COBOL is King

Hi guys!!! I know, it’s been way too long. But today’s story is worth it, I promise!!

SO when we last chatted, I was going on and on about different kinds of programming languages. You remember, high-level and low-level and such? And I made a great throwback to Naughty By Nature’s O.P.P. that I thought was hilarious, but maybe didn’t go over so well…. anyways. So. Thinking about throwbacks got me thinking about one of the very first programming languages: COBOL! Well, technically it’s called the Common Business Oriented Language, but pretty much everyone just calls it COBOL. And I’m pretty hip and cool in the insurance and programming world, so that’s what we’re going with!

So how did COBOL get started? I’m so glad you asked! Back when computers were first invented, each computer maker company thing used its own programming languages to tell a computer what to do. And that got kind of messy if you wanted to work on more than one brand of computer. So in 1959, a group of programmers developed COBOL (get, it, COMMON?) to run on more than one brand of computer. The funny thing is, this language was only supposed to be used for a short time before they could develop something better.

Grace Hopper, center, leads a team creating COBOL.
Grace Hopper, center, leads a team creating COBOL.

But corporations, businesses, and even the government needed a common language to interact with budgets, maintain payrolls, and do all kinds of business processing. And so COBOL was quickly adopted by both the private sector and government agencies. So, it dominated that world for decades. And, uh, still does!


It’s funny how old things are coming back, isn’t it? Even recently! If I had written this article over a year ago, almost no one in the general public would’ve heard about COBOL. But following the chaotic year we’ve had with COVID-19, there’s a chance that you’ve heard COBOL in the news again! Why you ask? Well, do you remember last March when unemployment claims went through the roof and many state governments couldn’t keep up? A major cause of the chaos was COBOL! Many of their systems are STILL running on COBOL, but there aren’t a whole lot of programmers left who write in COBOL. Like I said, COBOL was only supposed to be a Band-Aid on a problem, so many schools stopped teaching COBOL years, if not decades ago!


HOW COOL IS THAT?!?! Well, cool might be a good word as an outsider. It’s super expensive, time-consuming, and stressful to move to a new system, so that’s why COBOL is still pretty prevalent, not only in government programs, but in insurance as well!

Our programmers at ASI do quite a bit of work in COBOL daily, so they’re pretty good at fixing bugs, making changes, and updating software. So if you know of anyone needing help updating or patching a COBOL system, let me know! I’ll send out the twilight bark!