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US CIO/CTO: Idea of Hiring COBOL Coders Laughable

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the lords-of-cobol-hear-my-prayers dept.

Government 265

theodp writes "If you're a COBOL programmer, you're apparently persona non grata in the eyes of the nation's Chief Information and Chief Technology Officers. Discussing new government technology initiatives at the TechCrunch Disrupt Conference, Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel quipped, 'I'm recruiting COBOL developers, any out there?,' sending Federal CTO Todd Park into fits of laughter (video). Lest anyone think he was serious about hiring the old fogies, VanRoekel added: 'Trust me, we still have it in the Federal government, which is quite, quite scary.' So what are VanRoekel and Park looking for? 'Bad a** innovators — the baddest a** of the bad a**es out there,' Park explained (video), 'to design, create, and kick a** for America.' Within 24 hours of VanRoekel's and Park's announcement, 600 people had applied to be Presidential Innovation Fellows."

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Pfffffttttttttt (2, Insightful)

dcollins (135727) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122227)

Another example in a fine history of mindless government bigger-dick wagging. Pretty close to being up there with: "Mission Accomplished" and "Bring 'Em On".

Re:Pfffffttttttttt (4, Funny)

Johann Lau (1040920) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122727)

"to design, create, and kick a** for America"

As George Carlin knew, that's actually code for bending over and taking the whole thing without lube, then mumbling "thank you" while whipping out your wallet.

Re:Pfffffttttttttt (3, Funny)

hairyfeet (841228) | more than 2 years ago | (#40123051)

Am I the only one who thought "Idiocracy" when watching that?

a**? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40122241)

You mean ass. No need for silly regular expressions.

Re:a**? (4, Funny)

isopropanol (1936936) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122359)

No, not ass, but nothing or any number of a's

Re:a**? (4, Funny)

toriver (11308) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122423)

Or maybe a double pointer of (cryptic) type a? These programming languages are weird.

Re:a**? (2)

aynoknman (1071612) | more than 2 years ago | (#40123109)

Hmm, how would you say that in COBOL?

Of course they are not in the TechCrunch audience (4, Insightful)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122243)

I'm recruiting COBOL developers, any out there?

They are out doing obscenely high-paid consultant and maintenance work for banks, insurance companies, etc.

I had planned on doing the same thing with C development, but those damn meddling Apple kids have made C popular again.

Re:Of course they are not in the TechCrunch audien (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40122749)

Yeah, you're going to have to wait your turn until the rest of us will be done doing the same thing after we retire. We're older than you, we planned to do this before you, so you'll have to wait your turn.

Re:Of course they are not in the TechCrunch audien (4, Interesting)

Paracelcus (151056) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122895)

Except when some dumbass kid writes that older coders can get "obscenely high-paid" work of any kind! In the tech industry seeing ANYBODY over 50 working (even on a short term contract) is a rarity and probably a fluke! And seeing a 60+ COBOL programmer implies that you are hallucinating!

Good luck with that... (5, Insightful)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122265)

I'm sorry to re-post the same comment from another story, but in this case it seems very apropos:

Agreed. As someone who's worked for the U.S. federal government, the amount of effort required to comply with various directives, even to accomplish the most basic of tasks, is maddening.

For example, suppose you needed to order some laptops for your developers, and some compilers as well. Private sector: 4 hours to shop around, and you'd have the order fulfilled in about 3 weeks. Most of that delay would be for custom builds of the laptops by Dell, HP, etc.

In the government: 20 man-hours gathering competitive bids from 3 vendors who agree to work under the pricing schedule your agency requires. 4 man-hours / 2 calendar days ensuring the order complies with Clinger-Cohen and Section 508 regulations. 20 man-hours / 2 calendar weeks getting permission to place the order from one approving authority. Another month going back-and-forth with another approving authority. Then the order gets placed.

The opportunity costs and labor costs associated with the effort and delays in getting s**t done in the federal government is mind-numbing. When feds get bashed for having, in some cases, more costly compensation packages than the private sector, there's one factor that rarely comes up in conversation: any competent software developer will demand a pay premium in exchange for putting up with this soul-sucking crap on a daily basis.

Re:Good luck with that... (2)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122277)

Point being, the Federal government has an unimaginable capacity for shackling very good programmers, and sucking their capacity for excellence. That might explain why the federal government gets such mediocre results (at best), despite making a decent effort to hire from MIT, etc.

Re:Good luck with that... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40122337)

You must not have a manager who cares about building your career, or maybe you aren't sufficiently motivated to move up. Might want to find a new boss or an injection of testosterone to get the juices flowing.

Re:Good luck with that... (2)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122439)

This is the problem. It's not about 'moving up' or 'building a career.' Unshackling your programmers means leaving them free to create great stuff. Career is a separate problem.

Wrong priorities! (4, Insightful)

bradley13 (1118935) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122509)

Most good coders are not going to be hugely interested in whether they are a GS-12 or if they have a shot at moving to GS-13. They want decent pay, good working conditions and colleagues, and interesting projects.

