Mainframe Propeller Head

Jan 5 2009   1:47PM GMT

SAP and .Net skills are big now…because it’s hard to find anyone doing Cobol?

Mark Fontecchio Mark Fontecchio Profile: Mark Fontecchio

Computerworld recently wrote a story on the “9 hottest skills for ’09.” Included among them are help desk support, networking and business intelligence. Topping the list, however, is programming and application development. That is a broad category, but the author narrows it down pretty quickly:

Ask any recruiter what the single most sought-after IT skill is at the moment, and the universal response is a three-letter word: SAP.

“The little joke in our industry right now is that if you have ‘SAP’ on your résumé right now, you have zero unemployment,” says Bruce Culbert, CEO of iSymmetry Inc., an IT consulting and recruitment firm with offices in Washington and Alpharetta, Ga.

That in itself is interesting and would probably make a good story over at SearchSAP. The author also mentions the strong need for .Net programmers as well. But what caught my eye was the end of the section, when the author describes one particular user’s situation. A senior IT director named Rich Schappert at Casey’s General Stores Inc., based in Ankeny, Iowa, said he’s been working the past five years to fill the company’s need for .Net and SQL Server programmers, and has found them in the local colleges’ student body.

The company, which operates 1,500-plus stores across the Midwest, has been moving its Cobol-based financial applications into the .Net environment to reduce its mainframe costs. “[It’s also] getting tougher to find people who know Cobol,” notes Schappert.

Hmm. So it seems to me that maybe knowing mainframe Cobol might trump all of those other skills, or at least be on par. The reason many of these companies are moving off the mainframe is because there aren’t enough people out there who know how to program on them. Or, at least, that’s the perception.

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  • Tuomoks
    Yes, it is a perception. First, there are a lot of people with COBOL skills (on all levels of COBOL) but , right or wrong, that skill is valued way lower than .NET or Java in corporate world. If the COBOL skills would pay the same, the job is same, there would be zero problems. Second - SAP, etc may be a solution for some but the fallacy that one system fits all can get very expensive, especially on long run. It is very hip to buy into the marketing hype, looks good, but in reality when all the costs and changes in business model have calculated (does anyone do that any more?) the results aren't sometimes so good. Of course this is good news for programmers and developers - again, in short term, but no fad (marketing based idea) has ever lasted as long as COBOL (or Fortran, or even CICS systems built in-house). The more depend the corporations come on some "solve it all" packages, the more expensive it gets later on and the less control over their own business they will have after a while. Cloud, SaaS, etc are a different, technical story - they don't force using any specific systems so the users still can have the control and are not forced to change the business models to fit to IT.
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