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You're never finished, which is the great thing about this role

“It’s cool to be able to programme in COBOL.” So says Jenny Lam who for the past two months has been working as a COBOL developer at SEB. “Lots of people think that COBOL got stuck in the old technology, but even if it is an old language, it is developing all the time alongside the new technology.”

A lot of people assume that a COBOL developer is a man in his sixties who belongs to a dying generation. But according to Jenny Lam this is not the true picture.

“There are a lot of women who programme in COBOL. Just now I am working together with three female COBOL developers at SEB. At the same time it’s true that it is mainly older people that have mastered this programming language.”

Jenny describes COBOL as an impressive language capable of handling large volumes of data – such as accounts, payments and loans – in a fast and efficient way.

“This is also the reason that banks and other organisations that need to handle large volumes of data still use the language and don’t replace it. Although it has been around since the 1950s, the language is continuously developed and updated.”

It was not obvious that Jenny would be a programmer. After finishing media high school she decided to study interaction design at Malmö University.

“But after a year and a half, I changed course since I felt that there was too much back-end programming for me, that is programming and development on the server side, behind the scenes (as opposed to front-end development which affects the user experience).”

So instead of programming, Jenny started to study media at the university. After that it was off to Stockholm where she worked as a project leader for various campaigns at a media agency. But after a few years she started thinking about programming again, and when a friend tipped her about Handelsbanken’s internal COBOL training, she jumped at it.

“Despite the fact that back-end programming was the reason I left the interaction design programme, there was something that attracted me to the COBOL training. COBOL is the back-end of back-ends, so I thought that perhaps I wouldn’t like it now either, but I am pleased that I gave it a go because I have never regretted my decision to train as a COBOL developer.”

After four and a half years as a COBOL developer at Handelsbanken, Jenny was headhunted to SEB.

“SEB is a leader in IT and stands out in its marketing. In addition, I was curious to see how another bank worked.”

SEB also offers COBOL training and Jenny encourages everyone who is interested in programming, keen to learn a new programming language and thinks logically to apply for the 16-week course.

“You cannot study COBOL at college or university – there it’s the more modern programming languages that are taught. This is why the banks have taken their own initiative to start courses.

“COBOL is a simple language, so you don’t need any previous knowledge to manage the course. But being a COBOL developer is not only about programming but also learning about the systems the bank uses. So the switch to SEB means that it feels as though I am starting again in many ways.

“But it also means that there are greater variations. And despite having worked with the programming language for five years, there are always new challenges. You’re never finished, which is the great thing about this role.”

One COBOL-related problem is that many developers are nearing retirement, which is making it difficult to secure COBOL skills.

“Some people might think that it’s uncool to work with a legacy system, an old programming language and older colleagues. But there are many advantages. The people I work with have unbelievable skills related to the language and the systems, so I am learning so much. And that’s a skill you cannot learn anywhere else. The combination of the skills they possess and innovative thinking opens up fantastic opportunities.

“And even if COBOL is an old language, it grows and develops alongside the new technology. In addition, it’s a fun language where you can programme in both old and new interfaces. And I think that’s cool!”