Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

Interesting personal perspective, thanks for posting!

It sounds like other than the very slow database, the biggest impediment in this space is the lack of new talent familiar with the environment.

Talent is only half of the problem. Where I work they did relatively little hiring for a long time. Many of the people I work with have been working here for 30+ years. Now we have a massive, antiquated code base that is poorly documented and the system knowledge is evaporating due to retirements faster than we can transfer it to new hires.

Every so often I do some research to see if the lack of talent is going to be reflected in salaries but COBOL jobs always seem to pay less than web development

It's not just web development, it pays less than almost any development.

I would actually not mind learning COBOL and writing boring bank software, but why bother if I can make more money with C++ and Python, while working on more interesting stuff?

If I'm going to take a pay cut to use an exotic language, I'm going to find a job writing Lisp.

That was my experience too with the whole mainframe ecosystem. There are a few hotshot consultants that work for Sirius/mainline/etc that make the bucks, but the guys working for the banks/airlines/etc mostly seem to be underpaid relative to the shrinking knowledge base/talent pool and how critical their jobs are.

Makes you wonder what would happen if the entire mainframe tech organization at one of these banks demanded to be paid on par with the traders working on the investment side of the bank.

> Makes you wonder what would happen if the entire mainframe tech organization at one of these banks demanded to be paid on par with the traders working on the investment side of the bank.

It's for organizations like this where I really see unions making sense.

Lack of new talent is indeed the biggest problem they are facing, but they've acknowledged that they've gotta upgrade these old systems before it's too late - instead of hoping for new talent to show up. Nordea in question has bought a new system that they want to gradually migrate to, but all their mainframe programmers, - including my mother - are all saying it's not going to work. The system is too large.

I've worked on a project that migrated an old cobol system and it went fine although everyone said it would not.

But it's not easy and not cheap.

The problem for the banks is that they have so many systems, typically thousands, and they are all interconnected.

Enter the 'enterprise architects' that draw power points with boxes and buses on top of all the old shit and you have a receipt for a very expensive soup.

Absolutely. In many cases, universities can't afford their own IBM mainframe environment to allow students to learn how to use it. Many folks, such as myself, have to have on-the-job training in order to learn COBOL and how to use the IBM mainframe itself.

OpenCOBOL is available to learn the language. I do not know it, just checked macports and yes it is there.

Description: OpenCOBOL is an open-source COBOL compiler. Homepage: http://www.opencobol.org/

Library Dependencies: gmp, libtool, db44, ncurses, libgnugetopt, libiconv, gettext, mpfr Platforms: darwin License: GPL-2+ Maintainers: egall@gwmail.gwu.edu, openmaintainer@macports.org

Is that environment something that could be virtualized, were it not for intellectual property reasons?

Almost seems to be more of a vendor lock-in issue than an a mere 'old and scarce platform' issue, albeit that's significant also.

There's already an emulator called Hercules, but you need a license from IBM to run the operating system all of this runs on top of.

Maybe telling IBM about your interest would lead to them licence it free to emulators. They wouldn't like their platform to die because nobody knows how to use it.

you'd think that wouldn't you , instead they've sued them in the past http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2010/04/ibm-br...

That's because they've been a bit naughty though, not because of mere corporate evil. Quoting the article you linked:


A well-designed System Z emulator that allows users to migrate their own mainframe applications to commodity hardware would obviously pose a serious threat to IBM's mainframe business, but IBM's software licensing terms have historically prevented such a threat from materializing.


In many ways, the project arguably benefits IBM by encouraging interest in the mainframe platform. [...] What brought about IBM's change in perspective was an unexpected effort by the TurboHercules company to commercialize the project in some unusual ways.

TurboHercules came up with a bizarre method to circumvent the licensing restrictions and monetize the emulator. IBM allows customers to transfer the operating system license to another machine in the event that their mainframe suffers an outage. Depending on how you choose to interpret that part of the license, it could make it legally permissible to use IBM's mainframe operating system with Hercules in some cases.

Exploiting that loophole in the license, TurboHercules promotes the Hercules emulator as a "disaster recovery" solution that allows mainframe users to continue running their mainframe software on regular PC hardware when their mainframe is inoperable or experiencing technical problems. This has apparently opened up a market for commercial Hercules support with a modest number of potential customers, such as government entities that are required to have redundant failover systems for emergencies, but can't afford to buy a whole additional mainframe.


Sure naughty or not naughty though, having IBM be actively hostile to the only cheap way to get access to a mainframe like environment is disasterous for their skill pool.

So if they don't like herculeas' efforts they should've brought out their own, or come to some kind of arrangement with them.

Interesting tidbit: I'm currently replacing a product that IBM refuses to licenses any longer. The company I work for would have gladly gone on paying $2MM a year in licensing fees, but IBM is literally refusing to take their money. They offer no replacement either.

Even working for a company that had mainframes, getting access to do any kind of learning was very difficult.

They rarely have dedicated training systems given the cost of running them, and trying to find information from IBM was an excercise in frustration.

Personally I think that is where IBM made a huge mistake. Lack of low cost training systems has starved their ecosystem of new coders.

There have been versions of COBOL for PCs since the pre-Windows DOS era. Not free, but neither was anything else in those days. Unix wasn't free either, neither was most unix software.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact