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Daring Fireball: COBOL, Programming, and Coding

Daring Fireball: COBOL, Programming, and Coding

Makena Kelly, reporting for The Verge on the necessary segments of U.S. infrastructure that run on COBOL legacy techniques, which have been overwhelmed in the course of the COVID-19 disaster:

Colorado — like most states and territories throughout the nation —
is experiencing document unemployment numbers. But the state’s
unemployment system is constructed on growing old software program operating on a
decades-old coding language often called COBOL. Over the years, COBOL
programmers have aged out of the workforce, forcing states to
scramble for fluent coders in occasions of nationwide disaster.

A survey by The Verge discovered that at the least 12 states nonetheless use
COBOL in some capability of their unemployment techniques. Alaska,
Connecticut, California, Iowa, Kansas, and Rhode Island all run on
the growing old language. According to a spokesperson from the Colorado
Department of Labor and Employment, the state was really solely a
month or two away from “migrating into a brand new atmosphere and away
from COBOL,” earlier than the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

To fashionable eyes, COBOL syntax is simply plain bizarre. Programmers are famously opinionated about languages, however at a excessive stage, nearly all widespread fashionable languages in use in the present day are essentially related. If you recognize, let’s say, JavaScript, you’ll be able to choose up Go, Swift, Java, Python, Ruby, Lua, and so on. fairly simply. You can at the least have a look at examples from these different languages and observe alongside. COBOL is like one thing from one other universe. It’s a big funding to stand up to hurry with the COBOL language, and from the sounds of it, an excellent deeper funding to stand up to hurry with these 40-year-old code bases (not merely to make adjustments — however to make adjustments that don’t end in unintended breakages elsewhere).

As a sidenote, I’m fascinated at how code has, seemingly abruptly, eclipsed program in widespread utilization. Until not too long ago, a programmer was one who programmed utilizing a programming language. Now, you usually hear that a coder is one who codes utilizing a coding language. I don’t thoughts the noun coder or verb coding a lot — I don’t like them, however I can bear them — however the adjective coding language really grates on my ears. The Art of Computer Coding or The C Coding Language simply wouldn’t carry the identical literary heft. Programming is a severe endeavor; coding seems like a lark — just like the distinction between writing and jotting.

There’s additionally a lacking noun kind for the output, the product. A programmer can write code to create a program. A coder can write code to create… effectively, all kinds of stuff — scripts, frameworks, plugins, providers, bots, and, in fact, apps — however none of them are rooted within the phrase code. But we don’t a lot converse of packages any extra, which, I think, is partly accountable for the decline in utilization of all types of program.

A much bigger issue, I think, is generational. Programming sounds outdated and stodgy; coding sounds younger and cool. Today’s utilization development towards coding is in actual fact the other of the ’90s development towards calling the sphere software program engineering — coding sounds casual, guileless, advert hoc; engineering sounds rigorous, regulated, and let’s face it, pretentious.

And, lastly, there’s the explosive development in demand, which has led to many individuals doing it who aren’t any good at it. Code is merely a method to an finish. Programming is an artwork and code is merely its medium. Pointing a digicam at a topic doesn’t make one a correct photographer. There are lots of self-described coders on the market who couldn’t program their manner out of a paper bag.

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