Learning COBOL has been a popular topic as of late and one that’s been covered many times across multiple media venues. High profile computer system outages, labor shortages and even the pandemic have fueled new interest in this sixty-year old programming language. With many new online educators now offering COBOL programming courseware, is learning COBOL the real issue or is the industry need much broader? Ed Airey, senior marketing strategist at Micro Focus, sits down with Paul Kelly, senior technologist and author of the new book titled “Visual COBOL: New Application Modernization Tools for the Java Developer” and why a broader software development focus is needed to meet today’s digital demands.
Ed: Welcome Paul. It’s great to be back with you again discussing the topics of COBOL development, modernization and education. To start things off for our readers, it seems that writing COBOL development books is not a new activity for you. In fact, back in 2016, you were the lead author for the book titled “Visual COBOL: A Developer’s Guide to Modern COBOL”. What was the driver for this first publication and why did you aim to achieve in writing this latest book?
Paul: When I wrote the first book in 2016, I wanted to get people to look beyond the COBOL language and think more about the platform where they want to run their applications, and the practices they need to modernize these systems, successfully. The second book now focuses more on the topic of modernization for Java developers working with COBOL systems and enable these developers to take advantage of the latest technologies.
The New Book
Ed: Thanks Paul. Is this book suitable for Java developers without any working knowledge of COBOL systems?
Paul: That was certainly the aim in writing it. Our goal was to deliver targeted developer content for software engineers working with COBOL applications alongside Java-based technologies. With this new resource for Java developers now available, I am looking forward to receiving some feedback from the greater development community about how well that goal was met.
Ed: What are some of the key areas of focus within this new book and what’s your favorite chapter?
Paul: The book includes many areas of technical focus for developers. One such example is where the book takes a simple legacy application and moves it through the steps to reuse parts of the logic as a "cloud-native" application. The ‘example application’ is referenced throughout the book and serves as a great teaching aid for developers. I would have to say my favorite chapter is the final one, where the example application is shown running on Kubernetes, and where we reuse one single piece of logic as an AWS lambda function. Whatever people think of when they hear about COBOL, it isn't usually "serverless computing". After reading this chapter, I hope you would agree that there are some very exciting capabilities within Visual CBOOL, which challenge the current perception of the language. I believe that Visual COBOL is just as modern as any JVM-based programming language.
Ed: Well, that’s quite exciting, Paul. What will developers receive when they download this latest book?
Paul: Those that download this latest book will receive instant access to a wide array of project and code samples enabling them to give modern COBOL development and application modernization a try. In addition to the sample code, the book also include a free student copy and one-year license of Visual COBOL Personal Edition—modern COBOL development software designed for educational use.
Ed: What other resources are available for developers that wish to continue their learning of COBOL and Application Modernization?
Paul: There are a number of available resources for those that want to learn the COBOL language or better understand how to modernize COBOL-based systems. A great place to start is the Micro Focus Community site where you’ll find many materials including code samples, tutorials, how-to guides as well as various technical forums enabling you to connect with COBOL experts. Another place to start is to download the first book, published back in 2016 – Visual COBOL:: A Developers Guide to Modern COBOL. This is a great starting point for developers starting their journey towards COBOL application modernization. There are many other helpful venues worth exploring too including VIVIT, Facebook’s COBOL Programmer User Group and Micro Focus #DeyDay.
The Next Generation of Developers
Ed: Do you believe this book will help younger developers learn COBOL and if so, how does it accomplish that mission?
Paul: Although this book does provided many helpful hints on COBOL application modernization, it does not set out to give a complete tutorial on how to write a COBOL program from scratch. There are, however, other online resources, that do a better job such as the first COBOL book mentioned above. My hope is that this new book demystifies the COBOL language, and gives today’s Java developers enough context to understand COBOL code so that they can begin the modernization process.
Ed: What advice would you have for software engineers working with COBOL systems today?
Paul: Keep up-to-date with technology. We hear a lot about the cloud these days, and it means more than just rewriting an application to make it run on AWS or Azure. Data centers are being re-designed and re-built as in-house clouds as it provides a more efficient way to use IT resource—and scaling it up and down as needed. This new review and rationalization of software delivery is part of a much wider goal—one that embraces DevOps practices and continuous delivery and treats your infrastructure as code. Understanding how established COBOL-business systems operate and how to bridge to new architectures will set you apart from the competition and enable your skills to stand out during your next job interview.
Ed: Thank you Paul for this opportunity to gain a better view into this latest book “Visual COBOL: New Application Modernization Tools for the Java Developer”. Before we conclude our discussion, do you have any final words you would like to share with our audience today?
Paul: You are welcome, Ed. It has been a pleasure to share with you a few of the highlights from this new Visual COBOL book. I would highly encourage your readers to (1) Read the book, (2) download Visual COBOL from Micro Focus, and (3) have fun working with this latest technology supporting COBOL application modernization.
Get the Book!
Ed: Thank you Paul. We look forward to another discussion soon as we dive deeper into featured topics within this new Visual COBOL book. For our COBOL community and avid blog readers, watch this space for more exciting news as well as an opportunity to ‘virtually’ meet Paul Kelly at one of our upcoming COBOL events. Until then, download your FREE electronic copy of “Visual COBOL: New Application Modernization Tools for the Java Developer” For those that wish to purchase a hard copy, you will find it available for purchase on Amazon. And as always, don’t forget to join the larger COBOL development and modernization discussion on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. We will see you there.