How Many COBOL Programmers Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb?

COBOL’s continued popularity receives further evidence. Digital Marketing expert and avid COBOL fan Mark Plant reports that another major milestone has been met – this time on Facebook.

The answer to the jokey headline is:

None – that’s a hardware problem of course!

However, if you ever did really need to find out I’d recommend paying a visit to the growing COBOL Programmers Facebook group to ask any one of the 18000 or so members. Many of them realised long ago that COBOL doesn’t need a specific platform to run on.

As you’d expect there’s a huge spectrum of age-ranges present – some of our members worked alongside amazing Grace Hopper herself back in the day and were amongst the first #WomenInSTEM. A few have been taught by her too. However, a quick look at the demographics paints a very different picture of today’s COBOL Programmer and will be a sobering reality check for COBOL-nay-sayers. With a whopping 57% growth in membership in the part 12 months we are clearly going in the right direction.

OK – so who is a member?

The demographics constantly surprise me considering COBOL is a Programming Language that’s more than 60 years old. In terms of Age and Gender here’s how we’re made up:

Yes! A whopping 40% of them are in the 25-34 year old age-group, and while the proportions of Male to Female are not exactly equitable YET, we can see that the more recent efforts by the IT industry to embrace diversity is having an impact for this segment. Hooray.

With such a varied composition how do you keep everyone happy and engaged?

The group is surprisingly active, whether it’s someone asking for Technical Tips and Tricks to someone posting a Meme, there have been over 500 posts in the last 60 days. Jobs, jokes, conversations about the IT industry and employers, discussion about the latest Press Stories, careers, nostalgia, and a look to the future are usually prominent themes. There are often disagreements, but by and large these have been well managed within the framework of rules we abide by (and obviously by fellow administrators Huib Klink, Marta George or myself). We keep criticism positive as opposed to personal; we encourage kindness.

We are also attempting to do our little bit to close the much-documented ‘skills gap’ by encouraging the ‘Mentorship’ feature so the older-timers can pass on their knowledge, skills and memories to the newbies and greenhorns.

Where on earth are these Programmers?

The reality is that most of our group are simply ‘Programmers’. We either have skills in COBOL alongside other languages or have skills in other languages and would genuinely like to add COBOL to our resumes. COBOL still powers the global economy so those skilled in the increasingly complex, hybrid IT systems of today are often bumping into a COBOL-based application that could be modernized or utilized for todays Digital Transformation projects. (Most seem to think that’s a lot less risky than ripping these core systems out and replacing them by the way).

In terms of actual global distribution, obviously the countries where the major System Integrators are based feature prominently, as well as the countries targeted in ‘off-shoring’ and outsourcing drives. There are members from almost every country around the world who are often fluent in multiple human languages too.


It’s an enormous honour helping this group to grow. Readers of my past blogs will know how much respect I have for our IT Forefathers and Mothers, how I think the Mainframe will die another day and how much I enjoy a good movie. So how do I wrap this blogpost up? What does it all mean to me personally?

Interacting with such an eclectic, highly skilled, super-intelligent, and fun group of people is a genuine personal highlight every day. Our group is a perfect blend of old and new, where waterfalls embrace agile and new tech seamlessly bumps up against the older foundations of our digitally-transforming world. It’s a great place to start on a COBOL journey led by incredible mentors. It’s also a great place to help those beginning on their own journey with the most successful ‘Mother Tongue’ of Programming Languages.

So watch this space – more members of the COBOL Programmers group will be blogging in the coming months about the past, present and bright future we share. Why not sign up yourself and take a look around. It’s completely free and part of a growing network of enterprise IT groups, like the Open Mainframe COBOL Project Micro Focus recently became part of.

This post was first first published on Home | Micro Focus Blog website by Mark Plant. You can view it by clicking here