Readers question 'dead skills' list

They're coming to the defense of Cobol, ColdFusion and C

Boy, do Cobol, ColdFusion and C have lots of fans. Computerworld readers are questioning the inclusion of several programming languages and computing technologies on our list of the top 10 dead (or dying) computer skills.

Maybe questioning is too nice a word.

"I'm surprised the author didn't repeat the old canard about 'the mainframe is dead.' Because many things on this list are just as accurate," wrote a user calling himself zArchASMPgmr. The technologies that drew the biggest, er, response from readers were Cobol (No. 1), ColdFusion (No. 5) and C (No. 6). ColdFusion developers, along with C and Cobol programmers, submitted scores of comments, noting that they are still popular choices for certain development tasks, and are in demand by employers.

Many readers pointed out that C is alive and well in embedded systems. "The vast majority of embedded and mobile devices are programmed in C," noted Morne Joubert. Others pointed to the use of C in the Linux kernel. "When was the last time you saw an operating system or device driver written in PHP, or even Java?" asked Damien McKenna.

McKenna also took issue with Cobol's presence on the list. "Cobol is still one of the most important languages on the face of the planet -- virtually every financial transaction touches a Cobol system of some sort," he wrote.

Phil Murphy, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., said that while Cobol may be in decline in some shops, it still has legs and will remain in use for decades: "Lobbying for/against Cobol really misses the point -- replacing Cobol for the sake of technical change provides no business value. The days when IT can get away with that kind of expenditure are gone -- if it provides no business value, it shouldn't be funded. In that context, Cobol will fade from smaller sites (below 2,000 MIPS), and grow in the really big sites (10,000 to 50,000 MIPS). But I don't expect to see an appreciable decline through 2020."

A user calling himself DGE concurred. "Slap a Web front end on it sure, but Cobol is still going to be the workhorse keeping the system running -- there's way too many business rules in Cobol to be worth rewriting in Java. I've stopped worrying about Cobol being retired before me!"

But Bangwhistle said the long-term use of Cobol and other languages is far from assured: "The keyword here is 'dying.' Cobol is indeed dying, as is virtually every computer language. [Fifty] years from now who knows what we'll be doing to 'program' computers."

Dozens of ColdFusion developers came out of the woodwork to declare the strength of the Web development environment. One reader noted that "the first person interviewed [in the article] is head of the CS department at Their home page is, which is ColdFusion. Look in their employment page, they are looking for a ColdFusion developer. Is it just me, or is it amusing that the author interview[ed] someone whose institution is implementing a dying technology?"

Chris Vestal noted that ColdFusion "leverages the underlying power and stability of Java, while remaining easy to learn and use in rapid development environments." Another supporter, Rachel, said "'Dying' technologies don't release major new versions every 1.5 years."

Several people scoffed at the inclusion of PC network administrators (No. 9) on the list. This group noted that their skills are still very much in demand, and expressed doubt that their career prospects are at risk. "I have been a PC Network/System Admin for 18 years and am busier now than I have ever been," wrote Carol Monson, who pointed to an increasing number of security-related issues as occupying her daily routine. "I am not feeling in the 'dying breed' mode yet," she said.

Another reader who identified himself as Jeff Helm stressed that the network at his shop is constantly growing, and the consultants who work on it are kept quite busy. "When, I wonder, will this wonderful world of the future emerge -- when all systems are consolidated into one machine that requires no one to administer it," he asked.

However, an anonymous reader pointed out that the demand for PC network administrators may indeed start to fall, as more sophisticated networking technologies and management tools are adopted. "Yes, there are or will be fewer server administrators with server consolidation and virtual servers. Yes, there are or will be fewer desktop administrators as products like Altiris, Ghost, SMS, etc., allow for centralized administration of many of the duties that used to require a visit to a desktop PC. These two areas aren't really dying either, but just require fewer workers due to efficiencies gained by other products that I mention," he wrote.

Nevertheless, some readers agreed with many or most of the technologies on the list. "Other than the PC Network Administrator debate, the list strikes me as the 'Ten Most Obvious' list," said an anonymous commenter. "Was anyone else surprised to see non-TCP/IP networking on the list? OS/2? I was surprised -- not because I think these technologies still have value, but because they are already completely and utterly dead in the market. Granted, some companies still have some legacy in old stuff, but anyone who is still clinging to these (ahem) skills already knows they are behind the curve."

Related Computerworld Discussion:

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon