COBOL and legacy programming skills will still be relevant for future jobs, survey says

7 Mar 2013

Global research from Micro Focus on IT skills taught in academic institutions finds that though the majority of educators believe COBOL will still be relevant for at least the next decade, less than 30pc of universities include it in their curriculum.

COBOL, or Common Business-Oriented Language, is one of the oldest programming languages, dating back to 1959. It’s primarily used in business, finance and administrative systems for companies and governments. Micro Focus has been providing COBOL software to companies worldwide for over 30 years.

Micro Focus surveyed academic leaders from 119 universities across the glob and, while 71pc believe business organisations will continue to rely on applications built using COBOL for the next 10-plus years, only 27pc of universities running IT courses offer COBOL programming as either a core module or an option in undergraduate or post-graduate study.

The reason for this may be that young students would rather learn about new, more current languages. Of the educators surveyed, 39pc believed their students see COBOL as uncool and outdated, while 13pc said they likely considerate it a dead language and 15pc said they wouldn’t even know what it was.

However, 21pc said learning COBOL was a future-proofed career option as demand outweighs supply. Even now a search for COBOL-related jobs in Ireland drums up quite a few results.

The largest volume of skilled developers hitting the job market last year were Java programmers, followed by C# and C++ programmers, but 60pc of those surveyed said the more languages learned by developers the better, as a range of abilities will increase their chances of employment.

To meet business needs, it seems, student demand for COBOL and other legacy programming skills is required and more than half (58pc) of those surveyed said a cultural change is needed. But what do students and those working in the industry think?

Software developer Daryl Feehely says, “As an industry practitioner for over 10 years, it is my professional opinion that COBOL is not a valuable skill for the majority of developers. Any of the theories that are learnt using COBOL can be learnt just as well in C++, and in fact are more easily transferable to modern languages from C++.”

Feehely also points to an October 2012 report from the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation that reviewed the ICT skills demand in Ireland and references Java and C++ directly. “I feel it is very important to address the ICT skills gap in this country, especially in the software development and software engineering industries, which should be done by promoting Java, .Net and other modern languages – not COBOL.”

This article has been amended to reflect that the source of this survey, Micro Focus, is a COBOL software provider and to include the counter-argument from Daryl Feehely in the interest of presenting a more balanced view.

Image via Shutterstock

Elaine Burke
By Elaine Burke

Elaine Burke was editor of Silicon Republic until 2023, and is now the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. Elaine joined Silicon Republic in 2011 as a journalist covering gadgets, new media and tech jobs. She later served as managing editor before stepping up as editor in 2019. She comes from a background in publishing and is known for being particularly pernickety when it comes to spelling and grammar – earning her the nickname, Critical Red Pen.

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