There are good people (and great bosses) in the federal government. The problem is that there is also a huge amount of dead weight: petty people building their personal little empires and playing pathetic office politics. The "iron rule of bureaucracy" will not be denied - even if you are lucky enough to work in a super organization, don't worry: its soul will eventually be sucked out by bureaucrats interested only in extending the bureaucracy.

This is why government organizations should be kept to a minimum. In industry, when the deadwood has accumulated, either it gets cleared out or the company dies. In government, you just get a funding increase.

Re:Wrong priorities! (5, Insightful)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122747)

This is why government organizations should be kept to a minimum. In industry, when the deadwood has accumulated, either it gets cleared out or the company dies. In government, you just get a funding increase.

I agree with the deadwood issue, but there are also some dynamics that favor having work done by government. The big one is that there's essentially no profit motive. In a well-functioning federal agency, all of the staff are encouraged to "do the right thing" for the people they serve, rather than maximize profit.

Secondly, because it's harder to fire someone from the U.S. federal government than from a U.S. private company, employees may be more willing to report illegal activity, because there may be less fear of effective retribution. Although my confidence in this has been eroded in recent years by seeing less whistle-blower protection than I would have expected.

Re:Wrong priorities! (3, Insightful)

Digicaf (48857) | more than 2 years ago | (#40123147)

The big one is that there's essentially no profit motive. In a well-functioning federal agency, all of the staff are encouraged to "do the right thing" for the people they serve, rather than maximize profit.

You've touched on something that I discuss with my socialist friends on a regular basis. They fail to recognize that there's always a profit motive. In government jobs its not a corporate motive, it's a personal motive. I'd argue that personal profit motives are much worse than corporate profit motives, because corporate motives are typically enabled by groups of people that are effectively hindered by their disagreements. In individual profit motives, there is no such limitation. Also others are not likely to call them out on their behavior due to fears of confrontation, and because they receive little or no incentive to ever raise their voice. Most of the time, they just don't want to be noticed, and calling out someone else is a great way to get the wrong kind of attention.

In a nutshell, an overwhelming number of government employees "do the right thing" for the people they serve, true enough. You just have to remember that they consider themselves as the #1 person they serve.

Re:Wrong priorities! (1)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 2 years ago | (#40123231)

I can only speak to my own experience. I've worked in industry, academia, and govt. Of all my jobs, the govt. job is the one where my coworkers' and my motivations have been the least self-serving. YMMV, obviously.

Re:Good luck with that... (5, Interesting)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122577)

You must not have a manager who cares about building your career, or maybe you aren't sufficiently motivated to move up. Might want to find a new boss or an injection of testosterone to get the juices flowing.

This is not something even a good boss can really solve for an employee. The fundamental issue, in my mind, is that the people who write, interpret, and enforce the bureaucracy's rules, will get beaten up only if the problem they're trying to prevent actually occurs. For example, a Section 508 compliance officer will get beaten up if they let someone buy a code analyzer that's not easily usable by someone who's color blind. Or an information assurance officer will get beaten up if there was any risk that a supposed vulnerability (even a false positive) went unpatched.

But those people get in no trouble if they (a) bring projects to their knees for lack of needed hardware/software, or (b) add weeks of delay to a project because they had a false-positive vulnerability report, which they "just to play it safe" take the project's source control server offline until the project members can prove that the vulnerability is in fact a false positive.

Working for the federal government can be awesome. I.e., keeping your fellow citizens safe in various ways is far more satisfying than is padding some CEO's excessive bonus. But between this bureaucratic crap, and having every Republican candidate for public office slander you to score political points, I'd say it's a wash at best.

Re:Good luck with that... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40122787)

The system actively punishes managers who take care of anything other than their own career. Blaming subordinates is much more effective than mentoring them. There are only 2 things: Politics and Seniority. That is all. No, quit sniveling. Those are the only two things that matter.

This is not at all inconsistent with US governments (it's not a monolithic entity) being, with hard data to back it up, an absolute failure at buying software.

Why do coders order hardware? (1)

khasim (1285) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122373)

For example, suppose you needed to order some laptops for your developers, and some compilers as well.

Shouldn't that be handled by the manager or someone?

The actual coders should never have to look up the prices on any of their tools. New hardware should just show up as soon as the manager can complete all the paperwork and the political fights.

Re:Why do coders order hardware? (1)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122605)

For example, suppose you needed to order some laptops for your developers, and some compilers as well.

Shouldn't that be handled by the manager or someone?

The actual coders should never have to look up the prices on any of their tools. New hardware should just show up as soon as the manager can complete all the paperwork and the political fights.

