COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language) is a high-level programming language for business applications. It was the first popular languaged designed to be operating system agnostic and is still in use in many financial and business applications today.
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COBOL was designed for finance, human resources and other business computer programs. Unlike some high-level computer programming languages, COBOL uses English words and phrases to make it easier for ordinary business users to understand. The language was based on Rear Admiral Grace Hopper's 1940s work on the FLOW-MATIC programming language, which was also largely text-based. Hopper, who worked as a technical consultant on the FLOW-MATIC project, is sometimes referred to as the "grandmother of COBOL."
Before COBOL, all operating systems had their own associated programming languages. This was a problem for companies that used multiple brands of computers, as was the case with the United States Department of Defense, which backed the COBOL project. Because of its ease of use and portability, COBOL quickly became one of the most used programming languages in the world. Although the language is widely viewed as outdated, more lines of code in active use today are written in COBOL than any other programming language.
In years immediately preceding the year 2000, COBOL skills were in high demand to prepare legacy code for Y2K. It is still commonly used at financial institutions, such as banks, and by applications used in government agencies. However, the number of programmers with COBOL experience is steadily decreasing, as those who learned COBOL while it was popular are entering retirement age. Suprisingly, COBOL is once again being taught in some universities -- this time to support application modernization and the DevOps movement.
While many organizations do still use the language, the lack of skills and burdensome text-based code is beginning to be replaced or integrated with more modern coding languages, such as Java, .NET, and C++. However, this can be a complicated and costly process, as these programs are often run on legacy mainframes that are difficult to replace, and because of the sheer amount of code still in use. After the turn of the century, the demand for COBOL programmers was not as great and many schools stopped teaching the language.