Software

Zombie programming languages: Could Visual Basic be the next COBOL?

The phenomenon of zombie languages, those old developer favorites that refuse to die, is highlighted again this month as the TIOBE Index underlines the resilience of Visual Basic.

Lists of programming languages often encourage budding developers to learn the latest hotness — the language that everyone is falling over themselves to grok.

But swotting up on the latest and greatest languages isn't the only way to improve your chances of landing a job as a developer. Focusing on a dying language can sometimes be a decent choice.

SEE: How to become a developer: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)

The specter of zombie languages, those old developer favorites that refuse to die, has been brought to the fore this month, with the TIOBE Index highlighting the resilience of Visual Basic — both Visual Basic.NET and the classic version from the 1990s.

The fact Visual Basic.NET continues to hang on as the sixth most popular language in the TIOBE list, up two places from last year, is a source of surprise for TIOBE, which counts the number of hits for each programming language returned by major search engines.

"This is really surprising. About two years ago we stated in an interview about the TIOBE index that it was a matter of some years before Visual Basic would have disappeared," it said in the blogpost.

Not only does Visual Basic have "a bad image among expert programmers", according to TIOBE, last year Mads Torgersen of Microsoft announced Microsoft would place less emphasis on adding new features to the Visual Basic.NET, in favor of focusing on developing its more modern C# language instead.

TIOBE asks whether Visual Basic "can take this new punch and keep on surviving?".

Quite possibly says John Grant, data scientist and director of IT Jobs Watch,

"There remains a lot of VB code out there that requires ongoing support and maintenance. This codebase isn't going away anytime soon — there is a similar situation in the banks with COBOL," he said.

"It's easy to imagine the daunting task of migrating these systems to, say, the public cloud. Lack of budgets, business priorities, etc, mean these legacy applications are kept alive on life support.

"As the pool of experienced VB programmers diminishes then expect pay rates to start to rise."

And James Milligan, director of Hays Digital Technology, said, at present Visual Basic.NET continues to be in demand and commands competitive salaries.

"We're continuing to see demand for C# and VB.NET developers, with junior developers and developers seeing their salary rise by above 6% this year according to our salary guide," he said.

"While we're unsure of the future of Visual Basic, it's likely to remain popular for at least the next few years due to its simplicity."

SEE: Hiring kit: Python developer (Tech Pro Research)

Milligan also drew parallels with the perennial demand for programmers skilled in venerable mainframe programming language COBOL, a language older than The Beatles.

"Other languages which continue to be widely used despite running legacy systems include COBOL. It's known that COBOL tends to be preferred in business, finance and administrative systems due to its efficiency in handling large volumes of data — so it's predicted to remain popular across these sectors."

Despite COBOL dating back to 1959, when Steve Jobs was just four years old, programmers with experience in the language are still in demand after decades in the job, as the low number of jobs is matched by the small pool of developers with the necessary expertise.

Also see

programming-istock-655147030.jpg
Image: scyther5, Getty Images/iStockphoto

About Nick Heath

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox