For this 4th edition of the Raincode's newsletter, "The People Behind" introduces you to Jean-Eric Waroquier, whose career has been all about legacy languages, compilers and exciting challenges. And now, Raincode sums it all up!
Charlotte: Let’s start with an easy question, Jean-Eric: introduce yourself to our readers.
JE: I am a Civil Engineer, promo 79 -a while ago- from the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB)! Back then, there was no IT branch for the engineers so I did mechanic-electrician and I specialized in IT. I immediately fell for compilation techniques…
What do you mean?
Well, from all the topics I got to work on during my studies, that s the one I appreciated the most. Even though, I did my thesis on a whole different matter: the microprocessors. After college, I taught mathematics for two years at ULB, before my military service. I then worked at Philips, in the telecommunications sector. I developed a compiler for CHILL, the CCITT high-level language.
How long did you work on that?
JE: 4 years, from 81 to 85. In 1985, Philips stopped working on the compiler, but I remained in place there until 91. Following this, a French start-up, developing a super calculator, hired me to develop a FORTRAN compiler. To sum-up, the first compiler I worked on was telecom-oriented and the second one, high performances-oriented.
How long did you work on this FORTRAN compiler?
JE: Again, four years. The start-up went out of business in 95. However since 91, I was giving lectures on Compilation at the Science Faculty of ULB. I did that for 10 years. There, I met Darius and Laurent (current fellow coworker, FYI). In 1996, I was even a Ph.D thesis committee member… of Darius! Since then, we regularly kept in touch, that is how I ended up working here, in 2014.
In parallel, my main job was in the Bank Transactions sector, from 95 to 2001 and in the Lottery Transactions, from 2001 to 2013.
The Lottery? The National Lottery?
JE: yes, customers were the Belgian National Lottery as well as Lotteries for other countries, but I was actually working for a software supplier. I mostly dealt with systems migrations… It’s funny to underline that my job here in Raincode combines my two main previous tasks: compilers and systems migration. I’d say the circle is now complete :)
Among our readers, most people will be familiar with your name by the emails they once in while exchange with you. What exactly do you do at Raincode’s?
JE: My mission is to support the customer during a migration project. On the other hand, I fix the COBOL compiler, according to the needs of our customers and the bugs they report during their project.
I’m currently supporting the project of three customers, all over Europe, and, mainly for one of them, I regularly go work on-site, just like Dirk. When I’m on a customer’s premises, I usually answer questions in a more informal way than by mail… It also helps to deal with issues that would be more complicated to investigate remotely. We also need the customer’s infrastructure to work, sometimes. Information must go both ways, in a Legacy migration project.
So you are helping our customers to migrate their legacy systems with our compilers. How do you proceed, concretely?
Well, customers with whom we already have a well-established relationship write directly to me the issues they are encountering, reporting bugs. I’ll then add these in Raincode Online. Of course, not all of our customers go through me for that, some of them contact us through you or directly through Nicolas, our Technical Manager. He does the dispatching, as we all have our specialty, in the compilers team. Mine is the COBOL compiler*. Dirk is more CICS oriented, and Vladimir usually deals with the Visual Studio plugin, for instance…
You have worked in multiple workplaces, all related to the IT industry. In your opinion, what distinguishes Raincode from the others?
I’d say that the most noteworthy difference is that the CEO is not a Financial. He knows exactly what he’s talking about. From my previous experiences, the higher you are in the hierarchy, the less contact you have with the IT team. It has varied, but generally speaking, my team was always a small one in a big one. At Raincode’s, we work in a human-sized team. We can actually talk about what we do around the coffee machine, casually, with our boss. That is rather unusual. Moreover, I guess that contacts with other departments, such as Marketing, in larger companies are somewhat more distant than here.
You’ve worked quite some time during your professional career with compilers and legacy languages. In your opinion, will these languages, such as COBOL, endure much longer in large companies’ IT systems?
I remember that in the 90s, one used to say that there were so many millions of lines of FORTRAN code that it would be too risky and costly to migrate them. At that time, it was already obvious that it is easier to change the hardware rather than software. Back then, we were already “stuck” with FORTRAN because of the huge installed base. The customers were willing to change machines but not the programs… It is true that it remains costly and risky to modify or evolve that kind of programs. Here, at Raincode, we support customers to migrate their mainframe to a .NET environment, keeping their programs and allowing them to evolve very slowly, we don’t do “big bang” projects.
* Download the Raincode COBOL compiler for free here: http://rcinfo.raincode.com/download-raincode-cobol-compiler