Who Maintains The Legacy Code?

Blog /Who-maintains-the-legacy-code

It’s quite interesting to note that, when hundreds of billions of code is in COBOL as we saw in my last blog, how many of these programmers do we see out there in the market? Most of the traditional developers now work on the web-based technologies; there are some specialists in Data/SAP/PS/Business Analysis area. And the remaining ones are into the “happening” digital world: Mobile, Big Data, IOT etc. So where do our traditional COBOL programmers exist? When 80% of the Fortune 500 companies use Mainframe, who really maintains these applications when can’t we find them anywhere near us?

Where is Mainframe

How many COBOL programmers exist to maintain this code?

  • What's the percentage of their existence?
  • Are these bug-free so that no maintenance is needed?
  • How many SIs service these Fortune 500 companies that maintain legacy code?
  • When should these companies consider modernizing?

If COBOL programmers are in demand, why do we never see any job advertisements? There was hardly any advertisement for hiring a COBOL resource after Y2K. Let’s look at the IT skill force to find how many COBOL resources exist.

According to IDC, last year there were an estimated 29 million ICT (Information and Computer Technology)- skilled workers in the world. Among ICT-skilled workers, there are approximately 18.5 million software developers in the world, of which 11 million are professionals and 7.5 million are hobbyists. The analyst said that the United States has the most software developers, constituting 19.2%, followed by China with 10.1% and India with 9.8%. India has close to 1.5 million software developers (without counting students) involved in writing code. The U.S. accounts for 22% of ICT-skilled workers worldwide, followed by India with 10.4% and China with 7.6%.

Software professionals across locations

Fig. Professional Software Developers by Region – In 2014

Some fact sheets show that the estimated number of COBOL programmers currently is around 1 million, maintaining 100+ billion lines of code. However, this might contain the list of people who know or have worked on COBOL once in their lifetime. For example, most of the IT vice presidents/directors of the company who started coding 30 years ago may have worked on COBOL and may have been included in the list. So, the number who code may be much less than what it shows -- may be around 100,000 in North America, which is slowly decreasing with lost resources by 13% a year and increasing by only a very few.
Another group could be graduates hired and trained on mainframes to maintain applications from various SIs in countries like India.

100,000,000,000 lines of code (LOC) / 1,000,000+ programmers = 100,000 LOC/programmer.
If there are 100,000 programmers, 1 million LOC will be maintained by a programmer, which is huge -- even though 100 lines of COBOL might be needed to do the same function that an advanced language can do in 10-20.

How Mainframe is still surviving even after 50 years will be covered in the next blog.

Illustrations by – Vishwesh Bhat
Graphics – Vijay Sathyavaradhan

Post Date: 4/10/2015

Vishwesh Bhat

About the author

 Vishwesh Bhat is a Solution Architect - Mainframes with more than 17 years’ experience. His primary focus areas include the analysis and research around the Application Modernization and methodologies. He is also a noted cartoonist and musician, and has composed music for Kaizen, Innovar, Kizuna, the NTTDATA company song, and the iPAD act series, as well as many other initiatives. He currently is based in Bangalore, India.

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