— Immutable Law #13 from Alan’s Willett’s Lead With Speed
There are a number of headlines recently essentially screaming,
“UNEMPLOYMENT SYSTEMS ARE BROKEN BECAUSE OF COBOL!”
What the articles explain (inaccurately) is that COBOL is a programming language no longer taught, that the language can’t support the modern world, and that it is very hard to find COBOL programmers.
It is true that there are not many COBOL specialists. However, for software engineers, a language is just a tool, and good software engineers can use multiple tools. Even though a number of places no longer teach COBOL (some still do), any good software engineer can learn rather quickly how to use this tool.
Further, the problem is not COBOL versus the modern world. It is more complex than that. Based on my previous experiences with systems like the ones described in the articles, it is likely that there are other related problems. I have seen systems where they no longer had any accurate design documents or database schemas. Some had even lost the source code. The other problem is associated with legacy hardware that may not support the memory size required or enable updating to modern operating systems.
Essentially some of these systems have fallen over the technology cliff. They should have been replaced years ago.
What should have been done to prevent this fiasco? More importantly, what should be done to prevent the next fiasco? I explain this in detail in this eight-minute video: “Alan Willett’s Immutable Law: Software Rusts”
The video highlights the need to do these four major things about technical debt in your systems.
- Stop it. In other words, do not make stupid hacks that make the system work for one more week or month.
- Track it. When you implement the stupid hacks, track them. When the system is decaying in certain ways, track it.
- Measure. Measure the speed it takes to make improvements. Know when the ability to change has greatly slowed.
- Invest. Above all else, have the courage to invest in improving the system to keep it relevant to the current world.
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Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,