Learning Cobol and Getting Jobs 
Author Message
 Learning Cobol and Getting Jobs

Recently I have heard a number of people express the desire to
learn Cobol.  Over the years I have mentored a number of people
in Cobol with some successes and some failures.

The people who have succeeded in learning Cobol are those who
are motivated - I call them "diggers".  They dig in, they find
the answers, they read the manuals, they squeeze their hands
around a problem until it cries uncle.

The world is full of resources for learning Cobol for those
who are motivated to do so.  There are college courses and
technical school courses.  There are full course outlines on
the web.  There are free downloadable Cobol compilers and
interpretors so that the student can try it out.

The COBOL Center website includes helps for those who want to learn
Cobol.  It includes links to Cobol compilers, free and otherwise.
It includes links to self study resources including Power Point
slides for a complete college course.  It points to courses and
seminars offered by colleges and training firms.  It points to
reference information including the IBM Cobol on the web manual
set.  It points to mainframe resources for those who also want
to learn mainframe / MVS technology.

The site is:

Remember:  Diggers know where to find the answers.  Do your own
leg work to find the answers.  Read the manual.  Read the FAQ.
Experiment yourself.

If you want to learn MVS from your PC I suggest that you obtain
a mainframe ISPF like editor from Command Technology Corp or
Tritus.  ISPF is the "Integrated Development Environment" / IDE
of mainframes.  Also, get the book "System 370/390 JCL" 3rd Edition by
Gary DeWard Brown.  IBM's DB2 is the leading mainframe database.  It is
SQL based.  You can learn this by working with the DB2 Common
Server or other SQL based system on the PC.  The mainframe also
has many programs developed using IMS-DL/I the previously generation
of hierarchical database systems.  To learn IMS, I suggest you
read the book "IMS Programming Techniques" by Dan Kapp and Joseph

Finding a job with no experience can be a challenge.  I have read
from a number of people that experience with Cobol and MVS is
needed to get a job today.  I strongly doubt that.  There are many
other skills that are in demand.  The high demand for Cobol is likely
to draw away experienced people from client/server projects and
create renewed demand for VisualBasic, PowerBuilder, C++ people,
and others.  Web based development is also hot.  There is demand
for Java, HTML, CGI, and similar skills.  Database projects are
hot:  Data Migration, Data Warehouse, Data Mining.

Most employers look for a "skillset" combination:
   database (DB2, Oracle, Sybase, Informix, IMS, ...)
   programming language (Cobol, C, C++, Pascal, PowerBuilder)
   user interface (windows, CICS, X-Windows, ...)
   platform/operating system (mainframe/MVS, pc, Unix, ...)
   additional tools (ERWin, S-Designor, generators)
   application area (Accounting, manufacturing, decision support)
   life cycle skill (analysis, design, construct, maintain, reengineer)

Cobol alone is not enough.

I suggest that you build an application on your own that includes
something from each of the above skillset elements.

Some database or file access is always required.  Try my website
which under construction "The Data Management Center":


You can learn Oracle by getting their free 90 day trial of
Oracle for Windows or Oracle for Windows 95.  Combine this with
self study reading and experimenting.  There are also other
good databases that are inexpensive and offer trials.

You can learn data modeling ( a very high demand skill ) by
downloading the ERWin demo.  This tool can generate Oracle
DDL.  The real world uses a modeling tool like ERwin or S-Designor to
design a database and then implements that database using DB2 or
Oracle or other SQL product.
database and then

You can learn some applications areas by downloading shareware and
studying the related area in books.  You might download a basic
accounting product.  Set up a sample business.  Talk with a
business that might need such a package.  Understand their needs.  
Use a data modeling tool to design a database that could do the same
thing.  Generate the SQL.  Create the database.  Create a similar
prototype application.  Create a User Manual using a word processor
like MS Word.  This should result in a Portfolio so that you can
show some of your work.

Another thought - maybe you will not be able to start out as a
programmer.  May be you will need to start out as a software
tester or a documentor.  Starting at some job will give you experience
at many items in the skillset list.

I wish you good luck in learning Cobol and other needed job skills.

Remember, you are the person most responsible for your success or
failure.  Blaming congress or school officials will only use your

Best Wishes,
David Haertzen (The Cobol Center Webmaster)

Wed, 17 Nov 1999 03:00:00 GMT  
 Learning Cobol and Getting Jobs

David, that is some of the BEST advice that I have heard concerning how to
start out as a COBOL programmer.  I wish that I had read your post a few
years ago.  I went to a community college and persued an AS degree in
Computer Programming where the strongest emphasis was on COBOL.  The school
had no mainframe so we used PC's and MF Personal COBOL.  MVS was never
touched nor was JCL or ISPF or DB2.  I was fortunate to get hired soon
after school from a large company that wanted to get some entry-level
programmers and train them from the ground up when it came to the mainframe
environment.  Though I was lucky, my first year would have been much less
of a struggle if I had done some of the things you listed and if the school
had not more or less ignored the mainframe world in its training.  Like you
said, I struggled through it and was a digger.  But it would have been
immeasurably smoother if I had started out with the best shovels with which
to do the digging.

If you are just starting out, listen to this man folks.

Wed, 17 Nov 1999 03:00:00 GMT  
 [ 2 post ] 

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