Readers question 'dead or dying skills' list

Last week's article sparks responses

Boy, do Cobol, Cold Fusion 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.

“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 response from readers were Cobol (number one on the list), ColdFusion (number five) and C (number six). 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.

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 Computer Science department at 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.”

Several people scoffed at the inclusion of PC network administrators (number nine) 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.

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, et cetera allow for centralised 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?”