Info wanted: best way to learn Cobol 
Author Message
 Info wanted: best way to learn Cobol

Hi;

I'm trying to find out the best way to learn cobol.  I've been told by
MicroFocus that I could purchase their Personal Cobol package or possibly
upgrade the Microsoft Cobol 4.5 package that I just picked up recently
from a vendor at a local sidewalk sale rather reasonably.

I'm considering the MF 3.2 Cobol package right now, but I'd like to hear
from any of you who are experienced with these products:

1) are there any decent books on cobol out there?  I have an old copy
of "Structured Cobol Programming" from Wiley that's probably 15+ years old
(bought it when I was still in high school, attempting cobol on an ibm 1130
system, i believe).

2)what kind of programs should I try to write in cobol?  a database program (to
say handle books or records)?

3) what should I do to get myself to a point that I could go and try to
hire into a company as an entry level cobol programmer?

any ideas/comments welcome.  i've been out of work for the last four months,
and it seems that there is a rather good demand for cobol programmers in
my area (dallas/fort worth).

-bob



Thu, 27 Feb 1997 08:28:31 GMT  
 Info wanted: best way to learn Cobol

Quote:

>Of course you'll learn much more, AFTER starting to work and being faced
>with programs to maintain and new "real world" problems to solve.

real world problem: convert 2 german mark to USD, convert 2000 japanese yen to
USD, add them together, make sure the computation is done in 4 decimal
places.
i have no idea why people take proud in solving this type of real world
problem.

Quote:
>Actually, maintaining programs is quite a good way to learn programming,
>because you can see different styles of programming and different ways to
>approach problems. You'll find good ideas, and you will also find ways
>NOT to do things, but as long as you can tell the difference it's OK.

different ways to approach problems? you mean something like: hey, mike did
the yen to dollar conversion first,  but eddie did it second, they still
got the same answer, this is neat! maybe you're telling me why cobol
applications usually require ten times more people to maintain -- cuz
most of them need to learn programming 101 from their job? there could be
millions of Cobol programmers, but i'm sure 90% of them can't identify
the major parts of a CPU.
Quote:

>--
>Enzo-----------------------------------------------------------------
>          And everything under the sun is in tune
>          but the sun is eclipsed by the moon
>Siri-----------------------------------------------------------------



Fri, 28 Feb 1997 11:56:42 GMT  
 Info wanted: best way to learn Cobol

Quote:

>I'm trying to find out the best way to learn cobol.  I've been told by

[...]

Quote:
>2)what kind of programs should I try to write in cobol?  a database program

Well, how about writing a BBS in COBOL?  I'm writing one using COBOL
and it's a great learning experience. You'll get lots of file-handling
experience by doing this; for example, the user database, the storage
of messages and their associated header information, text files that
need to be read in by the program, etc.

Note: the above suggestion works better if one is using a real
computer system with a real operating system (multi-user) and all or
most of the low-level communications work is taken care of by the OS.
Of course, one can always write assembly-language function calls. :-)

Good luck!

--
R.D. Davis           |
...uunet!mystica!rdd |          Eccentrics have more fun! :-)

1-410-744-7964       |



Fri, 28 Feb 1997 12:23:39 GMT  
 Info wanted: best way to learn Cobol


Quote:

> 2)what kind of programs should I try to write in cobol?  a database program (to
> say handle books or records)?

A database program would help but I think it's better if you learn how
to use indexed and sequential files because you'll find those in
every computer. On the other hand, the database tends to be more
"machine specific" or "operating system specific" so you could spend
time/money learning how to use a database and then find a job in a
company that uses a different one. Anyway, some basic SQL is helpful
because more and more databases are using SQL-like interfaces.

Also a report, with several control-breaks (different levels of sub-totalling).

And file-matching. If you can write a program to match n files (start
with 2, but once you've got the idea is very easy) that means you are
quite proficient in COBOL.

Of course you'll learn much more, AFTER starting to work and being faced
with programs to maintain and new "real world" problems to solve.
Actually, maintaining programs is quite a good way to learn programming,
because you can see different styles of programming and different ways to
approach problems. You'll find good ideas, and you will also find ways
NOT to do things, but as long as you can tell the difference it's OK.

