# Friday, 14 August 2009
What language do you think this post by Jeff Atwood refers to?
There are over 220 billion lines of <language> in existence, a figure which equates to around 80% of the world's actively used code. There are estimated to be over a million <language> programmers in the world today. Most impressive perhaps, is that 200 times as many <language> transactions take place each day than Google searches - a figure which puts the influence of Web 2.0 into stark perspective.
Wow. 220 billion-with-a-b? B as in Business? As in Business-Oriented-Language? You know, the only thing I like about COBOL (and I have written precisely one COBOL program in the three decades I've been paid to program) is that it made it possible to have a language called SNOBOL.

The comments are full of folks who are maintaining 30 year old apps with a million lines of code, but the thing about billion-with-a-b is that you need 220,000 such folks to hit that number, and what's more as Larry O'Brien points out 20 years ago folks said there were 30 billion lines, and while I can agree that existing apps are being maintained, I don't think there are 7 times as many lines of COBOL out there now as there were at its peak.

But that's not my point. My points is that when you live at the leading edge, the bleeding edge, you forget a really important rule: edges are thin. The handful of us who are moving our apps to 4.0 now, who are complaining about an incompatibility between our Visual Studio 2010 beta and our Office 2010 beta, who are using a language invented this century, are dwarfed by folks who have been using the same tools and the same languages throughout their entire career. These people are invisible because they don't come to conferences, attend user group meetings, buy programming books, or read blogs. Heck, at one of my clients, the AS/400 guys sat off to the side and behind a little wall of cubicle partitions that was double the height of everyone else's. Really. They also never came to all-hands meetings and were exempt from the company-wide .NET training I delivered.

So do these "dark matter" developers matter to the "bleeding edge" developers? I think they do. For one thing, when you have your shiny and exciting idea to change everything about the way some software works, these guys can cancel your whole project with one or two sentences. For another, they are likely the only ones who understand the data format, the business rules as actually coded, and the special cases that come up every 15 to 20 years. Not to mention they can work the text editor. If you find yourself in a situation with some COBOL (or equivalent) developers in it, don't ever tell them you didn't think they existed any more. That's my tip to you.

Kate

Friday, 14 August 2009 18:39:40 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [0]