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Retired Mainframe Pros Lured Back Into Workforce

ScuttleMonkey posted about 5 years ago | from the come-back-so-we-can-fire-you-again dept.

Businesses 223

itwbennett writes "Businesses that cut experienced mainframe administrators in an effort to cut costs inadvertently created a skills shortage that is coming back to bite them. Chris O'Malley, CA's mainframe business executive VP, says that mainframe workers were let go because 'it had no immediate effect and the organizations didn't expect to keep mainframes around.' But businesses have kept mainframes around and now they are struggling to find engineers. Prycroft Six managing director Greg Price, a mainframe veteran of some 45 years, put it this way: 'Mainframes are expensive, ergo businesses want to go to cheaper platforms, but [those platforms] have a lot of packaged overheads. If you do a total cost of ownership, the mainframe comes out cheaper, but since the costs of a mainframe are immediately obvious, it is hard to get it past the bean-counters of an organization.'"

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Not a new phenomenon (5, Interesting)

ls671 (1122017) | about 5 years ago | (#28655587)

As early as 2002, I started to half-jokingly tell young co-workers that were asking that they should learn COBOL as a way to insure them a prosperous career. ;-) Back then, most schools were removing or had removed COBOL programming from their course list.

I was half-jokingly telling them that by 2015 they should be earning 150-200K a year as a simple COBOL developer ;-)))

See this article from last year saying basically the same thing : []

Note: I am to old to start to learn COBOL, this is stuff for young people... ;-)

Re:Not a new phenomenon (1)

Philip K Dickhead (906971) | about 5 years ago | (#28655663)

It seems like JCL gurus might earn a killing, too.

Ohhhhh (4, Interesting)

zoomshorts (137587) | about 5 years ago | (#28655717)

I speak COBOL, FORTRAN and can do Job Control Language like an old pro, oh wait.
I also program in IBM 360/370 assembler. I'll bet that is almost a lost art.


Re:Ohhhhh (1)

lgw (121541) | about 5 years ago | (#28656069)

I'd take a 370 assembler job, if they existed! I enjoyed that more than any other language I've worked with. Heck, even with the old OS that ususally accompanies such work - threads? preemptive multitasking? Who needs em!

First Opensource?? (1)

tonyr60 (32153) | about 5 years ago | (#28656193)

I'd take a 370 assembler job, if they existed! I enjoyed that more than any other language I've worked with. Heck, even with the old OS that ususally accompanies such work - threads? preemptive multitasking? Who needs em!

From memory, IBM's 370 macros came with source and cool code was shared freely between mainframe shops.

Re:Ohhhhh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28656089)

trying to measure your nerd-wiener on slashdot is not however.

thanks for that great comment.

Re:Ohhhhh (1)

zoomshorts (137587) | about 5 years ago | (#28656201)

|-------------^-| Nerd Weenie-O-Meter

I was not all that hard either.

Re:Ohhhhh (1)

Tony-A (29931) | about 5 years ago | (#28656487)

Once upon a time I could even read the dumps. Nice orderly architecture, but that was in a former lifetime.

Re:Not a new phenomenon (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28655667)

Why would you higher a "Cobol" coder to program Cobol. A lot of web programmers work with 10+ languages, what's one more?

Re:Not a new phenomenon (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28655691)

Web "programmer"... Hahaha, good one!

Re:Not a new phenomenon (3, Informative)

kbrasee (1379057) | about 5 years ago | (#28655709)

Web "programmer"... Hahaha, good one!

Web programming != web interface design. Welcome to the 21st century.

Re:Not a new phenomenon (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28655781)

Web monkeys are a dime a dozen. Bet those mainframe dudes make 3x the cash.

Re:Not a new phenomenon (0, Troll)

kbrasee (1379057) | about 5 years ago | (#28655817)

It's not worth it, though.

Re:Not a new phenomenon (2, Informative)

naetuir (970044) | about 5 years ago | (#28656121)

"Web monkeys"?

Yeah. The monkey-kind are a dime a dozen. Which is proven by how many crappy web pages/applications there are out there. The non-monkey kind exist too. Just like the difference between script kiddies that "play" with their *nix boxes and real system administrators that know how to solve real world problems.

Those mainframe "dudes" as you put it, make similar to what good (read: proficient, non-monkey) web designers make. Moreover, I know several mainframe admins that make significantly less. It just depends on if you're actually good at what you do.

Re:Not a new phenomenon (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28655701)

Java , Cobol same thing.
OOP != Procedural
A slightly different mind set.

Re:Not a new phenomenon (3, Interesting)

mikael_j (106439) | about 5 years ago | (#28655703)

Perhaps because COBOL isn't very similar to python, PHP or vbscript?

(I regularly use python, PHP and vbscript at work and I've messed around with COBOL at home on a few occasions and while the language is by no means hard to grasp it is a bit peculiar and I could never stand working on a large COBOL project.)


