Mighty Women & CoBOL

The Pandemic Pantry

Software manufacturers drive me crazy. They continually update their software, and with each successive upgrade they make their software less useful and more difficult to get any value out of. There used to be a group I belonged to on Zuckerbergs thing (I shudder to name it here for what it’s become) called “Mighty Women” or something like that. They would send articles about historical women you never heard of that did courageous and breakthrough type things that changed the world. I can’t find a list of the groups I’m in anymore. Zuckerberg ‘improved’ the software.

While teaching state of the art technology I told every class there are two ways to make a lot of money in the industry. Either be the first one on your block to know it, or be the last one left to turn out the lights on the way out. To be first you have to invest in yourself and take a risk. To be the last one standing, you have to wait a long time. Either way there is good demand.

My friend, Aaron from Silicon Valley sent me an article that had a video clip of the Governor of New Jersey putting out an URGENT plea for CoBOL Programmers. Cobal was basically obsolete when I started my computer career 35 years ago. I also saw CoBOL jobs advertised lately in the trade rags. I did a double take. CoBOL? Really?

Back in the day the curriculum for a state of the art education in computer science was Assembler, ForTran and CoBOL. Really forward looking programs added BASIC. With those Skills you could get a great paying, secure job anywhere.

Assembler is close to machine language and has no shortcuts. Then you get ForTran, which stands for FORmula TRANslation which is geared toward scientific applications. CoBOL is Common Business Oriented Language for business programming. Finally BASIC, Beginners All Purpose Symbolic Instructional Code, which was developed at Princeton was for learning.

The state of New Jersey Unemployment Insurance system runs on CoBOL and mainframes. Who knew? With the unemployment claims up thousands of percent this old code and old machinery just isn’t up to the task. Problem for New Jersey (and Connecticut and several other states) is they didn’t upgrade their systems when they had the chances. Multiple chances. decades of chances. Funny thing is they probably spent more money operating obsolete code on obsolete hardware than they would have spent on several upgrades. They call that “protecting the installed code investment”. The programmers call it “job security”. But budgets have sections and are funny things. So NJ, eyes wide open painted themselves into a corner. The last time something like this happened was in 1999. Remember the Y2K bug?

Slick software engineers are referred to as “Rock Stars”. I’m 60 and CoBOL was obsolete at the beginning of my career. The picture below is hilarious. That was a CoBOL ‘rock star’ who fixed the Y2K bugs over 20 years ago. How many of them you think there are left?


I can program CoBOL like a professional musican knows C Major. Here’s the funny part. I try to call the governors office to answer his urgent call. The lines are all fast busy – overloaded.

I go to the governors website to send a message that I can help. Note: “It is highly recommended that you use a modern web brower..” Then it bombs out to this error message when I hit send. The New state of the art web page is inadequate for me to contact the governors office about a skill they urgently need (and I have friends too!) Is this how civilization ends, with an “Internal Server Error”?

Really, you can’t make this up.


Check out this “modern ad” for mainframe computers! Impressive.

With all my computer education we have always taught the history. Imagine my surprise to find out only today, that CoBOL, the language that ran the governments and businesses of the world, and still sorta does was created by a woman! Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, a native New Yorker! Look at all those men standing around her. All this stuff wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for her creating it before I was conceived. They never taught us that. And she didn’t just create CoBOL, She wrote the first compiler before anyone even thought of a compiler. This created the computerized world we live in today with hardware independent computer languages. Every time you use something programmed Grace Hopper is in there. She is as relevant today as she was decades ago.

Through her journey at Vasser, Yale, professorships, Smith College (Graduated #1), Harvard, she was told she didn’t understand and what she proposed, computer code could be written in english, was impossible. It’s much easier to say:”subtract income tax from pay” instead of trying to write that in octal code. She had it working for 3 years, yet no one would look at it.

Still she persisted.

She is the great grandmother of computer programming and software. Wonder Why they never taught us that. This is one bad-ass woman! Turns out a lot of rock stars look like Keith Richards.

The U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Hopper was named for her, as was the Cray XE6 “Hopper” supercomputer at NERSC.[6] During her lifetime, Hopper was awarded 40 honorary degrees from universities across the world. A college at Yale University was renamed in her honor. In 1991, she received the National Medal of Technology. On November 22, 2016, she was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.[7]


Famous Quotes

I’ve always objected to doing anything over again if I had already done it once. 

From then on, when anything went wrong with a computer, we said it had bugs in it.

If it’s a good idea, go ahead and do it. It’s much easier to apologize than it is to get permission.

It is often easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.

The most dangerous phrase in the language is, “We’ve always done it this way.”

Humans are allergic to change. They love to say, “We’ve always done it this way.” I try to fight that. That’s why I have a clock on my wall that runs counter-clockwise.

A ship in port is safe, but that is not what ships are for. Sail out to sea and do new things.

You don’t manage people, you manage things. You lead people.

Leadership is a two-way street, loyalty up and loyalty down. Respect for one’s superiors; care for one’s crew.

One accurate measurement is worth a thousand expert opinions.

Some day, on the corporate balance sheet, there will be an entry which reads, “Information;” for in most cases, the information is more valuable than the hardware which processes it.

We’re flooding people with information. We need to feed it through a processor. A human must turn information into intelligence or knowledge. We’ve tended to forget that no computer will ever ask a new question.

There sat that beautiful big machine whose sole job was to copy things and do addition. Why not make the computer do it? That’s why I sat down and wrote the first compiler. It was very stupid. What I did was watch myself put together a program and make the computer do what I did. 

To me programming is more than an important practical art. It is also a gigantic undertaking in the foundations of knowledge.

They told me computers could only do arithmetic.

In pioneer days they used oxen for heavy pulling, and when one ox couldn’t budge a log, they didn’t try to grow a larger ox. We shouldn’t be trying for bigger computers, but for more systems of computers.

Life was simple before World War II. After that, we had systems.

We went overboard on management and forgot about leadership. It might help if we ran the MBAs out of Washington.

At any given moment, there is always a line representing what your boss will believe. If you step over it, you will not get your budget. Go as close to that line as you can.

I seem to do a lot of retiring.

I handed my passport to the immigration officer, and he looked at it and looked at me and said, “What are you?”

Quote About Rear Admiral Hopper 

It was warm in the summer of 1945; the windows were always open and the screens were not very good. One day the Mark II stopped when a relay failed. They finally found the cause of the failure: inside one of the relays, beaten to death by the contacts, was a moth. The operator carefully fished it out with tweezers, taped it in the logbook, and wrote under it “first actual bug found.” –Kathleen Broome Williams

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