Wanted - COBOL Programmers
Written by Sue Gee   
Monday, 13 April 2020

One of the unexpected side effects of the corona virus pandemic is a chronic shortage of COBOL programmers. The Open Mainframe Project has launched new initiatives in response to the call for help and IBM plans to provide free training in the legacy language.


cobol60

COBOL (COmmon Business-Oriented Language) celebrated its 60th birthday last year and you might have expected it to be in retirement. Far from it. It is estimated that 220 billion lines of COBOL is still in use today and it is deeply ingrained in many of the systems that provide the infrastructure for national, federal and local government.

Referring to the language as Cobalt, last week Phil Murphy, Governor of the US State of New Jersey asked in his daily press briefing for volunteers who could step in and help run mainframe systems that date back over 40 years and are struggling to cope with increased demand. Specifically New Jersey saw over 362,000 new unemployment insurance claims in a two-week period to the end of March placing an impossible burden on its COBOL-based systems.

According to the Open Mainframe Project:

More than 10 million people in the United States have filed for unemployment amid the COVID-19 global pandemic and financial crisis. As these numbers continue to grow, a big technology skills gap is starting to emerge as well. 

The Open Mainframe Project, which operates within the Linux Foundation, is open source initiative that enables collaboration across the mainframe community to develop shared tool sets and resources. Maemalynn Meanor post to its blog on April 9th:

We quickly mobilized across our membership including Broadcom, IBM, Phoenix Software, Rocket Software, SUSE, Vicom Infinity and Zoss Team, for three new resources in response to this urgent need from our public sector officials.

These are two new forums. The first titled Calling all COBOL Programmers is where developers and programmers who would like to volunteer or are available for hire can post their profiles. The second, the COBOL Technical Forum, which will be monitored by experienced COBOL programmers is intended to allow all levels of programmers to quickly learn new techniques and draw from a broad range of experience and expertise to address common questions and challenges. The third resource, Open Source COBOL Training is a new open source project that will lead collaboration for training materials on COBOL. Its courseware is being contributed by IBM, based on its work with clients and institutes of higher education, and will be available soon under an open source license on GitHub.  

openmaisq

You might think that acquiring COBOL skills to help out in this crisis is just of short-term value. Not so. As 90% of Fortune 500 companies are still running COBOL, as are most ATMs, it is estimated that COBOL is still being used in 70 percent of global transaction processing systems. In addition there is a real reluctance to move away from it. As we reported earlier this year in Survey Says COBOL Still Going Strong 70% of enterprises favor modernization as an approach for implementing strategic change as compared to either replacing or retiring their key COBOL applications. The reasons the companies feel this way is that modernizing existing COBOL apps continues to offer a low-risk and effective means of transforming IT to support digital business initiatives. Another finding we reported there was increase from 8.4 million lines of COBOL code in 2017 to 9.9 million two years later year indicating that COBOL is still going strong.

Another crisis that looms for COBOL is over a decade away.  There is another date-related timebomb, akin to the Y2K or Millennium Bug, which will happen on Tuesday, January 19, 2038 when all Unix time stamps will rollover and look like dates back in 1901. If you want to know about this Date Bug you'll find our explanation in Dates Are Difficult. Not a specifically COBOL bug but one that many COBOL programs will have to be fixed for.

So if you have or want to have COBOL skills you can expect them to be in demand for years to come - particularly in a crisis. 

 

More Information

Open Mainframe Project Helps Fill the Need for COBOL Resources

Related Articles

Survey Says COBOL Still Going Strong 

COBOL Turns 60, Still Won't Die

 

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