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Blog > June 2020 > Sudden Demand for COBOL Programmers - They Need Help Too!

Sudden Demand for COBOL Programmers - They Need Help Too!

Calling all COBOL Programmers!

In April 2020, governments around the world took action to reduce the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic by offering aid programs, including increased unemployment payments. Keeping track of these payments required adding fields and new rules to many COBOL programs at the national, state, and local levels. Some of these COBOL program may have gone untouched for years. This triggered calls for COBOL programmers to quickly step in and apply updates to prepare for a storm of activity. 

What is COBOL?

COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language) is a compiled high-level computer programming language for business applications, which is particularly popular for applications that run on large computers. It is the second-oldest high-level programming language (behind FORTRAN). It is imperative, procedural and, since 2002, object-oriented.

Companies from IBM to small consulting firms rose up to assist. While there seems to be thousands of COBOL programmers available—many coming out of retirement to join the fray—there is still a need to address the demand which is energizing the movement in education to train Millennials and Gen Next’ers as COBOL programmers. I personally cheer for those who have responded to the call!

But how many lines of COBOL are actually still in use?

A 2017 report by Reuters found that there were still at least 220 billion lines of COBOL in use. Forty-three percent of banking systems are built on COBOL, and 95% of all ATM swipes rely on COBOL code. A 2018 report for the Social Security Administration found that the administration maintained more than "60 million lines of COBOL" with "millions more lines of other legacy programming languages." In some cases, those programs are hundreds of thousands of lines long.

So many COBOL programs, so little time

My next thought is about the volume of COBOL programs out there and how all these programmers can become effective as quickly as possible. I am left wondering, “how will all these COBOL programmers be able to decipher programs that they’ve never seen before and quickly turn around the necessary enhancements?” There are certainly some gifted COBOL coders who will do some amazing things, but what about the IT professional that has not programmed in COBOL for years? What about the brand-new programmer who just graduated and is opening a file with thousands of lines of code for the first time, trying to “make it faster”?

We’re asking these programmers to add new fields to the data stores, ensure all the space allocations are correct, and implement the new business rules for the needed processing. Daunting. The strong minded and strong spirited will tackle the job and succeed, but…how much time is it going to take them? How well will they deliver quality code in the face of urgent, immediate demand for delivery?  The thought makes me think about someone using a shovel to dig a hole, when what they really need is a backhoe!

COBOL programming tools can help!


When thinking about 10 thousand lines of code or more, one needs an easy way to break it down and understand it. What about when a programmer edits the COBOL; how easy is that editor to use? Does it have any program intelligence like the open systems programming environments have to increase productivity? Great, we have updated COBOL, now what? How do we quickly test and debug that code to ensure it will successfully execute? My personal experience tells me that these COBOL programmers need the right tools to do the job.  Without the right tools, they work unreasonable hours, cannot efficiently do their jobs, and risk project failure.

COBOL programmers or magicians?

The thousands of COBOL programmers out there rising to the challenge to help these suffering institutions need support. We cannot fall into the trap of thinking these professionals are magicians.  I am often awed by the results of a few lines of code, and it sure looks like magic to me! But just like a well-trained magician, these programmers need the right tools to make us all believe they can do magic!

At ASG Technologies, we offer several solutions to give COBOL programmers the tools they need to efficiently do their jobs. To find out more about breaking code down and making it more efficient, click to learn more about ASG-Encore. Want to know more about an intelligent editor? Click to learn about ASG-SmartEdit. Last, and very popular among our existing customers, is ASG-SmartTest that provides source-level testing and debugging for COBOL, Assembler, and PL/I application programs.