Good question. The reason is that if someone in an administrative / managerial role orders the hardware, it shows up as an "overhead" cost. Congress has made it clear that overhead costs need to be reduced. However, Congress wasn't willing to lighten the regulations that help drive up these overhead costs. So the only real option left to agency executive who aren't willing to push back on stupid Congressional mandates is to shift administrative work onto the software developers. Sure, it means the work is getting done by people with a much higher hourly rate, and it's an awful, dispiriting distraction to those people who should be coding. But that's "not my problem" from the perspective of spineless leaders who care about the appearance of efficiency, rather than actual efficiency.

Re:Why do coders order hardware? (1)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122645)

To clarify: it's the labor cost of ordering the laptops / compilers that would show up as "overhead". The cost of the actual hardware / software would show up a project-related costs regardless of who's soul was consumed by making the order happen.

Re:Why do coders order hardware? (1)

gl4ss (559668) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122649)

..because a plain manager doesn't know what to order. if he knows, he's a developer.

Re:Why do coders order hardware? (1)

luis_a_espinal (1810296) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122947)

For example, suppose you needed to order some laptops for your developers, and some compilers as well.

Shouldn't that be handled by the manager or someone?

The actual coders should never have to look up the prices on any of their tools. New hardware should just show up as soon as the manager can complete all the paperwork and the political fights.

This is how is done in good places (both public and private.) There are private shops that act as stupidly as bad public shops when it comes to insulating developers from the day-to-day management/inventory minutia.

Re:Why do coders order hardware? (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 2 years ago | (#40123003)

Irrelevant even then. They still have to wait for over a month for something that should have been there in a week or less.

Re:Good luck with that... (2)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122393)

In the government: 20 man-hours gathering competitive bids from 3 vendors who agree to work under the pricing schedule your agency requires. 4 man-hours / 2 calendar days ensuring the order complies with Clinger-Cohen and Section 508 regulations. 20 man-hours / 2 calendar weeks getting permission to place the order from one approving authority. Another month going back-and-forth with another approving authority. Then the order gets placed.

Your problem there is that you're thinking too small, just trying to buy one laptop.

If instead you go ahead and outsource to a private vendor all of the logistics and supplies to run an entire war, then that can be quickly and easily arranged with a no-bid contract.

Re:Good luck with that... (5, Insightful)

Sir_Sri (199544) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122419)

Because governments care about accountability, and businesses care about efficiency.

That's always the way in reasonably democratic governments. When you're spending the publics money they have a right to know how it is being spent, and to know it's not being wasted. The problem is that every time there's a fuckup a new layer of oversight gets added, to the point that you spend as much on accounting for spending as you do on spending.

And because as we just saw with the 38 studios closing yesterday. People get really pissed when the government wastes their money.

Re:Good luck with that... (1)

swalve (1980968) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122461)

That, combined with an inefficient purchasing system. They should be able to call the GPO and say "I need four notebooks with these specifications" and the GPO sends them off and bills the agency appropriately.

Re:Good luck with that... (4, Insightful)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122617)

Because governments care about accountability, and businesses care about efficiency.

Agreed, but one of the things the government is supposed to be accountable for is efficiency.

As you correctly pointed out, red tape incurs a real cost. So beyond a certain point, red tape meant to prevent excessive spending is self-defeating.

Re:Good luck with that... (1)

brennz (715237) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122659)

s/accountability/appearance of accountability/1

Fixed!

Re:Good luck with that... (1)

Sir_Sri (199544) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122709)

No, governments care about accountability. When they get only the appearance of accountability they add another layer of accounting.

Re:Good luck with that... (1)

hsmith (818216) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122751)

Government managers care about accountability, you are right. They care about not being the one being held accountable, that is about it - from my experience.

They will approve anything, as long as they can point the finger at someone else when shit goes wrong.

Re:Good luck with that... (1)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122771)

Government managers care about accountability, you are right. They care about not being the one being held accountable, that is about it - from my experience.

They will approve anything, as long as they can point the finger at someone else when shit goes wrong.

Apparently I've been more fortunate than you. My experiences with low-level managers has been much more positive.

Re:Good luck with that... (5, Insightful)

Austerity Empowers (669817) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122495)

Having worked at several large corporations, this doesn't really sound that alien. The government is really not much more than a really, really large corporation that can't fail. But large corporations are just as bad. This is how my favorite bureacratic mess worked:

You can't just buy a laptop, first you have to get approval from IT that your laptop is due for refresh, then you have to get permission from finance that your laptop has been fully depreciated. Then, most times, you just have to accept whatever IT is peddling as the laptop for your job description (even if your actual job has nothing to do with your job description). On some occasions you may get an exemption, and be given a budget to procure a machine. Then you must deal with procurement, a group of vogons whose job it is to drive profit margin out of suppliers, joy out of life, and requirements out of your request. Deviation from this practice will be made to sound like corruption, as if Steve Jobs is giving you a piece of the action under the table. Then after your requirements have been rightsized, and your purchase request has been shopped around and value enhanced, an order will be placed for the laptop you probably didn't really want, but which you caused to be ordered.

