October 4, 2022

Caitlin Mooney is 24 years old and is fascinated by technology dating back to the Sputnik era.

Mooney, a recent NJIT graduate in computer science, is a fan of technologies that have been hot for half a century, including mainframe computers and software called COBOL that power them. This stuff won’t win you any fancy points in Silicon Valley, but is necessary Technology in major banks, insurance companies, government agencies and other large organizations.

During the job search process for Mooney, potential employers saw her expertise and wanted to talk about more senior positions than she was looking for. They’re going to be really excited,” Mooney told me. You are now trying to choose between multiple job offers.

The resilience of legacy computing technologies and the people who specialize in them shows that new technologies often build on a lot of old ones.

When you deposit money using your bank’s iPhone app, it’s likely that behind the scenes computers are the offspring of those used in the Apollo moon missions. (Also, a half-century-old computer code was entered into the iPhone software.)

Often seen as a file problem Or that a lot of rotten technology is still there. But it is not necessarily a problem.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” said Ellora Praharaj, director of reliability engineering at Stack Overflow, an online forum popular with tech workers. “Students out of school these days don’t necessarily want to work with old, not so good languages. But the reality of the world is that this is what powers many of our current systems.”

Praharaj said she learned cupol in college in the mid-2000s and “hated it.” But until about five years ago, she was regularly using a 1950s computer programming technology called Fortran in a previous job in the financial services industry. Old things are everywhere.

Latin is dead, but old computer programming languages ​​like COBOL are still alive.

The typical salary for a COBOL programmer has jumped 44 percent in the past year to nearly $76,000, according to Pay exploratory study From Stack Overflow. The self-reported compensation is lower than that of people using trendy software languages ​​like Rust at $87,000, but it was the largest dollar increase in the survey.

(For the data enthusiasts among us: Stack Overflow said the survey had a large sample size but wasn’t necessarily representative.)

All this also shows that computer geeks are subject to basic supply and demand dynamics. There is no set of people like Mooney who would like to work on mainframes and COBOL; The constant need for their skills gives them strength. Job seeker wants to experience COBOL “in the real world” Wrote Recently on the Hacker News tech bulletin board, “COBOL developers are a niche these days and get paid accordingly.”

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

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

Some people with years of experience in old tech say they worry that they are depriving themselves of jobs with the greatest potential.

But computer science professionals tell me that although they do not advise young people to devote themselves entirely to old technologies, they can be a useful foundation. Inevitably, today’s hot coding fads will be replaced by something new. An important skill is learning how to keep learning, said Jokai Hsu, CEO of Pursuit, a technology workforce training project.

Mooney became curious about computer programming while taking courses at a community college. She said she started doing her accounting duties in Python “for fun”. When she enrolled in a course taught by a professor who specializes in COBOL, Mooney found that she liked it. I also felt welcomed by a community of mainframe fanatics eager to help a young newbie.

“It was really great for building my confidence and skills,” said Mooney.

The irony is that the designers of COBOL never expected the program to last so long. As my colleague Steve Loehr wrote in the obituary of COBOL designer Jan Samet, the program’s pioneers expected it to be a useful temporary solution until something better came along.

That was 40 years before Mooney was born. The old stuff will probably be around after the next forty years.


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