COBOL Crunch Puts Bite on California Budget Plan

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Last August, I wrote about the dread harbored by the IT industry over a possible Big Problem related to Big Iron.


Lots of aging programmers versed in the legacy languages of mainframes, such as COBOL, are expected to retire soon. Younger programmers have shunned these languages in favor of newer ones like Java and .NET. And, gulp, 62 percent of IT managers surveyed by Computerworld last year were still actively using COBOL.


While Forrester Research assured organizations that the impending skills shortage likely wouldn't be as severe as many feared, it nonetheless encouraged them to prepare formal contingency plans to maintain their legacy systems. Outsourcing was one possibility mentioned by Forrester, which advised companies to try Eastern Europe or Russia, which were likely to have a more abundant supply of COBOL programmers than India or China.


Apparently no one shared this information with the state of California. The Register reports thatCOBOL is at the center of a controversy over a budget stalemate there. When ordered by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to cut the salaries of the state's 200,000 employees, state controller John Chiang informed Schwarzenegger that it would take six months to reconfigure the state's COBOL-based payroll system and make the change.


Cue the irony: part-time COBOL programmers were among 10,000 employees recently laid off by the state in an effort to solve its budget crisis. The expertise can be found, but organizations will likely pay a premium for it as the pool of COBOL programmers shrinks. The Register mentions that IBM offered to rewrite another legacy system in California for $30 million.