“Battleship,” a 2012 science fiction action film, features a conflict between aliens and U.S. naval officers who commandeer a World War II battleship and, thanks to the aid of seasoned vets who know how to operate the old ship, manage to win the day.
A similar, albeit less dangerous, scenario is taking place today as some U.S. companies and organizations find it necessary to recruit older programmers – some as old as 75 – to help maintain computers built around a vintage language known as COBOL.
COBOL Considered Archaic
The Common Business Oriented Language (COBOL) came into being almost six decades ago, and conventional wisdom has been that the language has been all but replaced by Java, C, Python and other so-called modern programming languages.
That “wisdom,” however, is wrong, especially when it comes to a large number of government institutions and businesses – including a huge chunk of the financial services industry. Those entities still use the language as an integral part of their computer systems.
Still Crucial After All These Years
In fact, in the U.S., about 80% of in-person transactions and 95% of ATM transactions are based on programs written in COBOL. Unfortunately, there are not enough people trained in the language to maintain current COBOL-based systems. In many cases, when something goes wrong there’s nobody available to fix the problem.
With about $3 trillion in commerce flowing through COBOL systems every day, major financial organizations and government institutions are in dire need of programmers who understand the language and how to use it.
Seniors to the Rescue
Many experts predict COBOL will remain a major language for at least the next 20 years. That’s plenty of time for COBOL-trained retirees to make a few bucks. In fact, banks and financial institutions currently pay experienced COBOL programmers $100 an hour or more just to fix problems.
Although most colleges and universities have stopped teaching COBOL, others are initiating new courses and hiring experienced older programmers to teach today’s younger computer experts the inside secrets of this ancient code.
For some, the notion of becoming a college instructor, passing along a legacy and getting paid at the same time, is an extremely attractive incentive for taking a position at a local college campus.
A Whole Lot of Programming to Do
If you know COBOL, there is work to be had. If you have an interest in teaching, there are young programming students who are learning that there is a future in helping large organizations maintain and update their legacy COBOL applications.
Maintaining and updating only scratches the surface. Companies want to find ways to connect their existing mainframe computers to mobile apps and to the programming languages on which those apps run.
If you are willing to be part of the transition from old to new, you have an opportunity to not only advance the cause, but to get paid well to do it.
The Bottom Line
To get in on the COBOL gravy train, start by dusting off your resume and checking with companies – especially financial institutions that are known to have mainframe computers that utilize programs written in that language.
Experts advise that when you interview for a job it’s important to point out how your expertise in a programming language most young people don’t know can help the company thrive. It’s also important not to come off with an “I told you so” attitude.
Finally, demonstrate how you can integrate COBOL with more modern programming languages. The ability to bridge the gap puts you in the best employment place of all – indispensable. (For other employment ideas for retirees, see On a Retirement Job Search? Try These Agencies and Best Freelancing Jobs for Retirees.)