COBOL has been in the news lately, for the first time since Y2K and for the same reason: there’s a strain on systems running software written in COBOL and a dearth of programmers who know the language. There are a couple of odd things in these stories, though.

First, the theme of the stories is the same as it was 20 years ago: COBOL is a dead language and only old and retired programmers still know it. Companies are recruiting them to come in and fix their ancient software. But if only retired and near-retired programmers knew COBOL in 1999, where are we finding them now? Is everyone being recruited now in their 80s and 90s? If so, we should be promoting COBOL as a way of fighting off the cognitive decline of aging. I can think of several senators who could use a shot of COBOL. Me, too.

Second, there’s been this weird focus on the age of COBOL itself. “New Jersey needs volunteers who know COBOL, a 60-year-old programming language,” says the headline of this article from CNBC, the first one I saw. “Our Government Runs on a 60-Year-Old Coding Language, and Now It’s Falling Apart,” says this one posted on Medium a couple of days later. But while the age of a language certainly has some bearing on how cool it seems to young programmers, it has nothing to do with how well it works. It’s not as if COBOL has stiff knees and has to be careful when taking the stairs.

A interesting passage from the Medium article:

Despite its age, and the fact that so many programmers have moved onto C and Java, COBOL is still a widely used programming language.

Ah yes, the withered COBOL has been abandoned for hot new languages, like that fresh-faced and rosy-cheeked… C?

I wonder what kind of stories we’ll see when word gets out that weather predictions are made using Fortran?

By the way, there is no correlation between my turning 60 later this year and my crankiness on this topic. None whatsoever.