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Demystifying COBOL for the Next Generation of Programmers



Introduction

COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language) seems like a relic from a bygone era in an age dominated by Python and JavaScript. Yet, this over-sixty-year-old language continues to be a cornerstone in sectors that drive our global economy. This article aims to dispel the fog surrounding COBOL and introduce the next wave of programmers to a language that, against all odds, remains as relevant as ever.

What is COBOL?

COBOL was born in the late 1950s, a product of an era that demanded a language tailored for business data processing. It was designed to be readable and maintainable, principles that still resonate today. Unlike many modern languages, COBOL's strength lies in its straightforward syntax, which resembles English, and its unparalleled precision in data handling.

The Myths vs. The Reality

The Myths:

  • Myth 1: COBOL is obsolete. The biggest misconception is that COBOL is out of use. It's often dismissed by new programmers more attracted to modern, popular languages.

  • Myth 2: No one uses COBOL anymore. Many assume that because COBOL is old, it's no longer in use in the industry.

  • Myth 3: COBOL programming is not lucrative. There's a prevalent belief that careers in COBOL are not financially rewarding compared to more contemporary technologies.

The Reality:

  • Reality 1: Far from obsolete, COBOL is widely used. COBOL runs on mainframes that handle 90% of all financial transactions, including credit card processing, ATMs, and mortgage services.

  • Reality 2: COBOL is heavily used by industries worldwide. Major institutions, including banks, insurance companies, and government agencies, continue to rely on COBOL for their day-to-day operations.

  • Reality 3: COBOL programmers are in demand. Due to a shortage of COBOL programmers, those with COBOL skills often command high salaries and enjoy secure positions in well-established companies.

COBOL in Today's Tech Landscape

Prevalence in Current Systems:

  • COBOL systems today handle massive volumes of daily transactions in both the public and private sectors. From social security payments to flight bookings, COBOL's fingerprints are everywhere.

Interface with Modern Technologies:

  • COBOL has been updated to work within contemporary frameworks. It is compatible with modern databases and transaction processing systems and can even operate in cloud environments.

Learning COBOL

Learning COBOL can open doors that few other languages can. Understanding COBOL can be a gateway to niche markets and high-demand sectors for new programmers. Educational resources range from traditional university courses to modern, interactive online platforms. Moreover, COBOL's structured nature can be a great way to learn disciplined coding practices.

Career Opportunities in COBOL

The market for COBOL programmers is robust and often less saturated than for more trendy languages. Careers in COBOL can be lucrative and secure, given how critical COBOL systems are to major industries. Programmers usually enjoy greater longevity and stability in their roles, as well.

How to Integrate COBOL with Modern Programming

Best Practices:

  • Interoperability: One best practice is ensuring COBOL can interact with other systems and languages through APIs, web services, or messaging systems.

  • Modern Development Environments: Incorporating COBOL into modern integrated development environments (IDEs) can streamline the development process and make the language more accessible to new programmers.

Tools and Environments:

  • IBM's Enterprise COBOL: This tool allows COBOL to be compiled and run on modern mainframes, integrating with the latest z/OS.

  • Micro Focus Visual COBOL: It provides an IDE that allows COBOL to run within Microsoft Visual Studio or Eclipse, enabling .NET and JVM compatibility.

  • GnuCOBOL: An open-source COBOL compiler that facilitates the integration of COBOL into a wide variety of systems.

Hybrid Systems:

  • Hybrid systems leverage COBOL's stability and processing power while using modern languages for user interfaces and new functionality. This can be done using COBOL for the core business logic and data processing, and languages like Java or C# for building the application interface or adding new features.

The Future of COBOL

COBOL's future is being written by those who recognize its enduring value. The language is also evolving as industries continue to rely on it for their most critical operations. With new compilers, support for object-oriented programming, and integration with modern IDEs, COBOL is keeping pace with the times.

Conclusion

Understanding COBOL's legacy and ongoing evolution is vital. By demystifying this language, we empower a new generation to carry forward its legacy.


QS2 Point understands this mission well, offering programs to train and convert professionals in COBOL and making resources available for our customers. By investing in COBOL education, we secure the legacy of a programming language and the continued success of the businesses and systems that rely on it. To learn more, contact us at sales.info@qs2point.com.

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