November 2020

COBOL, A Eulogy from Deserve

It’s really happening. The final generation of COBOL programmers are finally collectively moving into retirement, rendering the archaic coding language an artifact of times past.

Sunsetting COBOL in favor of more modern programming languages has been occurring for decades, with many institutions slowly phasing it out of their course curriculums for young programmers.

For legacy institutions like big banks, making forward progress has moved at a glacial pace as they find themselves calcified into the elderly COBOL framework, unable to transition to more relevant and timely technology. “We know our software is outdated,” said CTO of one major financial institution, “but at this point our data is so entrenched in the code that we can’t remove it before all of our COBOL engineers retire."

And retired they are. The COBOL language itself is 61 years old, and the majority of the coders versed in its antiquated framework have been playing shuffleboard for years. Any corporation that hopes to stay relevant in the modern age is giving their COBOL code a generous severance package and sending it out to pasture.

It may be too late for the institutions who have utilized COBOL for years, however. Fast-moving startups like Deserve, a leader in the fintech space, have already far surpassed legacy companies’ digital capabilities by building on a foundation of APIs. Deserve can launch a brand new co-branded credit card in a matter of weeks, compared to up to 24 months for legacy players. In this day and age, working with COBOL is not only a hindrance, but a liability.

To the general relief of the technology community, COBOL’s monolithic and convoluted lines of code, geriatric structure, and general incompatibility with the modern world are finally ready to ride off into the sunset. Delicate, fussy, and slow, programming with COBOL was never truly a walk in the park. The demand for Tylenol will most certainly decrease as developers graduate to coding languages that produce far fewer headaches.

There’s something endearing about relics of simpler times, before speed, efficiency, or effectiveness were paramount. COBOL was reminiscent of days when jet airliners were exciting, Elvis Presley was scandalous, and movie tickets were a dollar.

One thing’s for sure. While COBOL has no business running modern infrastructure, it will live on in our hearts as a fossil, a reminder of times when life was slow.

COBOL, 1959-2020