Re:Not a new phenomenon (1)

Lord Bitman (95493) | about 5 years ago | (#28656103)

I assume I couldn't stand to work on a large COBOL project, but this is because every large COBOL project I've seen has been managed the same way it would be 35 years ago. Just because the language needs to be backwards-compatible doesn't mean the way you write and manage it needs to be, but "old talent" means "old mindsets" and "old mindsets" means "very resistant to change".

Re:Not a new phenomenon (4, Interesting)

lgw (121541) | about 5 years ago | (#28656119)

COBOL is an odd beast, with no pointer/references and barely even has the concept of arrays. It makes processing a stream of input records to create a stream of output records, with occasional DB updates along the way, very straightforward. It's fine at text-oriented work and formatting as well (I bet it would work fine to implement an AJAX backend). Anything else, not so much.

MULTIPLY FOO BY BAR GIVING QUX. - Actual math syntax (never used, I expect, but humorous).

odd beast (2, Interesting)

reiisi (1211052) | about 5 years ago | (#28656437)

Odd by today's standards.

No flow-of-control stack. No local variables.

Re:Not a new phenomenon (3, Interesting)

Opportunist (166417) | about 5 years ago | (#28656415)

So you don't like working with COBOL. I haven't ever heard of a "small COBOL project".

Re:Not a new phenomenon (0)

mikael_j (106439) | about 5 years ago | (#28656433)

I don't doubt it, another good reason for me not to become a COBOL coder, I prefer the elegant simplicity of Python...


Re:Not a new phenomenon (2, Informative)

fishbowl (7759) | about 5 years ago | (#28656705)

I think it's less an issue of the language as the kind of applications that were developed in that language. For example, the last shop I worked at that had COBOL, had a *LOT* of COBOL, and it had been developed *along with* the policies and procedures and business rules of, among other things, the global supply chain for an oil and gas exploration company. You couldn't work with this stuff if you didn't know both the development platform *and* the business. I suspect it's just as hard to find someone who really knows the business (some of those people had been in the business since before it was ever computerized at all), as to find someone who knows how to program computers.

Re:Not a new phenomenon (2, Funny)

cyber-vandal (148830) | about 5 years ago | (#28655957)

What would the advantage be in highering a coder? It would be more difficult to reach the keyboard for a start.

Re:Not a new phenomenon (1)

khellendros1984 (792761) | about 5 years ago | (#28656531)

What would be the advantage of highering a coder? The exact opposite of the advantage of lowering one, of course.

Re:Not a new phenomenon (5, Funny)

ls671 (1122017) | about 5 years ago | (#28656111)

> Why would you higher a "Cobol" coder to program Cobol

Because most "web programmers" we know of do not know how to spell. Our COBOL programming interface (terminal based) doesn't have auto-completion or auto-correction features so misspelled words cause errors only when the programmer hits the compile key.

Compiler errors are cryptic and it takes a lot of time to find and fix the misspellings. So even if the logic of the code was flawless (for which we also have doubts), simple spelling errors cost us too much money thus making HIRING web developers a non viable alternative for us.

10+ languages? (0)

reiisi (1211052) | about 5 years ago | (#28656545)

Nobody really knows 10+ languages. Some people have a good ability to guess which library functions to call in a certain specific context.

It's kind of like being able to "Hello, where's the facilities?" and read carburetor manuals in ten different languages. You know the field, and you learn enough to do a little handshake conversation with the people.

And, in this case, it's like knowing how to get around in your niche in ten Latin family languages and talking about learning enough, say, Japanese, to go there and try to work as an engineering manager on products for the Japanese market.

Although that example might not hit home if you're the kind of guy who thinks knowing the word "kiai" makes you both a jiujutsu master and a Japanese master.

I have seen C written like good CoBOL. You will not see CoBOL written like good C.

Re:Not a new phenomenon (1)

Lord Ender (156273) | about 5 years ago | (#28655851)

Being a maintenance programmer sucks. Designing is fun, and modern languages are far less tedious than their ancestors.

But bloody hell, if I can make six figures writing cobol, I'll grab myself a cobol book and quit this programming job. A sucky day job isn't so bad when it means you can retire a decade earlier than otherwise.

Re:Not a new phenomenon (4, Funny)

mcrbids (148650) | about 5 years ago | (#28655913)

But bloody hell, if I can make six figures writing cobol, I'll grab myself a cobol book and quit this programming job. A sucky day job isn't so bad when it means you can retire a decade earlier than otherwise.

My advice for new programmers has been exactly this: learn COBOL, study mainframes, move to large cities, make big bucks. Sure, you'll want to gouge your eyes out with a fork, but then you'll be able to afford to have robotic eyes grafted back in!

