The Latin of software coding is evolving

Caitlin Mooney is 24 years old and has a passion for technology that dates back to the Sputnik era.

Mooney, a graduate of the New Jersey Institute of Technology in New Jersey, is a fan of the hottest technologies of the last half century, including the mainframe computer and software called COBOL. That will not win any of the cold spots in Silicon Valley, but it is a necessary technology in big banks, insurance companies, government agencies and other large institutions.

During Mooney’s hunt, potential employers saw her expertise and wanted to talk about more senior positions than she was looking for. “They will be very excited,” Mooney told me. She is now trying to decide between several job offers.

The resilience of computer technology is decades old and the experts in them show that new technologies are often built on very old technologies.

When you deposit money using your bank’s iPhone app, the background may be related to the descendants of those who used the Apollo moon mission. (In addition, half-century-old computer code is embedded into iPhone software.)

It is often seen as a problem or a specific point where a lot of muddy technology is still around. But it’s not necessarily a problem.

“If it does not crack, do not fix it,” said Ellora Praharaj, director of engineering engineering for Stack Overflow, a popular online platform for tech workers. “Students leaving school today do not have to work in older languages. But the realities of the world are the very powerful things of our existing system. ”

Praharaj said she studied COBOL in college in the mid-2000s and “hated it.” But until about five years ago, she applied computer programming technology in the 1950s called Fortran, formerly in the financial services industry. Old things are everywhere.

Latin is dead, but an old computer programming language like COBOL is alive.

The average salary for a COBOL programmer increased 44 percent last year to nearly $ 76,000, according to a survey from Stack Overflow. The self-reported compensation is below for someone with a trending software language like Rust at $ 87,000, but it was the biggest dollar increase in the survey.

(For data fans among us: Stack Overflow says the survey has a significant sample size but does not need to be representative.)

All this also shows that computer nerds are dependent on basic supply and demand dynamics. There is no group like Mooney that wants to work on mainframes and COBOL; The constant demand for their skills gives them energy. Job seekers who want COBOL experience in the “real world” recently wrote on the Hacker News technology bulletin board, “COBOL devs are special today and they are paid accordingly.”

Of course, it would be hard to find someone who believes Boomer technology is the next big thing. Most university computer science programs do not focus on mainframes, COBOL or Fortran.

Year Up, an organization that trains young adults for jobs in the tech sector, told me it stopped training in COBOL. Potential employers have asked Year Up to focus their courses on new and widely used programming languages ​​such as Java and Python.

Some who have years of experience in older technology say they are worried they have left a more promising job.

But computer science experts tell me that while they do not advise young people to devote themselves entirely to old technology, they can be a useful foundation. Of course, today’s summer coding will be replaced by something new. The key is to learn how to keep learning, said Jukay Hsu, chief executive of Pursuit, a technology workforce training company.

Mooney was curious about computer programming while studying business at Community College. She said she started doing her accounting homework in Python “for fun.” When she took a course taught by a professor who specializes in COBOL, Mooney found that she liked it. She also felt welcomed by the die-hard mainframe computer community who were eager to help young novices.

“It simply came to our notice then.

The downside is that COBOL designers never expected the software to last this long. As my colleague Steve Lohr wrote in the memo for Jean Sammet, COBOL designer, the pioneer of software was expecting it to be a useful gap until something better happened.

That was about 40 years before Mooney was born. The old thing is probably around 40 years old.

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