Ancient language becomes essential in pandemic

Managers of legacy systems have plenty of experience with COBOL. Newer-tech owners tend to hoot at the venerable business language. In the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic, COBOL is proving once again it is an essential IT tool.

COBOL’s roots hail from the 1960s. It has been a crucial part of legacy computing ever since VMS and MPE servers took their roles in enterprises. Now we learn that COBOL is at the heart of business systems at the IRS.

In the middle of a pandemic, where emergency funds are flowing to American checking accounts, COBOL is key. Some databases at the Internal Revenue Service hail from 1962. Nobody could anticipate the COBOL would need modifications. Addresses of taxpayers are different. Some bank accounts, like the temporary ones from H&R Block tax services, kicked back those $1,200 deposits.

COBOL is being called an ancient language. As it turns out, the expertise is still available. The state of New Jersey is running employment ads that ask for COBOL experts. Many are retired, but like doctors around the world, some are returning to duty.

In the MPE community, one significant customer is still using COBOL. At Boeing Corp., 17 COBOL programs serve on a virtual HP 3000. The air travel industry is under siege, but aircraft are still being sold and built.

In one brutal summary of COBOL, a reporter sums the language up by saying it often its programs are often built from spaghetti code. It’s harder to create this kind of mess with modular languages like C or Python.

COBOL college training is in short supply, to the point of being a mystery to find. Out on the Udemy training website, however, a $59 course promises “Mainframe: The Complete COBOL Course From Beginner To Expert.” Student can “become an expert on COBOL programs by coding. The training says the course teaches how to “run COBOL programs with JCL.

Job Control Language is essential to lots of legacy computing. In the world’s time of greatest need, so are servers like those using Alpha, PA-RISC, and VAX CPUs. When trouble arrives, the proven tools take a leading role. It’s survival IT. Legacy owners should be proud of doing their bit, as the British say about wartime.

Image by photosforyou from Pixabay

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