--
Enzo-----------------------------------------------------------------
          And everything under the sun is in tune
          but the sun is eclipsed by the moon
Siri-----------------------------------------------------------------



Fri, 28 Feb 1997 00:13:01 GMT  
 Info wanted: best way to learn Cobol
: I'm trying to find out the best way to learn cobol.

Drink heavily.

: 2)what kind of programs should I try to write in cobol?  a database program (to
: say handle books or records)?

Basically anything that involves moving lots of data through the machine
without alot of computation. Classic problems include master file update,
payroll. Write a check balancing program. You also want to use the abstract
verbs like sort, report, etc. Cobol can do alot of work, in specific areas,
for you.

The kinds of things usually discussed in Usenet tend to be computation
intensive, and not so useful for you.

: 3) what should I do to get myself to a point that I could go and try to
: hire into a company as an entry level cobol programmer?

Do you know any accounting/finance/business/database/mis?

--

the set of the cardinals?               |             Cupertino, California
                  ... ond lof-gearnost. | (xxx)xxx-xxxx               95015



Fri, 28 Feb 1997 05:11:49 GMT  
 Info wanted: best way to learn Cobol

Quote:

>Well, I think it's better than selling software that convert COBOL
>comments to C comments.

look, there's nothing magical about cobol to c conversion, if you have
money to spare, give Abraxis Software a call, they've been selling a
cobol to c translator (though not a good one) for a long time.

Quote:
>You are obviously a clueless {*filter*}er who has never seen a "real life"
>system working.
>Ever heard of error propagation? Did you know that a*(b+c) can be different
>to a*b+a*c? You have a long way to go... but with that arrogance you
>are going down the toilet.

anyone graduated with a CS degree should have at least taken
courses in numerical analysis, AI/Neuroscience, and abstract algebra.
you care to make you question a bit more specific?

Quote:
>Ten times more people to maintain than what?

any language you can imagine.

cobol is the worse language ever invented. end of story.



Sat, 01 Mar 1997 12:21:56 GMT  
 Info wanted: best way to learn Cobol

Quote:



> >Of course you'll learn much more, AFTER starting to work and being faced
> >with programs to maintain and new "real world" problems to solve.

> i have no idea why people take proud in solving this type of real world
> problem.

Well, I think it's better than selling software that convert COBOL
comments to C comments.

Quote:

> >Actually, maintaining programs is quite a good way to learn programming,
> >because you can see different styles of programming and different ways to
> >approach problems. You'll find good ideas, and you will also find ways
> >NOT to do things, but as long as you can tell the difference it's OK.

> different ways to approach problems? you mean something like: hey, mike did
> the yen to dollar conversion first,  but eddie did it second, they still
> got the same answer, this is neat!

You are obviously a clueless {*filter*}er who has never seen a "real life"
system working.
Ever heard of error propagation? Did you know that a*(b+c) can be different
to a*b+a*c? You have a long way to go... but with that arrogance you
are going down the toilet.

Quote:
> maybe you're telling me why cobol
> applications usually require ten times more people to maintain

Ten times more people to maintain than what?

You are crying for a place in my Kill file. OK, OK, you got it.

--
Enzo-----------------------------------------------------------------
          And everything under the sun is in tune
          but the sun is eclipsed by the moon
Siri-----------------------------------------------------------------



Sat, 01 Mar 1997 02:34:21 GMT  
 Info wanted: best way to learn Cobol
: cobol is the worse language ever invented. end of story.

(snicker) Obviously someone who missed the Joy of Keypunching
fortran II.
--

the set of the cardinals?               |             Cupertino, California
                  ... ond lof-gearnost. | (xxx)xxx-xxxx               95015



Sun, 02 Mar 1997 16:18:58 GMT  
 Info wanted: best way to learn Cobol

Quote:

>: cobol is the worse language ever invented. end of story.

I thought that SMURF (from Microsoft) was the worst computer language
ever invented.