Up to this point, you have been maximizing shareholder potential and optimizing profits. This saved a lot of money didn't it? Next you will do a bit more of that, but mostly and indirectly comply (or at least so the corporate mouthpieces will tell you) with various federal regulations for taxes and record retention.

It doesn't end there, the new laptop isn't yours, it belongs to the company. It will eventually find itself in the hands of your on-site IT guy, whose first job will be to install the corporate crapware-ridden image on your laptop. The image usually will be targeted towards your job description (again, your job description usually won't match your job, it was designed to keep US citizens from being hired in favor of H1-B's in most cases). It will have a virus scanner, but utility ends there. It will usually have some form of network backup that no matter what happens, you will never be able to use, some network stuff that will make it boot slow and give you access to machines you will never use, software push...etc. Then you must submit your old, depreciated laptop in to be destroyed. Granted you could probably use that machine as a spare webserver or a toy for your kid, it's probably broken in some way by now but can be made to work. But no, it must be destroyed. Not because of sensitive data of course, but because the tax code (apparently) says so. Upon having proof that your laptop was submitted for destruction, you will receive your new laptop. At that point you will of course immediately delete the corporate image, reimage with the corporate image required for your job description (or if you are lucky and don't need to interface with hardware tools much, you can install a clean image with a corporate VM), request to have your machine added to the correct domain, and set up network drives etc. for your actual job function. At that point you'll find that maybe your monitor is VGA and new laptop is DVI or HDMI only, or that the docking station they wouldn't let you order is incompatible with the new laptop, etc. This causes you to create new procurement steps, thus ensuring that group looks especially overwhelmed with work.

Don't get me started if you need to get a machine in your datacenter with (*shudder* enterprise storage), you'd get more joy out of your year by crushing your balls under a hammer every day for a year. "Bugzilla? Does Oracle make that?". No. No Oracle does not, and if they did I wouldn't want it because it would work poorly.

Re:Good luck with that... (2)

Zenin (266666) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122731)

More then anything else, it's this all-too-common story that's driving me to strongly advocate cloud computing. Massive cost savings is just as nice side effect and an easy way to sell it to the suits.

Hardware needs, network ACLs, software dependencies, licenses, all get defined in a pretty little xml file that just magically happens.

No meetings upon meetings, endless reviews and approvals, no dumbed down versions for finance to wrap their tiny little brains around, no fat fingered sysadmins who can't ever manage to correctly open a single TCP port much less anything else.

Just one little deployment descriptor and magically the robots build it for me. Instantly. Perfectly. Exactly the way I asked for. With no back talk.

Re:Good luck with that... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40122769)

Cloud computing is not the end all and be all. What if you need a computer to interface with a piece of hardware you have sitting on your desk? No 'cloud computing' solution will help there, you need a physical machine on your desk.

For the average John or Jane Doe who is doing some spreadsheets maybe that can be abstracted, but a lot of "specialized" work (i.e. engineering) needs dedicated, specific resources.

Re:Good luck with that... (1)

volkerdi (9854) | more than 2 years ago | (#40123023)

Don't get me started if you need to get a machine in your datacenter with (*shudder* enterprise storage), you'd get more joy out of your year by crushing your balls under a hammer every day for a year.

Especially if you're the sort of person who likes that kind of thing.

Re:Good luck with that... (1)

ToasterMonkey (467067) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122587)

The opportunity costs and labor costs associated with the effort and delays in getting s**t done in the federal government is mind-numbing. When feds get bashed for having, in some cases, more costly compensation packages than the private sector, there's one factor that rarely comes up in conversation: any competent software developer will demand a pay premium in exchange for putting up with this soul-sucking crap on a daily basis.

Oh BOO HOOOOO, life is tough for the software developer on a government contract. /eyeroll

Here's a thought, if it is hard to spend money, maybe they will be encouraged to stretch out what they have. As little businesses become big businesses, the same thing happens.

But really, laptop upgrades... you know how many people in the public and private sectors reading this are screaming how unlikely it is for shiny new laptops to show up in three weeks? You sound like you're in IT, did you bake validating the standard OS image against the new hardware or maybe even doing a limited rollout to find problems with it before buying them in bulk?

Jeez, that's how bureaucracy is born brother, because enough people f'ed that up and learned from it.

Re:Good luck with that... (1)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122657)

Suffice it to say, your concerns don't apply to my situation.

Re:Good luck with that... (5, Insightful)

Ambassador Kosh (18352) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122599)

This does not actually sound much different then what it is like working with larger private sector companies. Where they do a focus group and take months to make simple decisions. From working with both government and large corporations I have not noticed any real difference in the time it takes to get things done or how much money is wasted they just do it in different areas. Small business though are a different matter, they are usually far far faster at making decisions and doing things.

Re:Good luck with that... (1)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122671)

I wonder if this is avoidable, or if all large organizations are doomed to have this quality.

