Yes, I want to learn COBOL
September 9, 2005 2:08 PM   Subscribe

I want to learn mainframe-era languages and technologies (e.g., AS/400s, RPG, COBOL). Where can I go to get started?

My reasoning: These skills will only become more needed and valuable as time goes on and the current practitioners retire and move on. Needed and valuable == good income for myself and my family. I have a strong background in more contemporary environments and languages so learning this stuff won't be a problem. All I need is the avenue.
posted by Jeebus to Computers & Internet (16 answers total)
I had a big screed written on why this is a bad idea until I googled "cobol training" and "RPG training". Holy shit. I thought your question was like asking "how can I make soap at home?" But colour me wrong. Anyway, use google.

A friend of mine learned RPG at Lambton College in Sarnia, ON back in the early 90's. He didn't ever get a job using RPG and neither did any of his classmates I knew.

Actually, Lambton College does still have a RPG course... two courses even. I guess maybe someone else thinks it's worth learning. Try technical colleges perhaps.
posted by GuyZero at 2:34 PM on September 9, 2005

The demand for these languages going forward will largely not be development but rather maintenance, encapsulation, or simply reengineering to modern platforms. IMO the necessary skills would be easiest to pick up, on the job with access to a language reference.
posted by Manjusri at 2:38 PM on September 9, 2005

Seconded. Don't bother warping your mind until you actually have a job that requires it.
posted by kindall at 2:49 PM on September 9, 2005

I disagree with those saying "don't learn it untill you get a job in it"

Lots of recruiters lazily grep resumes on, monster, etc. for skills, rather then looking for people who can learn things. Being able to put COBOL on your resume would help people looking for cobol programmers.

If I were you, I'd just look on amazon for books. You might be able to learn it just looking for language refrences online. Here are some cobol compilers you can mess around with while you learn.
posted by delmoi at 3:19 PM on September 9, 2005

You can also rock the Hercules emulator if you want to learn S/370 assembly or MVS or something.
posted by cmonkey at 3:58 PM on September 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

It does seem like a pretty boring thing to do if you're not being paid for it, but I bet that you're right -- there are probably going to be a ton of those jobs around as soon as the old d00dz pack it in.

Maybe you should splurge and buy yourself a mainframe. (The specs on those machines are kinda amusing...) The AS/400 looks like a unique enough operating system/environment to make it worthwhile to play with.
posted by ph00dz at 4:00 PM on September 9, 2005

In relation to delmoi's point, I have two different lines on my resume, one for languages and systems that I use every working day (I think I call that "Expert in:") and another line for "Familiar with:" where I place those things I have had exposure to but don't use every day. I think this is a good strategy for listing stuff you've learned from a book or a class but aren't expert in, that still allows it to get picked up by text searches of that sort.
posted by matildaben at 4:00 PM on September 9, 2005

By the way, dunno if you saw the cobug site, but it's gotta lot of useful resources.
posted by ph00dz at 4:08 PM on September 9, 2005

You might want to try some online tutorials to start with.
posted by bachelor#3 at 4:27 PM on September 9, 2005

Bah, all the RPG coders at my job are in their early 30s. They act like dinosaurs though.
posted by furtive at 4:57 PM on September 9, 2005

Are there really enough mainframe jobs to make this worthwhile? This is something I've given a bit of thought to in the past few years actually. The mainframe guys I work with have decades of experience, but aren't quite dead yet. There's no way in hell you or I could compete with them.

For me, personally, I felt it was good to keep my hand in using ANSI C, C++ and a wee bit of assembly. We're always are short on guys that can do C or low level programming. The mainframe guys I work with don't touch C or anything on an x86 machine.

Not one of the grads we've hired recently has had a clue about pointers, registers, data types or even understood the difference between heap and stack. so they're no threat there. Give them visual studio and they can point and click like nobody's business, though... ;-)

I don't mean to derail gratuitously, but it looks like Jeebus has got his answers. Anyone? C vs. RPG/COBOL?
posted by login at 7:08 PM on September 9, 2005

Not one of the grads we've hired recently has had a clue about pointers, registers, data types or even understood the difference between heap and stack. so they're no threat there. Give them visual studio and they can point and click like nobody's business, though... ;-)

I really hope you're not talking about computer science grads here...
posted by cmonkey at 7:57 AM on September 10, 2005

Our mainframe hardware was replaced in '98, because the O.S. wasn't Y2K compliant. The original software was written in '69 when the first one was plugged in, transplanted to the new box, and they say there's about 30 different languages involved. Some of the code we can't change because the last guy who knew how drank himself to death a decade back. We've got all kinds of huge computers, servers, AS/400s and stuff feeding into it, but it's like a strainer, all the data coming in has to fit through the existing holes. I've seen many management types come and go who insisted our primary mission was to lose the thing and replace it, but it would involve building a new system from scratch, and essentially one with the same size holes (formatting) as the old one, because now everything is designed to send in what this one wants. (When they start getting creative, I remind them "FRED* is God", because it controls everything else that happens.)

There's a lot of that stuff still out there, because it works, and it's expensive to replace a whole system. I think there's a market for people who can maintain it, it's just a fairly small market comparatively. But as few as there are left who can, the job's worth good money.

*The mainframe's name is not FRED. Too many people know it by it's real name.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 8:36 AM on September 10, 2005


Yeah unfortunately I'm talking about senior CS students or grads. I think it's got as much to do with our hiring process as the crappy educational system. ( My boss goes to the interviews to make sure they're "up to speed" technically. gah.)

We've had some really bad hires. The worst recent one was a "software engineer" with honours. Did not know anything beyond point and click. I mean nothing. It's not like I threw assembly language at him either. *tried* to get him working on a project that involved c++. He didn't understand classes, SDLC, any of the OOD stuff you'd expect a recent grad to have.

more or less literal quote: "This is f*cking sh*t. You have to type it all in. I don't know how to do this sh*t. I need f*cking dot net"

I had him re-assigned to someone else's team. Don't know why he's still with us. So maybe my end of the industry is AFU, but I see everything but "visual" programming going out the window.
posted by login at 10:36 AM on September 10, 2005

If you're actually interested in learning RPG, my college had it as a required course until 2 years ago. I probably still have the book (and the scans I made of it) somewhere... :-D Email me if you'd like.
posted by shepd at 1:30 PM on September 10, 2005

Use books. These languages are not difficult, they are just different. Cobol is verbose, RPG is a different concept. Oddly, my college taught RPG as a first language (bizarre). fortunately, I learned it before class, so was able to tutor half the class (the instructor was a great guy, but not a good lecturer).

If you have any specific questions feel free to write, maybe I'll remember! I taught Cobol for awhile. Geez, its weird talking about those old languages. Sadly, I'm sure I no longer have any reference books around, so maybe I wouldn't be much help.
posted by Goofyy at 7:24 AM on September 11, 2005

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