With US states desperate for COBOL programmers, IBM is offering free training

midian182

Posts: 5,759   +46
Staff member

CNN reports that states including New Jersey, Kansas, and Connecticut still use COBOL for their systems. With the sudden rise in unemployment, the local governments are struggling to process the vast number of claims.

Kansas was in the process of modernizing its systems, but the pandemic has put plans on hold, and while several other states were updating their benefits systems, these won’t be ready until next year.

"Literally, we have systems that are 40-plus-years-old," New Jersey Gov. Murphy said over the weekend. "There'll be lots of postmortems and one of them on our list will be how did we get here where we literally needed COBOL programmers?"

Responding to the demand, IBM has released a free COBOL training course along with a forum where those experienced in the language can assist agencies and employers in need.

COBOL is rarely taught to new programmers, who tend to focus on more modern languages such as Python—most of those proficient in the legacy language are between 44 and 55 years old. But the platform remains incredibly popular, especially in the US financial industry. A 2017 report by Reuters found there were 220 billion lines of COBOL in use, while 43 percent of banking systems were built on it, and 95 percent of ATM swipes relied on the code.

COBOL is also used in federal government agencies such as the Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Justice, and Social Security Administration.

The US unemployment rate has jumped from 4.4 percent one month ago to a record 13 percent, and some economists expect the figure to reach 20 percent. That’s putting a lot of pressure on the country’s COBOL-based benefits systems, and the dearth of programmers could cause even more problems.

Image credit: Trismegist san via Shutterstock

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Hexic

Posts: 708   +655
TechSpot Elite
I've told multiple kids in CS to learn this old language, at least on the side, for job security reasons.

I was offered a job with my state back when I was a junior in college as a CS major, AND they would have paid for my COBOL class(es), and hire me as I was learning. The starting salary for me at 20 years old could have been 90k.

Total option for college kids now with a semester or two of electives.
 
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There are so many problems with all of these breathless attempts to induce panic on yet another topic, but yet another poorly informed "tech writer" that doesn't understand the topic and is just reformatting 5 other articles he read on the subject. Let's break it down:
1. Were are the URL's to apply for these supposed jobs?
2. What platform is this running on?
3. What operating system are they using?
4. What file system are they using?
5. What DBMS are they using?
6. What IS the actual problem?

These programs have run for decades without issue because COBOL is very stable. They might be poorly written in terms of their ability to scale, like missing indexes for efficient lookups, but the only difference is a moderate uptick in data, this is not that big of a difference, so the only real issues are going to be their ability to churn through the data in a reasonable amount of time. Maybe they have an issue of printing. If the people screaming for help actually WANT help, then they should include some details and some links/emails where people who are willing and able to help can sign up. I've checked the COBOL boards where COBOL programmers are posting and there isn't a single response from any of these supposedly panicked organizations. This is a really crappy thing for you publications to try and get more people freaked out about more things.
 

Plutoisaplanet

Posts: 232   +238
We have COBOL programs at our organization (higher ed)... We had three developers who retired in the last ten years who were writing the programs, all working at our organization for 30+ years. Now, all we have to do is modify the programs in case I’d our organization wants to update anything major. I’ve looked at COBOL and am not a fan of the idea of learning it. I’m probably going to have to though...
 

brucek

Posts: 388   +433
There are so many problems with all of these breathless attempts to induce panic on yet another topic, but yet another poorly informed "tech writer" that doesn't understand the topic and is just reformatting 5 other articles he read on the subject. Let's break it down:
1. Were are the URL's to apply for these supposed jobs?
2. What platform is this running on?
3. What operating system are they using?
4. What file system are they using?
5. What DBMS are they using?
6. What IS the actual problem?

These programs have run for decades without issue because COBOL is very stable. They might be poorly written in terms of their ability to scale, like missing indexes for efficient lookups, but the only difference is a moderate uptick in data, this is not that big of a difference, so the only real issues are going to be their ability to churn through the data in a reasonable amount of time. Maybe they have an issue of printing. If the people screaming for help actually WANT help, then they should include some details and some links/emails where people who are willing and able to help can sign up. I've checked the COBOL boards where COBOL programmers are posting and there isn't a single response from any of these supposedly panicked organizations. This is a really crappy thing for you publications to try and get more people freaked out about more things.
It's a real quote from the New Jersey governor and I've seen it in multiple newspapers. As to the governor not being up on the details and/or the journalist not capturing them, color me shocked. Also not sure the governor or anyone else is trying to "induce panic" but he probably was hoping he'd get a few retirees back to help out. Covid relief legislation has come with new policies that may not be supported in the legacy codebase and that could be one of things they want an update for.
 

mbrowne5061

Posts: 1,480   +820
There are so many problems with all of these breathless attempts to induce panic on yet another topic, but yet another poorly informed "tech writer" that doesn't understand the topic and is just reformatting 5 other articles he read on the subject. Let's break it down:
1. Were are the URL's to apply for these supposed jobs?
2. What platform is this running on?
3. What operating system are they using?
4. What file system are they using?
5. What DBMS are they using?
6. What IS the actual problem?

