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A Computer Programmer in The 1980's

Updated on September 14, 2014

Being A COBOL Programmer In The 1980’s

Ah, yes, I do recall those days or rather those nights. I worked for a large company in upstate New York where the snowstorms raged quite frequently and temperatures regularly fell in the minus 20 degree range. It was on these nights the phone would ring signaling the beginning of a 2:15 AM madness. I was being called in to fix a batch COBOL program that had abnormally terminated in the middle of a nightly database update. Never mind the fact that I had not written the program, what mattered was that the unlucky chore of fixing the problem was mine. Of course the cretin that made the phone call could not tell me very much except the program name and the step where it occurred.

I had to come in.

The program had to be fixed quickly as the updates were needed to run in time for their online system to come up at 6:00 AM. I would get a call every half an hour from escalating levels of management to advise them of a “Status.” Each call magnified the stress level and I was constantly reminded that the morning shift of online workers could not start until this was fixed. At this point, the sanitation worker’s job was looking better and better to me.

I traced through the computer dumps, calculating hexadecimal addresses, displacements and offsets that took me into the bowels of some obscure Assembler subroutine that no one accounted for during their “testing.”

On this particular morning at 5:49 AM, I managed to find the problem, make the change, re-assemble the module and restart the step in the JCL. Of course, this was after a Database restore job had to run after cleaning up the output files that were created at the errant step. The documentation had to be updated, something that happened before the end of the day, and reports had to be filed to the appropriate management.

After this, I made it my business to work as an online (CICS) programmer henceforth. At least there was no nighttime calls or other harrowing experiences.


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      PETER JONES 3 years ago

      How about the Cobol payroll date routines that simply subtracted the present 1900 date from the year 2000. After telling the lead analyst that I updated it only to the year 2000, the lead said, "That's great, none of us will be working here after that." Nether was Cobol.