Academia and the
Year 2000 Computer Problem

by Jerome Garfunkel


One of the causes of the millennium problem facing the computer industry today is the change in programming languages used to develop today’s business applications. This change will prove to be a very costly error. Encouraged by Academia and ignoring the historical reasons that COBOL was chosen in the first place to develop most of the legacy applications running today’s commercial computers - both large and small, the computer industry began to move away from COBOL to the more popular programming languages of today, C, C++, Java, Visual Basic etc. about 12 years ago. Academia, more interested in computer science than in commercial computing, turned its back on the COBOL language from the very beginning 38 years ago. It was left primarily to private industry to train employees in business computing subjects including COBOL programming. Today, the Academic community is still ignoring COBOL. They have been producing an abundance of C and C++ programmers and a dearth of COBOL programmers despite the inappropriateness of the former as business application languages. The major difference today from 30 years ago, is that the computer industry went along with the irreverence this time rather than challenge it. The result today of course is a dire shortage of COBOL programmers to maintain the huge inventory of legacy systems written in COBOL. Perhaps even worse is the current build up of business applications written in low level languages (C, C++ etc.) and high level languages (Visual basic, Power Builder, etc.) that will eventually be more costly to maintain than today’s COBOL legacy systems. These of course will be the new legacy systems we must deal with well into the 21st century. Ironically, even before the start of the new millennium, the computer industry is already seeing this emerging problem. In many ways it is a repeat of the problems that the computer industry faced 30 years ago as it struggled to replace its "assembler" (low level) applications with more maintainable systems developed in languages such as COBOL. The computer industry - indeed the entire international business community - is rediscovering the lessons learned 2 and 3 decades ago: for computer applications, clearness is a virtue, not cleverness. COBOL shines above all other programming languages in its clarity - always has, always will.  To learn more about the durability of COBOL and its strengths
see COBOL, CokeTM   and the Year 2000.