As a second, I recommend that they learn Unix skills, c, and databases. Still lots of money there, and your original eyeballs will last longer. (It's the path I chose, and I do quite well for myself)

be prepared (2, Interesting)

reiisi (1211052) | about 5 years ago | (#28656601)

You not only have to know the application field pretty well (or have the bent to intuit it), but you will have to get used to living without local variables and to a one-call-deep call stack.

Don't ignore the naming conventions. It's what they do to work around the lack of re-entrance.

And never, never, never try anything fancy. If you can't keep the state machine in your head, trying to debug it interactively will eat your lunch and your breakfast, dinner, and midnight snacks, as well.

Oblig. Ref. (4, Funny)

dugrrr (582161) | about 5 years ago | (#28655907)

from BSG: "Any return to COBOL will exact a price paid in blood."

Obligatory Followup (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28656049)

There was a programmer back in the 1990's that didn't want to mess with the whole Y2K issue. So he cryogenically had himself frozen, hoping that some day (after Y2K) he would be revived and live out his days peacefully.

Some years later, sure enough he wakes up. Asking the nearest person what year it is, they reply, "It's the year 9999 and we need a COBOL programmer to help with this Y10K problem!"

Yeah, it's an old joke. Now GOML!

Re:Not a new phenomenon (1)

Lonewolf666 (259450) | about 5 years ago | (#28656277)

Sounds familiar. In 1997 I took a course in system administration, and one of the other students there told me a similar anecdote:
If you believe that guy, a few years ago, DEC had fired a bunch of experienced big iron programmers (albeit with nice severance packages). Later they found that their newly hired developers were good on PCs but had not much knowledge about mainframes. DEC ended up hiring the old guys back as consultants ;-)

Re:Not a new phenomenon (1)

fishbowl (7759) | about 5 years ago | (#28656681)

The scenario you describe, literally happened at HP with some of the Convex programmers, one of whom also happened to be my unix guru.

Re:Not a new phenomenon (3, Informative)

Greyfox (87712) | about 5 years ago | (#28656371)

I was subjected to 3 semesters of that crap in college, which caused me to set my price for doing COBOL programming to $300/Hour (USD). It's an awful language which you write using awful tools in an awful operating system.

I rather like mainframes in general though. Hell I can at least tolerate Fortran if it comes down to it. COBOL... not so much.

Re:Not a new phenomenon (1)

fishbowl (7759) | about 5 years ago | (#28656655)

Better than learning COBOL is to learn the business concepts that have historically been coded in COBOL.

i hear that linux users... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28655687)

i hear linux users are picking up part time work as homosexual male prostitutes. they're not doing it for the money but just to get pounded up the ass.

faggots need to die!

Re:i hear that linux users... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28655715)


Here is to.... (0, Troll)

alexborges (313924) | about 5 years ago | (#28655721)

hoping they hire them back to FUCKING MIGRATE ALREADY!

If Mainframe does not die by itself, we should kill it for the sake of the world.

Re:Here is to.... (5, Insightful)

1c3mAn (532820) | about 5 years ago | (#28655889)

The Mainframe does it job and does it well. Nothing comes close in Data Throughput Processing with the amount of reliability that a mainframe brings.

Computer 'Experts' have been saying that the mainframe is dead since the early 90s, but here we are 20 years later and I still have a job programming for it, and I don't see it going away anytime soon. Small to mid-level servers just don't have the capacity to deal with the growing about of data generated. Fedex does in the neighborhood of 2 billion transactions a day, you cant just wipe together a Beowulf Cluster and think it will do the job reliably.

Or the better question is. How much do you trust the Federal Reserve to run all its processing on Windows machines. Or Wall Street. Ever consider if a transaction there is 'lost' because a windows blue screen? Even linux machines arent as dependable as a Mainframe. The IBM Z boxes actually have their own redundant parts included in them already. Not to mention that it will phone in its own tech support request.

Mainframes are not for everyone, but they do fulfill their job well when you do need them.

There are also enough tools out there like SOA so that even Java "Kids" can write applications for them easily.

Mainframes run the world.

Re:Here is to.... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28656281)

Even linux machines arent as dependable as a Mainframe.

Can we please get over this concept that Linux is more reliable than Windows? The only reason this appears to be true is because there are a ton of idiots out there installing every widget they can get their hands on and downloading pr0n.

A well maintained Windows box is every bit as solid as Linux if not more so. The losers on here that claim they can't keep a Windows box virus free for more than 30 seconds on a broadband connection are either shills or they don't know shit about Windows.

I've been running Windows since Win 95 and I've never gotten a virus nor any malware. At the same time I've never seen a Linux install work correctly out of the box either but I can admit that I'm not a Linux user so I'm not expecting miracles.

Re:Here is to.... (1)

AnodeCathode (787159) | about 5 years ago | (#28656367)

How many mainframes does Google run? How is their data throughput doing?

