Happy Birthday COBOL
COBOL or Common Business-Oriented Language was invented in an attempt to standardize a language for the Department of Defense. One of the inventors of the Language was Grace Murray Hopper (the woman who invented the term “bug” to describe programming defect.)
COBOL code survives to this day, although there are many fewer COBOL jobs. It is estimated that as much as 75% of all computer programs running today are written in COBOL. COBOL runs incredibly fast compared to all modern languages. It is used in large applications like banking and airline reservations systems.
The first program that I wrote as a professional programmer was written in COBOL. I learned how to code it from reading books and looking at the code of other programmers. A programmer named Charlie Hannes had taken classes where he learned Structured Programming and I was greatly influenced then and even to this day by his clean style. I learned the tricks from another programmer, Vinnie DeLuca, who wrote “old style” spaghetti code. He learned to program as a CIA analyst on computers that had less than 10,000 bytes of RAM. He did things like write initialization routines using the input/output buffers where it would be erased when files were read, but after they had done their work. I used such trick extensively in my career as an assembly language coder.
I taught COBOL for 20 years at several colleges, until the last college dropped COBOL from its curriculum.
I wrote my final COBOL program at Lockheed about 1988. COBOL is probably the great Mother Tongue of computer languages and has influenced modern programming even more than other ancient languages such as ALGOL or FORTRAN.
COBOL has been good to me. It kept me in beer and cat food for half of my life and since then, the lessons that I learned from COBOL programming have kept me fat and padded my 401K.
Today, if you find a moment, and there is a bar within walking distance, stop and raise a pint to the COBOL programmers. Most of the original ones have retired or died at their green screen terminals. COBOL programmers are becoming a legend of the Iron Age of computers when bits were stored on magnetic rings and program lines were written by punching holes in paper cards.
COBOL turns 50