Inside COBOL #82 (Where to go from here)
In all likelihood this will be the final Inside COBOL column that I write. When I started out on this I thought I had enough ideas for about 3 or 4 columns, as it happens, this is the 82nd one and in all those I missed only one month. Some of you know I founded a Linux software company about 18 months ago, and it has become increasingly difficult to keep up with this column, the upside of which is that my company is doing very well. This month I would like to talk about where we all go from here, how do we stay sellable and on top of our skill set, and what interesting things lie ahead.
I have many friends that ask me what they should learn or where they should go to make sure they continue to have jobs. In all my work I’ve never seen a language as well adapted to business as COBOL, but pieces of COBOL are becoming a bit long in the tooth and the new standard is about 10 years late at this point. When it does come out, there are some very important things that you are going to need to understand, primarily how to work with Object Oriented code and event driven programming. Everything you hear about, Java, Visual Basic, Python, Delphi, etc., are object oriented and event driven to one degree or another, especially if you are writing a user interface and not just back end code.
I get calls constantly for Java programmers. I don’t personally care for Java all that much, I think there are other things that solve the problems much more elegantly than Java, just as I don’t care for Visual Basic for the same reasons. You have to make the decision on what you use to create software for your own use and what you use because someone wants you to. Visual Basic is good baby steps into the world of OO and event driven programming. Any decent programmer can have a handle on the language in a couple of weeks. Java has a much higher learning curve, but is easier if you already know C.
I mention all these as a way to keep your skills current and prepare yourself for the new Object Oriented COBOL. We’ve talked about OO COBOL in this column in the past, so I’m not going to rehash it here. This will be the saving grace of COBOL and allow it to move forward. I’ll take this opportunity to mention that the entire reason I formed my Linux corporation (www.thekompany.com) was to build a Visual Basic/Delphi like environment for the COBOL language, using as much of the new COBOL standard as possible. Instead of writing a compiler, we are writing a code translator to take advantage of the GCC compiler. Our IDE is written to KDE (www.kde.org) which is in turn based on Qt (www.trolltech.com) which is a multi-platform windowing environment that works on Windows, every Unix, embedded devices liked PDA’s and cell phones and soon on the Mac.
Our IDE is multi-lingual, so it will work with various languages, COBOL and C++ are the first two and they are looking very good right now. The project is called KODE (Kompany Open Development Environment), and while nothing is on the web site yet, preliminary versions should start to appear around February/March 2001.
I don’t use this column as a forum to promote my own interests, and this isn’t trying to do that either. I’ve been in the same position as everyone else who reads this, and that is how I come up with my ideas. Maybe you can make use of this information to keep your skills up to date for a new job or maybe write some software of your own to sell. Leverage some of those excellent business skills that have been developed over the years to write software other people will buy.
As I said, this is most likely the last column, so I want to thank all the readers and supporters over the years who contributed their ideas and well wishing. It’s been terrific to be part of this community for so many years. I’ve enjoyed meeting and talking with many of you, and I hope to stay in contact with as many of you as I can in the coming years.