Small businesses too (1)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122741)

Small businesses are often quite good at making really bad decisions quickly, and taking forever over important things. Just like big businesses.

I once worked in a small business that was the exception. Every issue that came up was quickly dealt with with a director level meeting. We took decisions and followed them through. Unfortunately we grew so fast I ended up with a bad case of burnout, but having downsized to a lower intensity career I've often seen the effects of decision incapability in suppliers, vendors and in house.

Re:Good luck with that... (1)

JonySuede (1908576) | more than 2 years ago | (#40123033)

You can be effective even when the culture makes it hard. My strategy: full speed ahead, torpedo's be dammed; I do this as in my institution asking for forgiveness takes less time than asking for permission. That worked as I got promoted to a point where's my only way to move up is to wait that those above me retires or dies. But in a big organization like mine, mavens like me represent about .5% of the workforce, in a start-up that ratio could be as high as 1.

Re:Good luck with that... (4, Insightful)

digitig (1056110) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122797)

And the trouble is, they're doing all that because it's necessary ass-covering. The public would scream about corruption and rival suppliers would sue the pants off them if they couldn't prove that the process was unbiased. I've worked in UK government procurement and recognise what you describe, but I remember that it didn't used to be that way, and it wasn't internal bureaucracy that pushed for all those hurdles, it was public and vendor pressure.

Re:Good luck with that... (1)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122807)

I've give a lot to be able to show the public the costs, financial and otherwise, of having the various mandates in place.

Also work for feds, and I agree 100% (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40122961)

I can hardly imagine a "kick ass innovator" being happy with a typical federal job.

Any innovation would have to go though untold layers of bureaucracy before it was implemented. Also, what gets implemented is not the best ideas, but the ideas that get the approval of know-nothing officials. What gets implemented depends on contacts from the good-old-boy network, political campaign contributions, that sort of thing.

In related news... (3, Insightful)

Haedrian (1676506) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122283)

Park seems to like a**es

Re:In related news... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40122527)

Well, why wouldn't a park like acres?

Re:In related news... (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40122621)

I like big butts and I cannot lie!

Re:In related news... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40122627)

Hey, these guys are just looking for the best of the best. The Ruby on Rails guys; the javascript specialists; the "oh hey, closures are now cool which is why I use them for everything" guys; the guys who are always studying the next big thing and probably have no idea what big O notation is, definitely have never touched assembler, and would stare at you blankly if you tried to explain to them that all software is math. Those are the true innovators, not some dude who knows old programming languages. How the fuck can you innovate in software if you're using an old programming language?

I don't want to live on this planet anymore... (2)

Karmashock (2415832) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122297)

Seriously... if there were a new world and you can get on a ship and go.... and never come back... how many would just do it.

that's an extreme reaction but it's just one stupid thing after another... I just want to go...

Re:I don't want to live on this planet anymore... (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122325)

Clearly you're from some bizarre bygone era where words like "maintenance" and "responsibility" were not yet considered dirty language. Why stop at disposable culture when you can have disposable infrastructure?

Re:I don't want to live on this planet anymore... (1)

Ambassador Kosh (18352) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122641)

I would leave in a heartbeat. If aliens landed in front of me I would already have run up the ramp by the time they asked for people to come with them and waiting inside.

I hope that as our technology keeps improving that it will be viable to build a ship and leave this planet. Sure a new colony might be worse .... but that would be hard to do.

Read some history then (1)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122765)

Quite a lot of the inhabitants of the Caribbean were very friendly towards Columbus and his successors, and you know how that turned out. Anybody capable of building an interstellar space ship is likely to regard you as farm animal, not equal. Unlike dogs, we are not particularly cute.

Re:Read some history then (1)

JonySuede (1908576) | more than 2 years ago | (#40123095)

You know how to measure cuteness in the aliens culture!!!! BURN him he must be one of THEM;)

Re:I don't want to live on this planet anymore... (1)

Mateorabi (108522) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122839)

Don't run, all that exercise makes you taste gamey.

I agree with this sentiment (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40122303)

COBOL is really the most advanced programming language ever developed. I don't see why the U.S. government has abandoned COBOL for slower, more complex languages like C, Java, Python, and Ruby. All new government development should be taking place in COBOL, and it's really inappropriate for the U.S. CIO/CTO to go out there and say otherwise.

Re:I agree with this sentiment (2)

DurendalMac (736637) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122499)

You left out "And get off my lawn!"

Re:I agree with this sentiment (3, Insightful)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122679)

I'm sorry, but if you're developing in anything other than machine language, you're really leaving performance on the table. No namby pamby assembly, no wishy washy COBOL, no effete C, and definitely none of those worse options. Write it in machine language or know that you're an incompetent hack.

So long as it's PDP-8 or 9989 (1)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122781)

Of course, those were the days when anybody with a functioning brain could just put down the opcodes on the fly. With the PDP-8 you almost knew which gates each opcode bit was controlling. And the RCA 1802! Quicker to type in hex than fire up the assembler.