Google? (1)

reiisi (1211052) | about 5 years ago | (#28656613)

How many banks are running on Google's systems?

Re:Here is to.... (2, Informative)

ckaminski (82854) | about 5 years ago | (#28655891)

Easier said than done, matey. Some of these systems are running engines that cause me to cower. I have had issues with SQL/Oracle databases and the financial apps of companies that can afford a few hours, or even days downtime. Systems where it was feasible to run two separate versions at once with duplicate data entry.

I've only run theoretical experiments with some of the systems in other companies I've worked at that COULDN'T go down, except for very special periods of time (easter and christmas and new years), oddly enough, enough of the world isn't working those weekends that you can shut down.

I can't imagine taking down the backends of the likes of Bank of America or Citibank. I lived through the quagmire that was the BankBoston/Fleet merger, and they fucked that up royally. And that's just merging systems, not wholesale replacement.

Good F*ing Luck to you.

Don't forget the Sunday restart (1)

msobkow (48369) | about 5 years ago | (#28656377)

Every bank I worked for (and Telco, for that matter) does a reboot of it's Unix and Windows boxen, and a restart of the mainframe regions on Sunday morning. The systems are unavailable for 4-8 hours, depending on the system in question.

Software updates and patches are rolled immediately after that image backup and restart, so that there is an image to roll back to in case of problems.

Unlike your experience, Christmas/Year End is a "freeze" where only emergency patches can be done.

Re:Don't forget the Sunday restart (2, Informative)

baegucb (18706) | about 5 years ago | (#28656721)

There realt isn't a reason to "restart" an IBM mainframe. LPARS are IPL'd every few months if there is a major PTF or such going in. But that only happens a few times a year (depending on your use of the system). I've got 30+ years in on them and their reliabilty is incredivle In the past 7 years we've had 2 unscheduled IPLs that I can remember. Here is our next upgrade, scheduled to be put in in 2 weeks: []
That would be the first time our mainframe has been completely shut down in years. The disk drives need to be recabled for the upgrade. And for those who want a car analogy, I don't have one. But I view the mainframe as a 747, *NIX as fighter jets, and Windows servers as prop planes. They all fly, but all have different purposes.

Re:Here is to.... (4, Insightful)

sexconker (1179573) | about 5 years ago | (#28655895)

Uh, why?

Mainframes are fucking rock solid, reliable pieces of equipment.

They do the damned job like nobody's business.
The only issue with mainframes is that we haven't kept the people along with the software we chose to run on them decades ago.

Re:Here is to.... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28656065)

From The Tao of Programming:

There was once a programmer who worked upon microprocessors. ``Look at how well off I am here,'' he said to a mainframe programmer who came to visit, ``I have my own operating system and file storage device. I do not have to share my resources with anyone. The software is self- consistent and easy-to-use. Why do you not quit your present job and join me here?''

The mainframe programmer then began to describe his system to his friend, saying ``The mainframe sits like an ancient sage meditating in the midst of the data center. Its disk drives lie end-to-end like a great ocean of machinery. The software is as multifaceted as a diamond, and as convoluted as a primeval jungle. The programs, each unique, move through the system like a swift-flowing river. That is why I am happy where I am.''

The microcomputer programmer, upon hearing this, fell silent. But the two programmers remained friends until the end of their days.

Re:Here is to.... (2, Funny)

the linux geek (799780) | about 5 years ago | (#28656697)

Also from the Tao of Programming: The Tao gave birth to machine language. Machine language gave birth to the assembler. The assembler gave birth to the compiler. Now there are ten thousand languages. Each language has its purpose, however humble. Each language expresses the Yin and Yang of software. Each language has its place within the Tao. But do not program in COBOL if you can avoid it.

Re:Here is to.... (1)

Lord Bitman (95493) | about 5 years ago | (#28656217)

People die. That's a fact you need to work into any business decisions that have impact for more than 10 years.

To replace people, you need new people. And new people like to work with new technology. Mainframes (the hardware) do their job damn well, but mainframes (the software) are stuck so far in the past you can't even see it. A memory that will always stick with me is seeing a nervous girl fresh out of college (maybe even in college) trying to explain to a room full of 60-year-olds an exciting new feature of the next release of COBOL- which I'm almost entirely sure was: A "FOR" LOOP (it may have even been a "for each" loop)

the software doesn't work because the software is good. It's not. The software works because so much is riding on it working- it's tested a LOT more than anything released on the web.
A website has an error, the people viewing that page are inconvenienced for five minutes while someone responds to an e-mail and removes a stray semicolon. A ten-thousand-transactions-per-second program has an error, and you've got problems.

