If I want to get into mainframe programming is COBOL the way to go?

by on July 20, 2010

Q: I am currently working in the non-profit world and manage a database program for client data. I have a Masters and Bachelor’s in social services. I would like to get into the programming field, primarily mainframe programming and have been told that COBOL is the language to learn. Any advice on how to start? It’s hard to find affordable classes in COBOL. What would be optimal is to find a company that would be willing to hire and train. Are there many of these out there? Where should I look. Are recruiters worth the effort? Any advice is appreciated.

3 Responses to “If I want to get into mainframe programming is COBOL the way to go?”

    I would suggest that anyone who told you to learn COBOL is out of the loop. COBOL is one of the oldest programming languages and due to this there was a major demand back before 2000 due to the big date issue caused by using 2 digit years instead of 4 digit years but since then there has been no new demand for COBOL programmers. This means the chances of getting a job with COBOL is slim to none because most programmers that still do COBOL are lifers at the companies they work for just to support the existing software.

    As a matter of fact mainframes are out of style in the computer world because it is considerably less expensive to get many commodity PC’s and spread the work over those than it is to get one expensive mainframe.

    I would personally suggest looking at a local college and seeing what they offer for beginning programming. Normally a programming 101 course would use Java or C++ and would let you get started with the problem solving required in programming. A lot of non-programmers normally think that programming is about learning the language but in reality programming has nothing to do with the language but has to do with knowing how to solve problems efficiently. A successful programmer will probably be very efficient with 5 to 10 different languages.

    I would suggest you read http://www.askageek.com/2010/07/06/what-are-the-requirements-for-being-a-tech-professional/ for a little more information as someone recently asked a similar question and I have my answer for him there.


    Well, I appreciate the honesty. The person I spoke with is someone who has been with that particular company for years and they trained her. So I guess she could be termed a lifer. I did some programming back in the dinosaur days when BASIC was still being used, and I am the liaison with our programmers and create the report requests, so I know about the problem solving and logic, setting report criteria, etc. I’ve purchased some books and will be starting an online course this week in C++ so hopefully that will give me a better feel for what programming is like in this decade. I really appreciate the quick response and if anyone else has something to post that is constructive, I would love to hear it. Thanks again!


    Mainframe programing is still pretty active in some areas, primarily federal government and major banks. Check USAJobs.gov for IT Specialist positions in your region. You can expect most of these opening to be in the DC metro region. Most federal agencies will train you for the job.