--
R.D. Davis           |
...uunet!mystica!rdd |          Eccentrics have more fun! :-)

1-410-744-7964       |



Sun, 02 Mar 1997 23:23:11 GMT  
 Info wanted: best way to learn Cobol

Quote:



> Of course you'll learn much more, AFTER starting to work and being faced

                                     ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
Quote:
> with programs to maintain and new "real world" problems to solve.

                                      ^^^^^^^^^^

Dag blast it!  More of this blooming blasted "real world" nonsense.
Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I take this to mean that only
writing programs for Some Random Company, and being paid to do so,
constitutes valid programming experience.  If someone is good at
hacking out code, whether it be on one's own just for the fun of it or
to write programs that one finds useful for one's own needs, or if one
hacks out some code in academia, how is all this less important than
the experience one gets for grinding out code for Some Random Company,
where the work or projects involved are probably more boring and less
interesting than the hacks that one might do on one's own or for a
research project of one's own choosing?  

From what I've observed, many people who grind out code for a living,
and call themselves computer professionals, spend an awful lot of time
doing boring things that don't exactly require a lot of thinking or
intelligence. Like, for example, cranking out simple, and boring,
reports that meet some random specification that one isn't allowed to
improve upon or else the sit around making simple modifications to
code that someone else wrote.  Mind you, most the type of work
mentioned thus far in this paragraph requires little creativity or
thinking; it merely requires the abiliities of a robot which can
follow procedures.  On the other hand, someone who has to write code
from start to finish, perfecting it as they go along, doing novel and
creative things with it, is the better programmer; often people who
have done a lot of coding for themselves and for academic projects,
etc., are very good programmers, yet, they are shunned by those who
claim to live and work in the "real world".

If I'm hacking out code for my own use, I'd say that the coding
experience is every bit as relevant, and the quality is just as good,
as the coding that I do for a consulting client or what I've done for
employers in the past.  After all, I have to depend on the code that I
write for my own use, and it had better work right... who's to say
that some random emloyer has higher standards than I have?  There are
lots of people out here hacking out top-quality code, for their own
use, for the use of the net-community (freeware) as well as those
writing shareware for various types of computer systems.

I'll tell you what some of it boils down to: jealousy and fear.  Some
"real world" computer "professionals" (snicker - sure, right, some
are really as intelligent, professional and well-manered as a
horse-fly) are afraid that someone is going to show them up.  

Other "real world" reasons for this foolishness include the need for
personnel department droids to have some "standards" to go by to
satisfy the damned EEOC (for those outside of the US, EEOC means Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission, or the Never Give A White Male A
Fair Chance To Get A Job Commission); they need to be able to
categorize everyone and they just don't know how to categorize someone
based upon someone's knowlege and true programming experience;
categorizing people by the degree(s) that they have and the number of
years of work experience is, on the other hand, easy enough for their
feeble minds to comprehend.

Why can't they just hire someone who appears able to do the work, paid
work experience or not, and if he turns out to be a bumbling moron who
can't do the work, just fire him after the first few hours and hire
someone else?  Of course, this would make sense and is probably
illegal anyway.

--
R.D. Davis           |
...uunet!mystica!rdd |          Eccentrics have more fun! :-)

1-410-744-7964       |



Mon, 03 Mar 1997 23:25:15 GMT  
 Info wanted: best way to learn Cobol
: Hi;

: I'm trying to find out the best way to learn cobol.

Why did I first thought he said "I'm trying to find the best way to
obtain brain damage"?  :)

****
NOTICE: I reserve the right to ignore or PUBLICLY POST any vicious or
{*filter*} E-Mail; irregardless of any statements in your messages to the
contrary; by sending responses in violation of this paragraph you
unconditionally consent to this condition.  You have been warned.
--






Tue, 04 Mar 1997 06:04:10 GMT  
 Info wanted: best way to learn Cobol
: Hi;

: I'm trying to find out the best way to learn cobol.  I've been told by
: MicroFocus that I could purchase their Personal Cobol package or possibly
: upgrade the Microsoft Cobol 4.5 package that I just picked up recently
: from a vendor at a local sidewalk sale rather reasonably.