Teaching UNIX security experts to use mainframes (1, Informative)

qbzzt (11136) | about 5 years ago | (#28655799)

If you'll excuse the shameless self promotion, this book teaches UNIX security people how to use Mainframes: []

Cobol vs. Data Entry (3, Insightful)

c0d3r (156687) | about 5 years ago | (#28655809)

I learned and taught cobol for awhile, and i can say that cobol is not too far from data entry. It is way too much work to do simple things, and it is way too weak of a language for most things. Its functionality is low that it takes a lot of code to implement simple things. The compiler gives you weird error messages. The language is archane. It is a very miserable language to write in, and I wouldn't code in it for less than several hundreds of dollars per hour, just because its so boring and takes way too much typing to do simple things that would be a snap in other languages.

Re:Cobol vs. Data Entry (1)

timmarhy (659436) | about 5 years ago | (#28655887)

it's no worse than C and many people use that every day. COBOL runs many many bank's accounting systems and has been doing it for decades, so it must have something going for it. i think the summary is right - people are crazy not to get into this field, mainframes are here to stay inspite of what many people think is a dead technology. in many cases ONLY a mainframe can do the work.

Re:Cobol vs. Data Entry (4, Informative)

Qzukk (229616) | about 5 years ago | (#28656015)

no worse than C

Except for C having "+" "-" and "=" instead of "MULTIPLY units AND cost GIVING total"

If Perl is the archetypal "write only" language, COBOL is the one true "read only" language.

people are crazy not to get into this field

The whole point of TFA was that entry level jobs where people could "get in" went away, then all the senior staff retired or expired, leaving the companies with nothing.

Re:Cobol vs. Data Entry (2, Interesting)

mikael_j (106439) | about 5 years ago | (#28656051)

The whole point of TFA was that entry level jobs where people could "get in" went away, then all the senior staff retired or expired, leaving the companies with nothing.

I'd have to say that this is by no means unique for mainframe developers/admins, here in Sweden it seemed like no one was hiring entry-level coders or admins between 2002 and 2008 or so (it seems to have picked up now as companies realise that entry-level coders and admins can be paid less than some guy with 10+ years experience).

Of course, if you looked in the job ads you could easily have been fooled into thinking there were plenty of entry-level jobs, until you read the requirements for just about every entry-level job, somehow a Master's degree and 3+ years of experience was considered "entry-level".


Re:Cobol vs. Data Entry (1)

McSnarf (676600) | about 5 years ago | (#28656259)

COBOL has COMPUTE (which will give you +, -, * and /.)


Re:Cobol vs. Data Entry (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28656305)

Except for C having "+" "-" and "=" instead of "MULTIPLY units AND cost GIVING total"

So...instead of doing the sensible thing in COBOL ("COMPUTE TOTAL = UNITS * COST.") you would rather do this in C: "total = units * cost;"

I'm 22 and was hired 2 years ago as a COBOL programmer. The best part of working with COBOL is the same as working with any other language (to me, at least): Pushing the boundaries of what people think can be done with it.

Re:Cobol vs. Data Entry (1)

SirLurksAlot (1169039) | about 5 years ago | (#28656603)

The best part of working with COBOL is the same as working with any other language (to me, at least): Pushing the boundaries of what people think can be done with it.

The 70's called, they want their boundaries back.

I had a (small) window of opportunity to do some work in mainframe COBOL at one point. After taking a tour of the IS department of a major insurance company (which turned out to be a 2nd level basement where everything was a grimy yellow), seeing the tools I'd be using (TSO, JCL, CICS, etc), and getting a peak at their monstrosity of a codebase I turned and ran the other way never to look back. Kudos to you if you can work in a language like COBOL with tools like that with all that legacy code but you couldn't pay me enough to do that work. There are plenty of opportunities to use modern languages (at companies with actual windows!) and sooner or later all that COBOL will get translated into something more modern (this is already happening at said insurance company). I'll be more than happy to pick up the work at that point.

boundaries (1)

reiisi (1211052) | about 5 years ago | (#28656707)

FWIW, there have been a lot of attempts to modernize CoBOL, new coding environments, objects, etc.

I don't have enough experience with what they're doing (don't want to have that experience, I guess.) to know what they've done about reentrancy, but I suspect that the whole concept of reentrancy is foreign to the very people who like the grammar and syntax of CoBOL.

Re:Cobol vs. Data Entry (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | about 5 years ago | (#28655901)

Might I add one point, since this about programming on mainframes. Ken Thompson once said:

"Using TSO is like kicking a dead whale along the beach!"

Actually, TFA was about sysadmins, and not programmers.

Re:Cobol vs. Data Entry (4, Interesting)

JPLemme (106723) | about 5 years ago | (#28655931)

And don't forget that in COBOL, not only is all of your data global to your program, in a typical batch cycle all of the data is global to ALL of the programs.

I used to hate discovering that field XYZ was being modified in jobs that were completely unrelated to XYZ, because the programmer was too lazy to check the appropriate code out of the repository. "Why bother? I can make the change right here and it'll work just fine!"

