times in a short period of time, something a mature workforce may not be prepared for.

Some Issues for Older Workers

Keeping Up

As more and more tech savvy Generation X and Millennial people enter the workforce, it’s harder and harder for Baby Boomers to keep pace with these younger generations. In an Information Technology (IT) environment, it’s particularly difficult since students starting out on a development team have recently learned the latest technology.  This was one of the biggest challenges I found when I switched from COBOL to Java coding.

Learning Curve

Moreover, relearning basically another computer language was an underestimated part of this job switch. It’s sometimes a misconception that if you know programming in one language, you know programming in every computer language. From my perspective, that’s not a reasonable assumption, any more than it’s logical to assume that someone that knows the English language will automatically know the French language. In the end, I did learn how to code in Java and work in the development environment, but it wasn’t easy.

Environmental Stability

It wasn’t just learning the new code syntax; it was also a matter of understanding all the associated tools to build and run Java programs. The IDE, debugger, and code repository are all different tools for Mainframe and Java coding. Also, having been in use for a lot longer, the Mainframe development products are naturally more stable when a new version is introduced.  Ultimately, it’s much easier to code in a stable environment, which I learned very quickly.

Comfort Zone

Finally, the transition was also harder, because I missed programming in COBOL. In the beginning, I was so anxious to try out Java programming with all its bells and whistles and graphical development environment. It was an example of “be careful what you wish for”. The more I worked with Java, the more attractive COBOL became. It was like missing an old friend.

Like Steve Jobs suggested…Eventually a decision has to be made as to whether or not the new technology is worth the investment. After quite a few years of Java programming, I decided that my issues with it, as mentioned above, outweighed my reasons for continuing, so I went back to Mainframe/COBOL programming. No loss for me, because I had both jobs available to me, I just preferred my stable, comfort zone. In the end, I’m glad I tried it, and it’s part of my history.


Have you ever taken a job that you thought would be perfect for you but realized that it wasn’t? How did you handle the situation? Did you stay with it, or look for something else?




COBOL in the News–September 2022

Common Business-Oriented Language (COBOL) is a computer language that was developed in 1959–63 years ago this year. COBOL is “primarily used in business, finance, and administrative systems for companies and governments”; by applications that are run on Mainframe computers. If anyone is questioning the continued relevance of such an old language, it can be validated by the fact that it still shows up in a Google search several times a week.

Google Alerts

To follow any subject on Google and have search results delivered to your inbox daily, you can create a Google Alert. Several years ago, I created a daily Google Alert for COBOL and have received many emails with COBOL related items to review. There are articles, books, courses, job offerings, etc. In addition, this is a good way to find help forums for technical questions — as well as potential blog topics. I thought it would be interesting to share some of the alerts I received in just one email earlier in September.

A screenshot of how to create a Google Alert

COBOL Related Articles

The most recent articles are a good way to see what current COBOL items are being discussed. How AI can help document legacy COBOL code, before it’s too late is a take on how new technology, specifically Artificial Intelligence (AI), can help maintain legacy COBOL code. Another article on the list is Why even hipster developers should consider learning COBOL, which discusses why COBOL legacy applications should be moved to the Cloud.

International Business Machines (IBM) Corporation

IBM produces and sells computer hardware and software, including COBOL products, so it’s not a surprise that they have new COBOL information in a search. This month, IBM issued a documentation refresh for Enterprise COBOL for z/OS versions 6.4 and 6.2. They indicated enhancements and fixes for both versions. There were also references in the search to IBM’s Expert Forum, where programming questions may be posted.

Micro Focus Community Documents

As an Enterprise software provider, Micro Focus, like IBM, produces COBOL Development Products. This month they have a new article in their online community on Redefining pointer values in COBOL.

COBOL Developer Jobs

WowJobs career website found 35 Cobol Developer jobs across Canada early this month, some of them remote. Similarly, Robert Half employment agency posted several US COBOL Jobs. There were even job postings for COBOL Programmers in South Africa and Sweden. Job postings are common alert topics, and there is definitely no shortage of jobs for COBOL developers.


In addition, an audio book, Beginning COBOL for Programmers, by Michael Coughlan came up in my search list illustrating that experts are still creating documentation on the topic for new learners.

A screenshot of an example of some Google Alert results for a search on COBOL

In conclusion, although I haven’t elaborated much on the information in each subject, you can see from this small sample that there’s a wide variety of COBOL related information available on the Internet in terms of articles, books, technical resources, and job postings.

Google Alerts have effectively automated the Google Search making it easy to research any niche or favorite subject that you’re interested in. Can you think of a topic that you would like to receive Google Search results for?