Rich kids are into COBOL

Rich Alderson RichA at
Tue Feb 17 14:27:51 CST 2015

From: Ethan Dicks
Sent: Tuesday, February 17, 2015 11:03 AM

> On Tue, Feb 17, 2015 at 1:54 PM, Roe Peterson <roeapeterson at> wrote:

>> I wouldn't wish a COBOL career on my worst enemy.  What a god-awful mess.

> I concur.  In 1978 or so, when I was new to BASIC (and still in Jr High), my
> mother got me a book on COBOL
> in the hopes, I think, of inspiring me on a career path.  I'd written a few
> dozen working programs in BASIC and typed in many more at that point.  What I
> read horrified me.  How could anything be that mind-crushingly verbose?
> Pages and pages of form and very little function.  Fortunately for me, long
> before college, I fell into paying work in microcomputers, then as I started
> college, minicomputers.  I did take a FORTRAN course my first quarter at
> University (my one and only!) and I did learn FORTRAN before C, but I don't
> think I was irreparably damaged by my early efforts.

As late as 1990, I was still telling student employees at LOTS that they ought
to learn COBOL and JCL (MVS and DOS/VSE) as well as the cool languages.  That
way they were always assured of finding work while they looked for a job.  I
don't think any of them believed me...

I learned FORTRAN IV (1401) and PL/1 and COBOL (360/40 under DOS) my last
semester of high school, then picked up 360 Assembler as well as improving all
three over the following summer.  I only used Fortran in anger for a short
while in the late 1990s, but I made good money with COBOL and PL/1 through
college, grad school, and for a while beyond, until I moved into systems
programming (SVS/MVS and TOPS-20).  In the mean time, I wrote a Pascal compiler
for the DEC-20, and began my lifelong love affair with Lisp.

My *only* forays into BASIC were to read the Tiny Pascal compiler articles in
BYTE, and the source for the Star Trek game that ran under Wylbur on the
UChicago Wylbur system.

I don't think COBOL has hurt me at all.  In fact, I considered brushing it off
before I landed the current position, and I've had occasion to write some for
real production use at the museum.


Rich Alderson
Vintage Computing Sr. Systems Engineer
Living Computer Museum
2245 1st Avenue S
Seattle, WA 98134

mailto:RichA at

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