My favorite line was "Being on a COBOL dev team is like living in a dorm."

Re:Cobol vs. Data Entry (1)

Lennie (16154) | about 5 years ago | (#28656057)

Mainframes have 3 levels of virtualization, why do you run all these programs in the same memory space ?

Re:Cobol vs. Data Entry (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 5 years ago | (#28656429)

"Because it works on my end, gotta be a problem on yours"

Never heard that?

3 deep stack? (1)

reiisi (1211052) | about 5 years ago | (#28656659)

Yeah, I know it's an over-simplification, but do remember that your virtualization is one of the tools CoBOL programers use to get around its non-reentrant nature.

"... like living in a dorm." (1)

reiisi (1211052) | about 5 years ago | (#28656667)


Good analogy.

Re:Cobol vs. Data Entry (1)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | about 5 years ago | (#28655935)

It is a very miserable language to write in, and I wouldn't code in it for less than several hundreds of dollars per hour, just because its so boring and takes way too much typing to do simple things that would be a snap in other languages.

Couldn't you write in a more concise language, and have a simple compiler generate the equivalent COBOL code?

Even if it couldn't reverse-translate existing COBOL code, it could make your life a lot easier for newly written code.

Re:Cobol vs. Data Entry (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about 5 years ago | (#28656337)

While my solution to not liking the language other people are using is to write a new ABI-compatible compiler, I'm told that most of industry frowns upon each developer in a team using his or her own language.

Re:Cobol vs. Data Entry (1)

MindStalker (22827) | about 5 years ago | (#28655977)

I wonder if a sorta COBOL decompiler would be helpful. Something that would interpret COBOL into a modern language with 100% perfection (not neccesarily perfection in looking good but perfection in producing the same program bug for bug) ?? IS this possible?

Re:Cobol vs. Data Entry (1)

mabhatter654 (561290) | about 5 years ago | (#28656145)

They have those for RPG that translate the code into Java...and keep the original RPG as comments for reference. I'd guess they have those for Cobol too.

The problem I see is that companies still don't have time to refactor that Java into something useful... so it's just "beginner" level java, copying the code. Also, those languages have little things that are direct data structures and processing modes that were emulations of old hardware and have no equivalent representation in a language like Java without recreating crazy objects.

Re:Cobol vs. Data Entry (1)

lgw (121541) | about 5 years ago | (#28656181)

Cross compilers aren't hard, but the code they produce isn't at all easy to maintain. It's going to be far easier to maintain the COBOL than to maintain Java automatically generated from COBOL (well, right up until you can't buy a COBOL compiler for your platform).

I've had to support code in one language that was automatically generated from another, and it is really a last resort.

Re:Cobol vs. Data Entry (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28656333)

Re:Mainframe or Cloud computing or VM's? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28656023)

You think the problem is coding, no it's the issue of a totally new harware and software costs. The mainframes may be relatively easy to convert... if only they knew what they did.

Re-engineering any complex system takes investment over a long period of time (documenting all processes and how it is achieved). Then any system can be copied using a experienced software engineer and possibly team of developers / testers.

But as building software seems less reliable than building anything else in the physical world (% of projects that fail), management may still be reluctant to "re-invent the wheel". Even if you say it's quicker and cheaper to redo, there has to be a business case put to the people that make the decisions. All too often workers dont do this and spent all their time working, not putting forward the need for further development.

I would have thought it's human nature to see IT staff and skills as a cost saving (when things were working fine). Then you are always going to get this situation where old IT skills are necessary?

Re:Cobol vs. Data Entry (1)

farmkid (15226) | about 5 years ago | (#28656157)

Your point about the language is right, but, hey, it was originally conceived as a COmmon Business Oriented Language, i.e. report generator. Like the first language I learned, RPG (and no, it wasn't related to role playing games) it does mundane things like tabulating columnar data reasonably well, and anything else with excruciating pain. If at all.

But mainframes aren't just about the obsolete languages we associate with them; they're a rock-solid platform for a lot of things that were never foreseen forty years ago. Heck, you can run a bunch of virtual Linux instances with a lot more faith in the underlying platform than you can on Intel. This, and not COBOL, is why they're still around and still popular.

Re:Cobol vs. Data Entry (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 5 years ago | (#28656249)

And yet, for all the dissing you and other posters give COBOL - you can't ignore one salient fact: It's powered some pretty high power systems for decades. As the commercial says - "like a rock".

Re:Cobol vs. Data Entry (2, Insightful)

Opportunist (166417) | about 5 years ago | (#28656447)

Which is allright if you're Sisyphus...

Re:Cobol vs. Data Entry (2, Funny)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | about 5 years ago | (#28656543)

What do you mean? COBOL is such an easy language, it uses natural sentence construction. Why do you need specialized programmers, anyway? It can be easily used by managers to generate reports and suchlike.