Now remind me how to adjust the ignition timing on a modern ECU. Hint: there isn't a little screw on the distributor any more.

Re:So long as it's PDP-8 or 9989 (2)

EETech1 (1179269) | more than 2 years ago | (#40123115)

With most new ECMs you simply alter the pattern coming from the crank position sensor real time into a slightly different pattern that gives you the spark you want. It also allows you to raise the rev-limiter as well. The ECM calculates the RPM tooth to tooth, so if it thinks the engine is @ 7000 RPM when its not scheduling spark, and after fuel injection has started (sequences are start angle + time and will not be cut short) you will be fine! There's only certain spots a in a rev where it has to 'think' its going the right speed so you have quite a window to trick it into thinking its in a different position in order to get the end result you desire.

An AVR @ 16 Mhz can easily simulate a 60 tooth pattern at 12000 RPM, That's only a 12Khz output freq, that's nothing, and you still have enough clock cycles to modify the MAP sensor too. The best part is the stock ECM (and dealer) is none the wiser:)

I called my source code The_ECManipulator

Cheers

Re:I agree with this sentiment (1)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122903)

I'm sorry, but if you're developing in anything other than machine language, you're really leaving performance on the table. No namby pamby assembly, no wishy washy COBOL, no effete C, and definitely none of those worse options. Write it in machine language or know that you're an incompetent hack.

I'm disgusted at the inefficiency of your greenhorns' code. If you want moderately fast code, write new microcode. If you're a little better, use an FPGA. If you're a real man, your programming language should involve masks and X-ray lithography.

What has education come to these days???

COBOL might be an awful, outdated language (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40122327)

But I'd hate to be the poor souls stuck with porting (and, god help them ,refactoring) forty+ years of working COBOL code . Talk about a thankless task - if you get it right, noone will know anything happened, and if you get it wrong, you'll never hear the end of it.

Re:COBOL might be an awful, outdated language (1)

jfdavis668 (1414919) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122425)

I work in one of those places who still maintain large COBOL systems. One of our problems is getting the customers to change. We provide them a modern system, and the customers still prefer to run batch programs and have reports print out. They just refuse to change their process.

Re:COBOL might be an awful, outdated language (4, Insightful)

jgrahn (181062) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122519)

I work in one of those places who still maintain large COBOL systems. One of our problems is getting the customers to change. We provide them a modern system, and the customers still prefer to run batch programs and have reports print out. They just refuse to change their process.

Have you tried to give them something which matches their processes, then? I don't know much about batch processing, but God knows there are plenty of "modern systems" I wouldn't touch because they don't fit the way I work.

Re:COBOL might be an awful, outdated language (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40122583)

I must say if you cant get them to change then your doing it wrong, where I work we are in the middle of a 10 year project to move from COBOL batch processes to all .NET with no batch processes. The first steps are done, there is no more COBOL or mainframe its all in .NET running on 10 clustered servers (4 app servers, 2 DB servers, 4 web servers) that act just like the old system only with a lot more redundancy built in. The next steps are to slowly move away from the batch system and move to an interactive system with access given direct to the customers who need access to it. Oh and BTW I do work for a government agency so it can be done it just takes some pushing and moving slowly to get there.

Re:COBOL might be an awful, outdated language (1)

JonySuede (1908576) | more than 2 years ago | (#40123199)

Plan for batches, as they will come back to bite you in the ass.
I had the happy fun time of having to write a software that could print batches of up to 18000 invoices (with a lot's of special font that made the pdf creation an exercise in baroqueness) on a commercial xerox printer, as that feature was forgotten in the analysis phase... You know the marketing department forgot to told us that the mandatory electronic invoice was opt-out, that the seniors were automatically excluded and some other minors details like that. In the marketing guy head mass printing and online viewing were the same thing, the reality is that even in 2012 enterprise mass printing is still gory mess.

Re:COBOL might be an awful, outdated language (5, Insightful)

Mabhatter (126906) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122463)

COBOL is still around because the systems that use it only get rebooted every 10 years or so. People don't realize how much business and legal knowledge is locked up in these programs. In many cases it's more efficient to "screen scrape" than even attempt to get 15 years of collected business intelligence and regulation compliance exactly correct... And all that stuff is MOVING pieces that have to be adjusted every year because laws change.

This is why company ERP conversions fail so spectacularly. Many company systems have a great deal of "tribal" knowledge from long-retired employees hard-coded by long-retired programmers.

Re:COBOL might be an awful, outdated language (2)

swalve (1980968) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122485)

The only thing worse that maintaining an old infrastructure is trying to change to a new one. And frankly, I'm a little annoyed that the government's CIO is one of those "it's old, how passe', not my project" kinds of guys.

