Latin software code is thriving

Caitlin Mooney, 24, is obsessed with technology dating back to the Sputnik era.

A recent graduate of computer science at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Mooney is a fan of technologies that were in the spotlight half a century ago, such as computer mainframes and software called COBOL that powers them. Such things don’t get cool points in Silicon Valley, It is essential Technology from major banks, insurance companies, government agencies, and other large institutions.

During Mooney’s job search, a potential employer wanted to see her expertise and talk about more senior positions than she was looking for. “They will be really excited,” Mooney told me. She is currently trying to make a decision from multiple jobs.

The resilience of computing technologies decades ago and those who specialize in them shows that new technologies are built on many old technologies.

When depositing money using the bank’s iPhone app, behind the scenes involves a computer that is probably a descendant of the computer used in Apollo’s Moon mission. (Also, half a century ago computer code is embedded in the iPhone software.)

It is often seen as problem Or a punch line that still has a lot of musty technology. But that doesn’t necessarily matter.

“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” joked Ellora Praharaj, reliability engineering director at StackOverflow, an online forum popular with engineers. “Recently, out-of-school students don’t necessarily want to work in an old language that isn’t always cool. But the reality of the world is that it powers many of our existing systems. is.”

Praharaj studied COBOL in college in the mid-2000s and said he “disliked it.” But until about five years ago, she regularly used computer programming techniques of the 1950s called Fortran in her previous work in the financial services industry. Old things are everywhere.

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

According to salaries, the typical salary for COBOL programmers has increased by 44% over the past year to nearly $ 76,000. Investigation From StackOverflow. Self-reported rewards are below $ 87,000 for people using trendy software languages ​​like Rust, but the survey found the largest increase in dollars.

(For our data fans: According to Stack Overflow, the sample size of the survey is quite large, but it wasn’t always typical.)

All of this also shows that computer geeks are affected by basic supply and demand dynamics. Not many people like Mooney want to work with mainframes and COBOL. The ongoing need for their skills empowers them. Job seekers seeking a “real world” COBOL experience I have written Recently, on the technical bulletin board Hacker News, “COBOL developers are a professional niche these days and are paid accordingly.”

Of course, it will be difficult to find anyone who believes that Boomer technology is the next big thing. Most college computer science programs do not focus on mainframes, COBOL, or Fortran.

YearUp, an organization that trains young people for work in the tech field, told me that they have stopped training in COBOL. Potential employers have asked YearUp to focus their curriculum on newer and more widely used software programming languages ​​such as Java and Python.

Some people with years of experience with old techniques say they are worried that they may have withdrawn from work with more potential.

However, computer science experts have told me that while young people are not encouraged to devote themselves entirely to older technologies, they can be a useful foundation. Inevitably, today’s hot coding fads will be replaced by new ones. An important skill is to learn how to keep learning, said Jukay Hsu, CEO of Pursuit, a technical workforce training venture.

Mooney became interested in computer programming while taking a business course at a community college. She said she started her accounting homework in Python “for fun”. When he took a course taught by a COBOL professor, Mooney realized he liked it. She also felt welcomed by the Die Hard community of computer mainframes eager to help young beginners.

“It was really, really great to build my confidence and skill set,” Mooney said.

Ironically, COBOL designers didn’t expect the software to last this long. As my colleague Steve Lohr wrote in the obituary of COBOL designer Jean Sammet, software pioneers expected it to be useful and temporary until something went well.

It was about 40 years before Mooney was born. The old ones will probably come out in the next 40 years.

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