: I'm considering the MF 3.2 Cobol package right now, but I'd like to hear
: from any of you who are experienced with these products:

: 1) are there any decent books on cobol out there?  I have an old copy
: of "Structured Cobol Programming" from Wiley that's probably 15+ years old
: (bought it when I was still in high school, attempting cobol on an ibm 1130
: system, i believe).

Any book that covers COBOL that was written after the 1988 revisions
should be okay.

: 2)what kind of programs should I try to write in cobol?  a database program (to
: say handle books or records)?

If you want to do something that will impress a potential employer, do
one that handles screen I/O, compares stuff, etc.

: 3) what should I do to get myself to a point that I could go and try to
: hire into a company as an entry level cobol programmer?

Unless you get a degree, it's going to be *HARD*, damned hard.  Now, if
you know people you might try talking around and finding people who are
working for real.

One possibility is to learn COBOL, then learn Unix and Netware, possibly
get the Certified Netware Engineer certificate, then put yourself out as
a specialist in downsizing.  That is something you could try.

: any ideas/comments welcome.  i've been out of work for the last four months,
: and it seems that there is a rather good demand for cobol programmers in
: my area (dallas/fort worth).

It's a Catch-22 situation; they won't hire you without experience and you
can't get experience unless someone hires you.  And from what I hear,
many of the jobs advertised in the paper are just "fishing expeditions"
to see who is out there.  

If you can afford it, see if some place is willing to take you as an
unpaid intern - tell them the truth, you want to learn something.  That
may not work, but it's a start.

The other possibility is to do what you can to get an interview,
bypassing the personnel office, and showing what you are capable of
doing, and offering to take a 2-year open-ended contract, e.g. you won't
quit to move to another place for 2 years and will accept termination at
any earlier time if they consider your performance inadequate.

But the fact is most companies don't want to take trainees because they
figure as soon as the person knows something he moves on, taking the
valuable training elsewhere for more money, and they are often right.
But the fact is that this 'short term thinking' is what is exacerbating
the shortage of programmers.

****
NOTICE: I reserve the right to ignore or PUBLICLY POST any vicious or
{*filter*} E-Mail; irregardless of any statements in your messages to the
contrary; by sending responses in violation of this paragraph you
unconditionally consent to this condition.  You have been warned.
--






Mon, 03 Mar 1997 12:41:56 GMT  
 Info wanted: best way to learn Cobol



: > Of course you'll learn much more, AFTER starting to work and being faced
: > with programs to maintain and new "real world" problems to solve.
:                                       ^^^^^^^^^^

: Dag blast it!  More of this blooming blasted "real world" nonsense.
: Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I take this to mean that only
: writing programs for Some Random Company, and being paid to do so,
: constitutes valid programming experience.  

That's what companies look at is your programming experience at a place
that paid you to sit in front of a terminal.

: If someone is good at
: hacking out code, whether it be on one's own just for the fun of it or
: to write programs that one finds useful for one's own needs, or if one
: hacks out some code in academia, how is all this less important than
: the experience one gets for grinding out code for Some Random Company,
: where the work or projects involved are probably more boring and less
: interesting than the hacks that one might do on one's own or for a
: research project of one's own choosing?  

Some places may take examples of work done in a volunteer setting, but
most see gainful employment as proof of ability.  Of course, you may have
been there because you found out your boss was using his lunch hour to
have meetings with his boss' wife at the lo-tel motel, and you got fired
when your boss got a job at another company (and his new boss has a
prettier wife.:) )

: From what I've observed, many people who grind out code...
: doing boring things that don't exactly require a lot of...
: thinking; it merely requires the abiliities of a robot which can
: follow procedures.  On the other hand, someone who has to write code
: from start to finish, ... are very good programmers, yet, they are
: shunned by those who claim to live and work in the "real world".

Large companies are known for being bureaucratic.  So they want employees
that don't rock the boat.  Nice, staid, comfortable and boring.

