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This programming language was on the brink of extinction – now it's back in fashion

(Image credit: Kevin Ku / Pexels)

New research from the job site Indeed has revealed that there has been a surge of interest and web searches for COBOL this month following New Jersey governor Phil Murphy's plea for developers to help the state process unemployment claims.

By analyzing its own data and corroborating with Google Trends data on web searches, the research uncovered a massive spike in COBOL interest that was three times higher than normal.

COBOL, which stands for Common Business Oriented Language, was first developed in 1959 during the era of punch cards and mainframe computers. However, the aging programming language has endured as it is still used in back-office tasks including processing forms and payments.

Renewed interest in COBOL

The reason why Governor Murphy recently put out a call for volunteers who know how to code the decades-old computer programming language is because the state's unemployment system, which runs on COBOL, needs to be updated to handle a new emergency relief bill. 

However, New Jersey is not alone as thousands of enterprises and public sector organizations still rely on mainframe systems running COBOL for a variety of uses including banking transactions, payroll and enterprise resource planning. It is becoming increasing difficult to find skilled programmers to help maintain the billions of line of COBOL code still in use.

CEO of NTT DATA UK, Simon Williams provided further insight on Indeed's research and the need to modernize legacy code, saying:

“It comes as no surprise that there has been a surge in interest in COBOL. There are a lot of legacy systems in operation, reliant on legacy code. This has to be a wakeup call – if organisations don’t have the skills to maintain their code, they need to modernise. Legacy modernisation has been a balance between the risk of replacing old technology and the risk of not having the skills to maintain it. This time has accelerated the realisation that half moving to digital is not enough. Whether it is moving off legacy code or migration to the cloud business need to go fully digital. This also gives businesses the opportunity to update and modernise their systems.”

Anthony Spadafora

After living and working in South Korea for seven years, Anthony now resides in Houston, Texas where he writes about a variety of technology topics for ITProPortal and TechRadar. He has been a tech enthusiast for as long as he can remember and has spent countless hours researching and tinkering with PCs, mobile phones and game consoles.