March 14, 2014
Listen, COBOL is not dead yet, or even Latin
It's been a good long while since we did a podcast, but I heard one from an economy reporting team that inspired today's return of our Newswire Podcasts. The often-excellent NPR Planet Money looked into why it takes so long to get money transferred from one bank to another. It's on the order of 3 days or more, which makes little sense in a world where you can get diapers overnighted to your doorstep by Amazon.
Some investigation from Planet Money's reporters yielded a bottleneck in transactions like these transfers through the Automated Clearinghouse systems in the US. And nearly all automated payments. As you might guess, the Clearinghouse is made of secret servers whose systems were first developed in the 1970s. Yeah, the 3000's birth era, and the reporting devolved into typical, mistaken simplication of the facts of tech. Once COBOL got compared to a languge nobody speaks anymore, and then called one that nobody knows, I knew I was on to a teachable moment. Kind of like keeping the discussion about finance and computing on course, really. Then there's a podcast comment from a vendor familiar to the credit union computer owner, a market where the 3000 once held sway.
Micro Focus is the company raising the "still alive" flag highest for COBOL.
But while every business has its language preferences, there is no denying that COBOL continues to play a vital role for enterprise business applications. COBOL still runs over 70 percent of the world’s business -- and more transactions are still processed daily by COBOL than there are Google searches made.
You might be surprised to hear how essential COBOL is to a vast swath of the US economy. As surprised as the broad-brush summary you'll hear from Planet Money of how suitable this language is for such work. To be sure, Planet Money does a great job nearly every time out, explaining how economics affects our lives, and it does that with a lively and entertaining style. They just don't know IT, and didn't ask deep enough this time.
Have a listen to our eight minutes of podcast. You can even dial up the original Planet Money show for complete context -- there are some other great ones on their site, like their "We created a t-shirt" series. Then let me know what your COBOL experience seems to be worth, whether you'd like an assignment to improve a crucial part of the US economy, and the last time you had a talk with anybody about COBOL in a mission-critical service.
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