COBOL Development – Is There a Shortage of Skills?

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COBOL (Common Business Oriented Language) is a high level programming language that was developed back in 1959. It is self-documenting, containing English-like elements such as verbs, sentences, sections, divisions and clauses. This means that it is one of the most readable and understandable programming languages in use and can be read by non-programmers.

The language is actually very simple, but produces very large applications with many lines of code. The latest versions have been updated to feature user defined functions, object orientations, cultural adaptability and user defined data types. Despite a rather limited function compared to the younger languages, it very well adapted to its target domain.

What is COBOL Used For?

COBOL is known as the ‘language that automates business.’ It is popular for its scalability, performance and mathematical accuracy. It has been utilised to create many payroll, accounting and other business applications that are still in use.

The popularity of COBOL in business is due to it being a low profile language where applications are often only written for use by a single company, so they can be tailored to the exact needs of one organisation. The code can also be easily maintained so that the application has a longer life span as compared to the more modern languages such as Java, C, C++ or .NET.

Is There a Skills Shortage?

Although the popularity of the modern programming languages have been steadily growing due to their use in creating applications that are widely distributed, there are actually more lines of COBOL in existence than any other language. The long lifespan of the code means that there is demand for people with the skills to maintain it, particularly because of the high cost of replacing the code as compared to many other languages.

These skills were in high demand with the need to prepare legacy code for Y2K, but the demand has decreased somewhat since 2000. Java, C++ and other more modern languages are now more popular skills for programmers to choose to learn and develop, leaving a skills gap as fewer institutions offer the opportunity to learn COBOL.

A Computerworld survey in 2012 found that 46% of IT professionals were already noticing a COBOL programmer shortage, whilst over half of the companies were still developing new business applications using COBOL. This had led to some companies moving their applications off mainframes and rewriting with Java or .NET, or even moving to packaged software.

So whilst the demand for COBOL developers is on the decline, those with both Java and COBOL skills should be very much in demand for companies still in need; so the investment in time would likely be worth the reward. One such company is a Global Retail Outlet based in Leicester, who is currently advertising with us to fill a contract position.

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The IT Job Board: Please tell us your story of how you started in IT and rose to the position of CIO. Is there any career advice that you could give to less experienced IT professionals aiming to be in your position in the future?

Mike: It was a hobby to start with. I started on my home computer and then began working in a support role at the Met Police, before joining the NHS and then working in local government. Now I head the Service team at 4 different sites. My advice would be to BE BOLD; take a risk and be proud of the skills that you have. Shape your CV to the role. Read the personal specification fully to ensure that your application matches it perfectly. Sell yourself as a team player and want to really be part of a team. Finally, demonstrate examples of what you have done and your personal aspects that helped you achieve them.

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Wearable tech body diagram

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