TEN YEARS before man walked on the moon, a group of software engineers created the Common Business-Oriented Language—better know as Cobol— to standardize business computer programming.
Not long after, in the early 1960s, Bill Hinshaw began plying his trade as one of the thousands of Cobol programmers working in banks across the world. Now, more than 50 years later, the 76-year-old coder is still working in Cobol, much to his amazement.
“I was coming to the end of my career and I thought that Cobol might be going away,” says Mr. Hinshaw. “But it has actually grown.”
Indeed, despite its advanced age, Cobol is still the most prevalent programming language in the financial-services industry world-wide. Software programmed in Cobol powers millions of banking transactions every day and underpins critical computer mainframes.
And Cobol isn’t going away anytime soon. Banks and other companies have come to the uncomfortable realization that ripping out old mainframes is pricey and complicated. Transitioning to new systems is likely to take years, and besides, a lot of the older tech works just fine.
The problem is that Cobol isn’t popular with new programmers. So, with a generation of Cobol specialists retiring, there is a continuing hunt to find a new generation of programmers to service this technology.
In Texas, Mr. Hinshaw’s company, the Cobol Cowboys, a group of mostly older programmers, is training U.S. military veterans in the programming language.
Accenture PLC is coaching hundreds of Cobol programmers every year in India and the Philippines to work at banks. In Malaysia, one consultancy that provides engineers versed in Cobol for its clients, iTAc MSC Outsourcing, has adopted the slogan “Keeping the Dinosaurs Alive.”