Re:COBOL might be an awful, outdated language (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40122857)

I work with a large and complex Cobol system every day. The good Cobol programs are really easy to maintain, the horrible are like most other languages. The simple syntax and clear call structure makes it easy to understand. Most people can probably read a Cobol program wihtout to much trubble. The most important thing to get right is variable naming right. IF done properly the codes reads like a book.

Batch work within OPC/TWS are powerfull like hell. Only the OPC schedule is tremendus work to replace with another system. And the business logic within the software is enourmus and collected over 30 years. I have seen applications running without change for 25 years. That what you can call proof coding.

Hiring a good Cobol programmer can be wise, they know batch processing and working with mission critical systems containing millions of buisess rules.

Re:COBOL might be an awful, outdated language (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40123013)

I've done some aerospace work for the USAF. Honestly, a lot of mathematical equation and matrix solvers are written in COBOL and Fortran and are being used that way to this day. Well, there's almost always a wrapper in C or similar, but the old code is still being used on a daily basis. This is in aircraft modeling and simulation, something that is supposed to be a cutting-edge endeavor. When I asked about why the codebase hadn't been updated, the general consensus was basically: "If it isn't broken, it'll take too much time and money to fix it."

Bad dudes (3, Funny)

Ironchew (1069966) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122331)

Are you a bad enough dude to innovate the President?

Re:Bad dudes (1)

Dr Herbert West (1357769) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122399)

Mod +1 retro!

Re:Bad dudes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40122553)

And yet, the reference still isn't as "retro" as COBOL itself is...

The word "badass" will help my resume? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40122333)

I don't think so.

In this context, "badass" means "young and arrogant, willing to get screwed over"

Re:The word "badass" will help my resume? (1)

RightwingNutjob (1302813) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122667)

"young and arrogant, willing to get screwed over"

...without even knowing it.

Experience doesn't count?! (4, Insightful)

david.emery (127135) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122363)

Actually, I learned a lot from doing COBOL work. But it's clear that experience doesn't count. Instead employers do buzzword search on resumes for the latest hip technology or alphabet soup "certifications".

It wouldn't be quite so bad if the industry didn't choose to adopt one labor-intensive technology after another. Most of the current programming fads don't scale up for large projects (>100k SLOC) any better than a lot of the stuff we used 20-30 years ago. Too much training and education, and then too many tools, focus on the individual, rather than on the team of developers/maintainers for long-lived applications. But I suspect a lot of senior managers think that large systems are irrelevant; everything will be a 1000 line "app".

This is a problem that is -independent- of the inefficiencies implicit in working for the government (as either an employee or a contractor.)

For what it's worth, I have always insisted that any programmer/developer that I had any influence over hiring must have demonstrated competence in more than 1 programming language/development approach. And "C/C++" didn't count as 2 languages (both because so much of C++ is bad C with an OOP veneer, and because a lot of core concepts, including bad habits, are shared between the two languages.)

Hey Karmashock, when does that ship sail?

Re:Experience doesn't count?! (1)

swalve (1980968) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122497)

Another trick is to look for people with different certifications. Looking for a Cisco guy? Find one who knows languages too. Need a COBOL developer? Pick the one who has worked with Java.

They didn't laugh at Lewis and Clark (4, Insightful)

shine (1502) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122375)

We blazed a trail with COBOL. Other languages may be better, but COBOL was the early language that made computers useful to a large number of business's and governments. The reason there is so much of it, is that it works.

~S

Re:They didn't laugh at Lewis and Clark (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122697)

I hear that pair spooning was modeled after Lewis and Clark.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dYBjVTMUQY0 [youtube.com]

Kids (1)

Bogtha (906264) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122385)

So what are VanRoekel and Park looking for? 'Bad a** innovators â" the baddest a** of the bad a**es out there,' Park explained (video), 'to design, create, and kick a** for America.'

They sound like teenagers.

Also, good job fucking up Unicode yet again, Slashdot. It's been how many years?

ass. ASS, I say (2)

Eil (82413) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122387)

There, I said it.

Re:ass. ASS, I say (1)

istartedi (132515) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122637)

Great. Now let's go antiq--BOOM!

Re:ass. ASS, I say (2)

FiloEleven (602040) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122993)

Ass, Ass. There, I got the other two you missed.

Oh crap. (2)

icebraining (1313345) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122407)

The US CIO/CTO is a brogrammer.

This makes complete sense. (1)

BigSlowTarget (325940) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122453)

This is how you create and recruit brogrammers. They want frat boys to do their systems.

About 'old fogies' link in TFA (1)

rve (4436) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122475)

The author of that 'old fogies' article explains how he used to agree old (over 40) programmers were laughable, but now that he's reached that age, he seems to feel that experience superior to youth and well worth the extra money.

Now, In my experience, this is only true up to a point. There seems to be very little difference in productivity beyond say 5 to 10 years of experience, while an additional 10 years of experience in a technology phased out years ago and not at all used in a company's current projects is simply doesn't add enough to warrant a higher hourly rate.