There's this new language on the horizon, though - it "basically" makes programming a snap for non-programmers, and is likely to eliminate the job of programmers entirely except for a few high-level system engineering projects.

I wonder... (3, Funny)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 5 years ago | (#28655827)

If recruitment would be any easier if the offer included the right to shout "Where is your 'right-sizing' now, bitches?" into the face of the nearest PHB at will, in addition to the fat salary?

Re:I wonder... (5, Funny)

John Hasler (414242) | about 5 years ago | (#28655983)

"Sam? Sam, this is Frank, CIO back at Engulf and Devour. How is the transition away from the mainframe going? Well, listen. That's what I'm calling about. Yes, yes, I know you're retired, but the cloud isn't working out quite as we'd planned, what with the economy and all, and the kids are having a bit of trouble keeping ol' Betsy going. Yes, I did read that memo you wrote, and it turns out you had some good points. Listen, would you be up for a bit of consulting? Say, $100/hr, 100 hours minimum? Oh. That much? And a car and driver? Well, I'm afraid my budget won't quite stretch that far...No! Please don't hang up! Let me talk to the CEO and get back to you, ok? Please?"

Re:I wonder... (1)

bryan1945 (301828) | about 5 years ago | (#28656221)

While funny, also too true. Kicking someone in the rear in business often has the downside of the kick being returned. Usually harder.

Interesting article considering how netbooks are taking off. "Users don't need all that power" argument. Pops up every 10 years of so (who ran those ads "The network is the machine"?) Yes, they do have their niche. Just doesn't fit mine.

Re:I wonder... (1)

Fulcrum of Evil (560260) | about 5 years ago | (#28656381)

Hey, as soon as I can do something akin to remote hosted agents, I won't need a powerful desktop. I figure we'll get something like that in a decade or two, but until then I have to do a lot of things myself.

Re:I wonder... (0, Redundant)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | about 5 years ago | (#28656269)

Say, $100/hr, 100 hours minimum? Oh. That much?

That's peanuts. Look at what the professional services organizations of places like IBM and HP charge for high-quality engineers - ~$300/hr to start.

Re:I wonder... (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 5 years ago | (#28656463)

Yeah, but how much of that is lost in the brass and overhead? I'd be VERY surprised if the tech actually doing the work (which would be the case with the consultant being hired back) gets anything close to those 100 bucks/h

Re:I wonder... (1)

John Hasler (414242) | about 5 years ago | (#28656535)

Sam is going to get a *lot* more than $100/hr. He also is going to keep reminding the CEO of that memo he wrote.

Re:I wonder... (1)

John Hasler (414242) | about 5 years ago | (#28656503)

Um, the $100/hr is Frank's initial offer. Of *course* it's peanuts. I thought I made it clear that Sam rejected it. We're not saying what Sam's demand was: just that Frank felt that he had to talk to the CEO before meeting it.

Of course, Sam could have just laughed and hung up...

VAX (2)

C_Kode (102755) | about 5 years ago | (#28655893)

We were just discussing VAX at work. I personally never got to work on one, but a guy I work with grew up learning on them. He said only guys his age really knew much about VAX and I said he was wrong as several guys I grew up with worked at banks that used them.

Mainfames are like Cobol, they aren't going away until the systems that use them die.

Re:VAX (2, Informative)

John Hasler (414242) | about 5 years ago | (#28656001)

A VAX is not a mainframe.

Re:VAX (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28656115)

A VAX is not a mainframe.

but but but VAX assembler is easier to write than COBOL!

COBOL is the reason that structured OO languages like SmallTalk & Java came into being.
ClodBall is a very good, bad example of a computer lauguage.

The second high level programming language is showing its age!

Re:VAX (1)

lgw (121541) | about 5 years ago | (#28656229)

A Vax is a minicomputer. The minicomputers really are dying. None of them are being made now, unless you count IBMs successor to the AS/400 (the iSeries?).

OTOH, Big Iron still owns the business computing high end, with no real threat yet in sight.

VMS lives on! (1)

_merlin (160982) | about 5 years ago | (#28656635)

VAX may be dead, but VMS is still very much alive. The popular OMX trading system runs on VMS/Itanium. It's the backend of many stock exchanges, including NASDAQ, ASX and HKEx derivatives. The systems seem very reliable with decent performance. (Definitely better than that .NET-based TradElect crap the LSE is now trying to drop like a hot potato.)

true story (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28655909)

i'm a faggot

Mainframes (1)

fatbuttlarry (1347443) | about 5 years ago | (#28655963)

I see VMWare bringing back a lot of the mainframe hardware concepts, such as: - Huge fricken box - Everything in the company runs on it As far as the "legacy" mainframe languages... IBM is still releasing OS updates to it's OS/400. Many business critical applications are still running strong in "legacy" programming languages like RPG. To name one... Bally's (yeah the same as the fitness center company) sells one of the leading CRMs in the Casino industry... running on a green console.

