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Best COBOL online courses in 2020

A picture of a laptop for programming COBOL on.
(Image credit: Pixabay)

As Governments across the world prepare to take on the Coronavirus pandemic, hidden behind their demands for more ventilators, face masks, PPE kits, is a call out for COBOL programmers. 

As it turns out, the language from the late 1950s that, not surprisingly, isn’t on anyone’s learning list, powers quite a few of the Government mainframes, which have of late been put under an enormous amount of pressure, bursting at the seams forcing Governments to look for COBOL programmers to fix the plumbing.

It’s surprising that a majority of the financial transactions across the world are powered by a language that came about even before the Beatles. COBOL that stands for Common Business Oriented Language is rightly being hailed as the language that wouldn’t die. 

Considering the world’s dependence on the language, there’s a whole lot of excitement and developments around COBOL and if you’re looking to cash in on the gold rush, here’s how you can get started.

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Best COBOL online courses - at a glance

  1. IBM
  2. Derek Banas
  3. LinkedIn Learning
  4. Pluralsight
  5. University of Limerick

(Image credit: IBM)

1. IBM

Best for getting started

Weekly podcasts
Runs code on a mainframe

IBM has recognised COBOL as an “important language on the modern mainframe” and has created the COBOL resource Hub for students to get to grips with the language. 

With a foot in the mainframe industry, IBM’s resource center has lots of videos on COBOL. To get started, watch the recording of the A Beginner’s practical approach to COBOL webinar that answers some of the basic questions for those unfamiliar with the language. While you’ll get an overview of COBOL concepts in the recording, the Introduction to COBOL programming language is where you’ll get to write your first COBOL program. 

Furthermore, the company together with the Open Mainframe Project has developed a new COBOL training course that’s also available for free and teaches students to interact with COBOL using the Visual Studio Code IDE.

(Image credit: Derek Banas)

2. Derek Banas

Best for busy people

Basic examples

If you have the know-how to setup the development environment for COBOL and can’t wait to get started, Derek Banas’ COBOL tutorial is worth a watch. In a little over 2 hours, Derek claims you’ll learn everything there is to know about programming with COBOL that you’d learn from a 500 page book.

The free video tutorial is hosted on YouTube and has detailed time-stamped bookmarks to help ease the navigation. The video dives straight into writing code and covers all its elements, operators, functions, and more. The video ends with instructions (for both Windows and Mac OS X) on how to download and install Visual Studio Code and then equip it to process code written in COBOL. 

This takes some doing since it requires compiling GnuCobol, which will only run on Windows via Cygwin and on Mac OS X via Homebrew. The good thing about the video is that all of the code written inside is packaged in a cheatsheet that you can download to follow along each of the sections.

(Image credit: LinkedIn Learning)

3. LinkedIn Learning

Best for practicing

Useful exercises
Nice explanations
Released in 2015

The one-off videos and tutorials and good if you’re in a hurry to get started with COBOL. If you need a deeper understanding of the language you should take the Up and running with Cobol course, whose instructor learnt COBOL in college.  

The course lasts slightly over 3 hours and helps you get acquainted with the basics of the language. What sets it apart from the previously mentioned courses are the set of useful challenges that require you to write programs based on the taught features.

The instructor assumes that you are familiar with programming concepts and principles before taking the course. The content is definitely aimed at someone who has programs regularly and has no trouble following her as she uses complex multi-page programs to explain the COBOL features in each of the sections. 

There’s more to COBOL than what’s covered in the course, however at the end of it experienced programmers will have the confidence to read and COBOL programs. 

(Image credit: Pluralsight)

4. Pluralsight

Best for Mainframe newbies

Nicely explained
Engaging instructor
Assumes you have access to a Mainframe
No exercises

A majority of the Getting Started with Mainframe COBOL course deals with teaching COBOL. The content should be fairly familiar to you if you’ve taken any COBOL course, though the instructor of this one has a very appealing  approach. 

The course is littered with useful tips and all through the sections helps you build towards writing a real-world COBOL program. 

The instructor assumes you have programmed before, so while he introduces the basics of COBOL, he’ll use terminology that should be familiar to a programmer. All sample code is available for download. 

Note however that unlike the previous courses that rely on GnuCobol, the instructor of this course assumes you have a mainframe to compile and run them! Another disadvantage is that despite its engaging presentation, the course has no exercises for you to put your newly acquired skills to practice. 

(Image credit: University of Limerick)

5. University of Limerick

Best for learning by example

Wide range of examples
Comprehensive exercises
Some data files aren’t available

By now you should have a fairly good hang of working with COBOL. The Department of Computer Science and Information Systems at the University of Limerick has compiled a comprehensive list of COBOL resources

Two of the best resources are the COBOL example programs, and the COBOL programming projects.

The first gives you access to dozens of sample programs written in COBOL. The sample programs are divided into categories based on a particular aspect of COBOL. 

For instance, selection and iteration has programs that show the use of IF, EVALUATE, and PERFORM operators. Similarly, the Direct Access Files section has programs that show how to process Indexed and Relative files. 

When you’re feeling confident about your COBOL skills, try solving the programming projects without taking a peek at the included sample solutions. The exercises are actually old exam papers that should take about 4 to 6 hours to code.

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