In the world of programming, what does the future hold? This was one of the questions a panel of industry experts at the IASA 2007 Educational Conference and Business Show pondered during the IT Town Hall meeting session. The future doesn't look very bright unless some labor changes are made. One panelist said that 30% of his staff is eligible for retirement in 3-5 years and he can't find the COBOL programmers necessary to replace them. And, there just aren't experienced programmers entering the workforce.As insurance companies migrate away from COBOL, how will they maintain the applications written in the legacy code? Gone are the days of COBOL classes. The next generation has little interest in COBOL, as XML and other standards allow them to talk to existing code (such as COBOL or RPG).
Sure, you can't see it, but you can't ignore it, because it's there right now as you read this. If you make COBOL obsolete in your shop, you'll likely find information you didn't even know you had. When this happens, will you have someone to translate? Another panelist mentioned that when there is only one person who knows the language, the entire department tends to panic if this person catches a cold. There is heavy reliance on him or her.
From a young future employee's perspective, why train in COBOL if it is going to be non-existent? Employers need to ask themselves how they will attract these employees and whether it is worth it to hire them. Some carriers are conducting a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether, when their programmers retire, they will then be forced to retire their legacy systems. Is there a way to employ someone with updated technical training, while leveraging that COBOL knowledge?
Universities aren't offering COBOL training anymore, so insurers that plan to keep their legacy systems running are stepping up to provide the training. The concept isn't new, but it may become even more necessary as COBOL experts get ready to retire and the newbies step in. How can you introduce these newbies to old technologies? An audience member at the Town Hall session made a suggestion: Make it part of the employment agreement-tell your incoming employee: "Give me two years with COBOL training, and we'll support you with other new technology training." That's just one idea, but hey, it's better than giving in to the adage "this is the way we've always done it, so we'll keep doing it this way."
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