A good techie stays up to date on the latest technology, but if you are hiring for a project based on scala, and have the choice between two programmers with 5 years of scala experience, but one of the two has an additional 15 years of C++ experience and demands twice the hourly rate, hiring the more experienced guy would simply not make sense. It's not ageism, it's common sense. If they cost the same, I'd almost certainly pick the older one, but alas.

Re:About 'old fogies' link in TFA (1)

Red_Chaos1 (95148) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122735)

It's common sense to shoot yourself in the foot and go for the guy with less flexibility? No wonder our economy is so fucked up. Reward the one trick ponies and screw the versatile guys. Bravo!

That's coding, not programming (1)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122845)

Your comment would make sense if you were simply looking for coders. But if you are looking at programmers - people who turn top level concepts into software - the C++ guy will know all the things that go wrong, all the "this works" higher level schemas that 5 years of Scala alone won't have taught anybody. Twenty years ago the business problems were basically the same. The fact that Microsoft could screw up a leap year 29th February in 2012 shows exactly why there is no substitute for wide experience.

I'll add a point, perhaps a little inflammatory. Your grammar and syntax are not very good. That suggests you don't routinely communicate at senior management level, where that kind of thing gets noticed. Perhaps your comment reflects an inability to see the bigger picture, and your under-valuation of experience is linked to that.

COBOL is secure (2)

GeneralTurgidson (2464452) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122483)

It may be hard to maintain, but COBOL works and it works without too many bugs. COBOL is usually replaced with web GUIs which are prone to exploits and require a lot more processing power. They do look pretty though.

This article is what's laughable. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40122503)

I'm sorry, but these people are completely out of touch with reality in federal IT. I'm 25 and have been working in Federal IT since finishing college three years ago and of the 3 large DoD systems I've worked on, two of them have essentially all of their business logic and all of their batch processing written in COBOL with a fugly JSP front-end, and the third is a Java EE/SEAM app (re-engineered from an old Unisys language..) that directly interfaces with one of those previous two systems so it still relies on COBOL as well.

99% of the devs that get hired around here (recent college grads like myself being one of few exceptions) have at least a couple of years of prior experience developing in COBOL because, guess what? Most everything around here in some way shape or form involves a COBOL batch process or back-end. Sure, we have lots of newer stuff like .Net, Java (SEAM, Spring, older Struts projects, etc.), Flex, etc. but there is still TONS of stuff that will never leave COBOL. The only COBOL systems that die around here do so because they've been replaced by an ERP (most are only on life-support because they're "scheduled" to be replaced... in a decade) or they're still hosted on a mainframe and never got tech-refreshed to a *nix mid-tier system. Generally when something does get tech-refreshed it costs so much money and misses so much that it would have been cheaper just to hire a couple of maintenance programmers to keep the COBOL system running and/or put a pretty new front-end on and call it a day.

I won't even touch on all the rules and regulations involved that make this even more of a cluster, but know that most of the devs working with this stuff are good people working hard to improve things, we just tend to have our hands tied. I'm all for the big bosses having a call to arms for innovation and "AMERICAHHHH FUCK YEAH!!!!!" to but for existing systems, in most cases there is too much money poured down the drain in an effort to attempt to tech refresh things that work perfectly fine in COBOL.

Reminds me of... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40122823)

A Bit of Fry & Laurie: My Ass sketch

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUKOebCbINc

Who are these two knuckleheads trying to kid? (1)

fotoflojoe (982885) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122893)

It's the public sector, no one innovates there.

Real programmers (1)

midgetpoker (1148901) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122919)

A real programmer can write COBOL in any language.

No experience required? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40122927)

So, rather than looking for programmers who may have good experience of delivering and supporting critical systems over a long period of time, we prefer l33t kids who create everything at web-scale, who think functional programming is new, and think github is a backup solution.

Cool. That is so neat. But wait, my tax dollars are paying for this? Hmm......

I thought they were all on private islands (1)

russotto (537200) | more than 2 years ago | (#40122929)

I thought all the COBOL programmers tacked a zero onto their rates in 1999, did one last deathmarch for Y2K, then retired.

Not amused (1)

kstahmer (134975) | more than 2 years ago | (#40123035)

Her Majesty, Grace Hopper [slashdot.org] , is not amused.

I've seen it all. (2)

lasermike026 (528051) | more than 2 years ago | (#40123217)

I've been a coder, UNIX admin, Linux admin for close to 15 years. I've seen one crappy programming/scripting/whatever language come and go. COBOL is reliable, effective, and easy to use. COBOL was designed by Read Admiral Grace Hopper, a founder of the technology we use today. I wish I had COBOL for Linux. Then maybe I wouldn't have to listen to some dev squeak about some amazing, fantastic, BROKEN, INEFFICIENT, and often STUPID programming language. And what do I care about what some CTO thinks? It's not like he knows anything other than the art of bul!@#$.
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