COBOL Education Why the Mainframe is Still Relevant

"The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated." - Mark Twain 


As Client Server Technologies surged in the mid 90's, the mainframe was predicted to be dead at or near the turn of the century. The debate still carries on throughout the world of IT. That debate has two sides. On one side are those who believe that the mainframe is obsolete and enterprise organizations are running into massive handicaps and maintenance drag with their legacy systems. On the other hand, the supporters claim that enterprise companies and government organizations are so reliant on these systems that it will be a long time if ever before they'll stop using them. Who is right? Both, perhaps. While we're seeing enterprise organizations move away from the mainframe, the truth of the matter is that it's far from irrelevant. Here are a few reasons that we're still offering mainframe skills and COBOL education and why we know that there is a huge demand for programmers in that realm. 

48% of those surveyed here said that they use COBOL "a lot" in their organizations. Not only are organizations still using it, but 53% of the same set of organizations said that they are currently using the language to develop new business applications. If you read the full article on the survey, the language remains a huge part of many organizations application development. Healthcare organizations also fall into the fan base, with this recent article written on why BlueCross BlueShield won't be walking away from their legacy systems and code.

It might sound a little strange, but according to this article, one government organization that was having issues with planning, deployment and maintenance on a Windows environment switched to a mainframe cloud environment and saw the following benefits:

  • Planning, deployment and maintenance of hardware and services done in hours vs. weeks
  • Lower costs enabled the expansion of database services for a fraction of the distributed costs
  • Improved performance and response time to end users
  • Sharing of resources with other state wide jurisdictions

As Baby Boomers prepare for retirement, it's already clear that there's going to be a massive shortage of mainframe and COBOL talent in the software development arena. In a recent ComputerWorld survey, 45% of respondents whose organizations use COBOL said their ability to hire programmers was "worse" or "much worse" than their ability to hire programmers for more modern languages. This problem will grow quickly in the United States because there are only 75 out of 4,084 higher learning institutes that teach COBOL.

baby programmer

ComputerWorld tells the story of Michael Vu, a young mainframe developer who saw opportunity in the growing talent shortage. They quote him, saying, "I know it's an old man's game, [but] I like the position of being a younger individual in the market." If you're looking to become a better programmer, learning this skills is a great start. 

It can be difficult to go against the grain. With .NET and Java established as the most popular languages for programmers in the last few years, it's a less popular decision to go to an older language. But the fact of the matter is that the best opportunities might be emerging in the mainframe arena.  After all, simple economics tell us that decreased supply increases demand, which places a premium on mainframe developers in the coming years. If one thing is certain, it's that people love careers where they can make a fantastic income - and it's clear that these mainframe programmers are headed in that direction.


Published January 6, 2016