JD Williams, a UK-based direct home shopping company, considers Cobol an essential skill when hiring programmers, according to IT training manager Mike Madden: "We've got a development shop of about 100 people, and 60 of them know Cobol. They're all actively coding in it or using it in their analysis." The company has a huge legacy system built on Cobol and Assembler that includes more than 5,000 programs.
There's even work for those who prefer -- or are at least willing to take -- short-term gigs. Andrew Larkin, an IT project manager in the legal field, learned Cobol in 1998 to leverage the boom in IT jobs due to the Y2K craze; since then, he's found that "the primary suppliers of Cobol jobs are either very large companies looking for maintenance hires or head hunting firms with contract positions to fill, most of which last less than a year."
J.D. Williams' Madden contends that contract work is a solid fallback plan for Cobol programmers. "I would quite happily go back to being a freelance Cobol programmer because that's quite secure, too," the IT training manager says.
Retired programmer Kees believes that IT shops "could very well still have Cobol shreds existing" decades into the future. "Cobol will be around for some time -- maybe till 2050, I don't know," Kees adds. "But I would bet it will still be in use when I croak."
Ephraim Schwartz contributed to this report