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The Latin of Software Code Is Thriving


Caitlin Mooney is 24 years old and enjoys technology starting at Sputnik’s age.

Mooney, a recent graduate of the New Jersey Institute of Technology in computer science, was a fan of technologies that were hot half a century ago, including computer mainframes and software called COBOL that powered them. That thing won’t win any cool points in Silicon Valley, but it’s essential technology in big banks, insurance companies, government agencies and other big institutions.

During Mooney’s job search, potential employers saw his skill and wanted to talk about higher positions than he was looking for. “They’ll be really excited,” Mooney told me. He is now trying to decide between several job offers.

The strength of decades-old computer technology and the people who specialize in it shows that new technologies are often built on many old technologies.

If you deposit money using the iPhone app in your bank, behind the scenes it likely includes computers descended from those used in Apollo moon missions. (Also, half -century -old computer code was cooked into iPhone software.)

It is often seen as a problem or a punchline that too much shoulder technology is still available. But this doesn’t have to be an issue.

“If it doesn’t break, don’t fix it,” scoffs Ellora Praharaj, director of reliability engineering at Stack Overflow, an online forum popular with tech workers. “Students who are out of school nowadays don’t really want to work in bad old languages. But the reality of the world is that it dominates most of our existing systems. ”

Praharaj said he learned COBOL in college in the mid-2000s and “hated it.” But until about five years later, he regularly used a 1950s computer programming technology called Fortran in a former job in the financial services industry. Old things are everywhere.

Latin is dead, but the old computer programming language like COBOL is alive.

The average salary for a COBOL programmer jumped 44 percent last year to nearly $ 76,000, according to a salary survey from Stack Overflow. Self-reported fees are lower than people who use language software like Rust at $ 87,000, but this is the biggest increase in survey dollars.

(For fans of the data among us: Stack Overflow says the survey has a significant sample size but is not necessarily representative.)

It also shows everyone that computer nerds are subject to the fundamental dynamics of supply and demand. No group of people like Mooney wants to work on mainframes and COBOL; the constant demand for their skills gives them power. A job hunter who wants a “real-world” COBOL experience wrote recently on the tech bulletin board Hacker News, “COBOL devs are a special niche these days and they get paid accordingly.”

Of course, it’s hard to find anyone who believes Boomer technologies are the next big thing. Most university computer science programs do not focus on mainframes, COBOL or Fortran.

Year Up, an organization that trains young adults for jobs in the field of technology, told me it has stopped training COBOL. Potential employers have asked Year Up to focus its curriculum on newer and more widely used software programming languages ​​such as Java and Python.

Some people with years of experience with older technology say they are concerned that they are removing themselves from jobs with a lot of potential.

But computer science specialists have told me that even if they don’t recommend young people to dedicate themselves to old technologies, they can be a useful foundation. Inevitably, hot coding fads will now be replaced by something new. The key skill is learning how to keep learning, said Jukay Hsu, chief executive of Pursuit, a tech work force training venture.

Mooney became curious about computer programming while taking business courses at a community college. He said he started doing his Python accounting homework “for fun.” When he took a course taught by a specialist COBOL professor, Mooney found he liked it. He also feels welcomed by a community of mainframe computer die-hards who are excited to help a young novice.

“It’s been a great way for building my confidence and skills,” Mooney said.

The irony is that the COBOL designers never expected the software to last this long. As my colleague Steve Lohr wrote in an obituary for Jean Sammet, a COBOL designer, the software pioneers expected it to be a worthwhile halt until something better came along.

That was about 40 years before Mooney was born. The old things can happen after the next 40 years.


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