Let me start by saying that I genuinely like COBOL. That’s right, I do. Some developers think of it as being outdated and antiquated, but I strongly disagree. Although COBOL may lack some of the bells and whistles of the newer Windows based languages, it does the job and it does it very well.
COBOL is one of the oldest programming languages, being created in 1959 by Grace Hopper, who is commonly referred to as the “mother of COBOL”. COBOL is an acronym for COmmon Business Oriented Language, defining its primary target in business and finance. One of the most widely used and established programming languages around, COBOL withstands the test of time. It is estimated there are more than 250 billion lines of COBOL code in production today across banking, government, healthcare, and retail industries.
As newer programming languages made their debut in the 1990’s, it was believed that COBOL was a dying language. Many colleges and universities dropped COBOL from their curriculum at that time, a decision which has created a severe shortage of experienced COBOL developers today. As COBOL approaches retirement age, it does not appear that it is going to fade into the sunset anytime soon. COBOL has a certain seniority in the IT field, and the sheer scope and cost of big business ultimately replacing it with more modern technology does not result in an acceptable return on investment. Businesses have invested thousands of man hours and millions of dollars in COBOL, and they are choosing to preserve that investment.
In celebration of the language’s 50th birthday, the Smithsonian Institute launched a COBOL exhibit at the National Museum of American History which was displayed from 2011 through 2013. Artifacts showcased in this exhibit included the printout of the first successful test of the language. Was this exhibit an indication of the language’s antiquity? Not all all. It was a testament to its long and extraordinary history, and a celebration of its continued success. COBOL absolutely changed the face of computing, and continues to be a driving force in the IT world today.
Although some newer versions have attempted to give COBOL a more youthful appearance by allowing the language to be used in a Windows environment, traditional COBOL remains a workhorse in banking and industry today. And well it should.