I started out making some changes to some existing programs: enhancements and bug fixes, nothing major. We had Systems Analysts then who were familiar with how the programs worked and who would spec out the changes quite thoroughly.
Then I got to write my very first entire program. I was so proud of it!
During this time I’d identified a couple of colleagues as being sharper than the rest (mainly because the were not part of any of the gossip gangs). So I asked them what they thought of my program, hoping that they would like it, because I had learned at my previous job that maintainability is important.
They tore my little program to pieces. I thought I might cry — but I didn’t.
They taught me how to use structured programming techniques to organize my code. Many mark Edsger W. Dijkstra’s famous paper GoTo Statement Considered Harmful as being the beginning of structured programming techniques, but it is much more than using Perform statements instead of GoTos.
Because it strives to read like English, Cobol does not have the syntactical mechanisms that many other languages do, control structures that allow developers to break things down and organize code into components. So they showed me how to precede all functions with three- or four-digit numbers, that would reflect the function’s place in the flow of logic. Although foreign to me at first, after seeing how it worked, it made a lot of sense.
As it turns out, I learned more in that hour than I did in many of my classes at school!