: I'll tell you what some of it boils down to: jealousy and fear.  Some
: "real world" computer "professionals" (snicker - sure, right, some
: are really as intelligent, professional and well-manered as a
: horse-fly) are afraid that someone is going to show them up.

That could be right.

: Other "real world" reasons for this foolishness include ... the damned
: EEOC (for those outside of the US, EEOC means Equal Employment
: Opportunity Commission, or the Never Give A White Male A Fair Chance To
: Get A Job Commission)... categorizing people by the degree(s) that they
: have and the number of years of work experience is, on the other hand,
: easy enough for their feeble minds to comprehend.

That's possibly true.  This is also one of the reasons that anyone
seriously looking for a job has to find out who the decision maker in
that company is and get to him first, bypassing the personnel
department.  Wasn't it Dirty Harry who said, "Personnel?  That's for
{*filter*}s!"

: Why can't they just hire someone who appears able to do the work, paid
: work experience or not, and if he turns out to be a bumbling moron who
: can't do the work, just fire him after the first few hours and hire
: someone else?  Of course, this would make sense and is probably
: illegal anyway.

First, whoever hires someone is putting his reputation as a manager on
the line if they pick a bad egg.  Too many bad eggs and the manager gets
dumped too.

For one thing unless you have a system identical to whatever they used
before, it's going to take anyone you hire time to get up to speed on the
system, and even if it is identical, it can take time for them to come up
to speed on the procedures and rules your site has.

I figure it takes at least two weeks to even get to know if someone is
acceptable because it probably takes that long for them to be able to use
the system without screwing up.  If someone is hired directly, it's
probably about three months before they decide that the person is so bad
that they are unacceptable and have to be fired; you can't make the decision
the way you would order a pound of hamburger, e.g. go back in a day and
pick someone else.

Then you have to go back to the slush pile and try again, which is
painful.  Nobody likes to have to do hiring, it's time consuming and
monitoring the new guys is a pain.  I've seen it from both ends, both as
someone who has gone on interviews and as someone who has interviewed
people.  I was just glad all I had to do was note if there were
technical deficiencies, I'd hate to have to have been the one to put his
ass on the line and say that we should hire this person.

****
NOTICE: I reserve the right to ignore or PUBLICLY POST any vicious or
{*filter*} E-Mail; irregardless of any statements in your messages to the
contrary; by sending responses in violation of this paragraph you
unconditionally consent to this condition.  You have been warned.
--






Tue, 04 Mar 1997 06:22:21 GMT  
 Info wanted: best way to learn Cobol


: Of course you'll learn much more, AFTER starting to work and being faced
: with programs to maintain and new "real world" problems to solve.
: Actually, maintaining programs is quite a good way to learn programming,
: because you can see different styles of programming and different ways to
: approach problems. You'll find good ideas, and you will also find ways
: NOT to do things, but as long as you can tell the difference it's OK.

Got a question for you: what are conditions like in the UK?  Most places
will not hire a trainee programmer here in the U.S. unless they have a
degree, and some want their people they are hiring to have several years
experience AND a degree.  This, of course, exacerbates the situation of
programmers in that there aren't enough experienced, degreed programmers
to go around.

****
NOTICE: I reserve the right to ignore or PUBLICLY POST any vicious or
{*filter*} E-Mail; irregardless of any statements in your messages to the
contrary; by sending responses in violation of this paragraph you
unconditionally consent to this condition.  You have been warned.
--






Mon, 03 Mar 1997 12:44:34 GMT  
 Info wanted: best way to learn Cobol

: cobol is the worse language ever invented. end of story.

Oh, come ohhhn.  COBOL is a DAMN sight better than some of these pattern
matching languages in terms of being able to figure out what the program
does two months later when it has to be maintained.

In the real world, Maintenance takes 80% of the work.

****
NOTICE: I reserve the right to ignore or PUBLICLY POST any vicious or
{*filter*} E-Mail; irregardless of any statements in your messages to the
contrary; by sending responses in violation of this paragraph you
unconditionally consent to this condition.  You have been warned.
--






Mon, 03 Mar 1997 12:47:45 GMT  
 
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