Run-on sentence FTW (2, Insightful)

steveha (103154) | about 5 years ago | (#28655973)

O'Malley said in 2000 there were more people in system programming than there are today despite the workloads having quadrupled which is quite an anomaly.

This is an actual sentence from the story. I guess reporters don't need to learn how to use clauses, and editors don't edit.

If E. B. White [] were alive today, he'd be spinning in his grave.


Umm...H1-b's are already on the job (1)

hemp (36945) | about 5 years ago | (#28656237) []



June 28, 2009 --

It's a geek tragedy

While the city vows to save and create jobs for recession-ravaged New Yorkers,
one of its biggest contractors is importing techies from India, instead of
hiring local computer nerds.


"It was a dream come true," said Sunny Amin, 25, who traveled from his Mumbai
home to the Big Apple -- his first US visit.

Amin, who has an engineering degree from a college in Aurangabad, landed his
first job with IBM-India.


Finance spokesman Sam Miller defended the contract.

"Our systems are so old that there are not many companies that have the
ability to work on them. IBM does," he said.

Surprisingly, NY City can't find any American's to work on these COBOL systems, but 25 year olds in India have the experience necessary.

Language gender (1, Insightful)

oldhack (1037484) | about 5 years ago | (#28656285)

You know how Cobol is uber verbose? Guess who were programming way back when: female secretaries.

You see C with its almost autistic terseness? Who are using it? Buncha (male) nerds who can't talk.

What's my point?

I'll tell you after my next shot.

How much Scotch do I need to drink before I become an honorary Scot?

Re:Language gender (1)

oldhack (1037484) | about 5 years ago | (#28656461)

Ok, I'm back.

The point is, highland malt is it. Unless you want that smokey peaty stuff.

Please retire and let someone else do it (1)

Xenious (24845) | about 5 years ago | (#28656335)

Actually it is a problem that we can't get and keep the boomers retired. We will be the squeezed generation because they will hang on until they die and by then the younger ones will be kicking us out. No generational mindsets can change until people leave the workforce.

Re:Please retire and let someone else do it (1)

John Hasler (414242) | about 5 years ago | (#28656593)

Boy, that really tugs at my heartstrings. Poor helpless little children, trapped between generations. Sob.

Here's a suggestion: go to vo-tech and learn to weld. Or clean teeth.

Anonymous Coward (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28656347)

From experience, just because you migrate from a mainframe doesn't necessarily mean you migrate from COBOL.

In the last mainframe environment I worked in, we ditched the "Big Blue Box" and put everything on an IBM Z-Series server running SCO-Unix.

We just emulated the environment. The OS was the same old junk and COBOL was still a bear to deal with.

We were able to run 4 mainframe "environments" though from this itsy-bitsy (comparably) server though...

Different types of money (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28656353)

Look at the silly, greedy business people trying to rehire retired COBOL coders...teeheehee.

I've experienced cases where packaged commercial products were avoided (although ideal for the purpose) in favor or using "in-house" coders because the former ends up under "capital" on the ledger. The silly, greedy business people figured keeping staff was the better option.

Of course, around /. it's take the pro-worker case for granted, as if every decision that eliminates a position is a silly greed business person mistake...teeheehee

grow up.

The modern mainframe - Who cares about COBOL? (5, Interesting)

Ken Hall (40554) | about 5 years ago | (#28656455)

I went from UNIX in the late 1970's to mainframe zOS (MVS/OS) to VM and Linux on the mainframe. Anything you can do on an Intel box (or a room full of them), you can do on a mainframe, cheaper and more reliably, once you get past the first big financial hit. I've seen the so-called cost studies that supposedly show the room full of Intel white boxes are cheaper. Once you factor in the "unseen" costs, like the article says, and get past the startup, the mainframe looks VERY good.

Current mainframes aren't what people remember from the past. They're (physically) small, agile, and well suited to certain workloads (can you do 256 concurrent DMA transfers on an Intel box?). The problem is, the only companies that seem to be able to justify them for new workloads are ones that already have them for legacy work. IBM hasn't shown much interest in the low-end of the market (sell small boxen, then discontinue them, push licensed emulation, then kill it, etc).

Our biggest problem is finding people who know the technologies. I give classes to our Linux SA's on this, and they're usually surprised at what the current zSeries boxes can do.

Don't misunderstand, there are plenty of applications where Intel boxes make sense, I work both sides of the fence. I just hate to see mainframes maligned as "obsolete" by people who don't understand what they are now.

If I had to pick... (2, Insightful)

BSDetector (1056962) | about 5 years ago | (#28656527)

If I had to pick hardware and software as if my life depended on it - it would be an IBM mainframe with the latest and greatest version of MVS (or whatever the current name of it is) on it.
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