These programs have run for decades without issue because COBOL is very stable. They might be poorly written in terms of their ability to scale, like missing indexes for efficient lookups, but the only difference is a moderate uptick in data, this is not that big of a difference, so the only real issues are going to be their ability to churn through the data in a reasonable amount of time. Maybe they have an issue of printing. If the people screaming for help actually WANT help, then they should include some details and some links/emails where people who are willing and able to help can sign up. I've checked the COBOL boards where COBOL programmers are posting and there isn't a single response from any of these supposedly panicked organizations. This is a really crappy thing for you publications to try and get more people freaked out about more things.
Here is Kanasa's Governor complaining about the need for COBOL programmers.
http://www.kake.com/story/41983960/unemployment-woes-continue-as-system-remains-overloaded

"But, they admit their online program is more than a little outdated. A problem Governor Laura Kelly says Kansas shares with many other states.

“So many of our Departments of Labor across the country are still on the COBOL system. You know very, very old technology,” Kelly said Tuesday. “Our Department of Labor had recognized that that was an issue and had initiated modernization, and, unfortunately, that's something that takes time. This (virus) interfered and they had to cease the transition to a much more robust system. So they're operating on really old stuff.”"

Here is the job listing for COBOL developers for the state of Kansas to update its PeopleSoft system (it pre-dates the crisis because this was an on-going upgrade effort prior to COVID19):
https://jobs.sok.ks.gov/psc/sokhrpr...SEARCH_FL.GBL?Page=HRS_APP_SCHJOB_FL&Action=U

If you're going to angry-post, at least do your homework first. I am not checking the other states for you.
 

sac39507

Posts: 308   +133
There are so many problems with all of these breathless attempts to induce panic on yet another topic, but yet another poorly informed "tech writer" that doesn't understand the topic and is just reformatting 5 other articles he read on the subject. Let's break it down:
1. Were are the URL's to apply for these supposed jobs?
2. What platform is this running on?
3. What operating system are they using?
4. What file system are they using?
5. What DBMS are they using?
6. What IS the actual problem?

These programs have run for decades without issue because COBOL is very stable. They might be poorly written in terms of their ability to scale, like missing indexes for efficient lookups, but the only difference is a moderate uptick in data, this is not that big of a difference, so the only real issues are going to be their ability to churn through the data in a reasonable amount of time. Maybe they have an issue of printing. If the people screaming for help actually WANT help, then they should include some details and some links/emails where people who are willing and able to help can sign up. I've checked the COBOL boards where COBOL programmers are posting and there isn't a single response from any of these supposedly panicked organizations. This is a really crappy thing for you publications to try and get more people freaked out about more things.
Stop the insults on these guys. If you feel this way, why are you here? Go write something if you are so smart. It's always the know-it-all people that make these types of comments but have nothing to show for their arrogance. People like you who demand links are so smart but can't "Google" on your own to find such information. Really? Show a little respect dude.
 
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Uncle Al

Posts: 7,078   +5,439
OMG .... I have to make a phone call! Cobol was my first programming language and at the time every targeting software the military had was Cobol based ..... hard to believe it's come back although once you compiled it, it was lightening fast. Not good for any kind of graphical displays but for sheer calculation it was impressive. Not surprised to hear there are still a lot of systems out there running it. Cobol was the iron clad software of it's time and was pretty darn hard to break if it was designed right.
 
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AfraidOfTheWind

Posts: 12   +4
Oh please (other commenters), tell young kids to learn COBOL? I worked a govt project that used COBOL for a few months and never again will I be going near COBOL. If you take yourself and your future seriously, learn the modern stuff and don't make it easy for these shite legacy systems to stay running.
 
Saga3000 has a point.

COBOL was considered a very good programming language in its day when used properly. I'm 79 and was a COBOL programmer for more than 25 years. I was, I hope, considered a competent programmer but I was not a real technical expert. I did write programs that ran for years with little maintenance and problems. I tried to make my coding self explanatory using what I consider was a structured format. Some say it may have been too simple and not exotic enough. The coding worked and was easily understood using paragraph names that were meaningful. No cryptic tricks to baffle other programmers.The Y2K problem was not really that much of a disaster. The coding fixes were fairly simple once you found where they were needed.

I feel tempted to try to get back into it at this time but it would take a patient employer to wait for me to get back up to speed. Knowing COBOL isn't all you need to know to become an asset. Knowing JCL, the operating system, the DBMS system used are critical skills needed to be useful. Knowing structured COBOL techniques is also vital to avoid so-called spaghetti coding that make it nearly impossible to understand the data flow or how to make modifications or correct errors.Listening to the client contact for what needs to be done is also imperative.

It would also have to be financially attractive to accept what could be a pretty daunting challenge. Many older COBOL programs were written poorly and over the years I'm sure updates were made that may not have been done in the most understandable way. I guess it would have to be a very patient employer to understand and accept the difficulty of getting an older employee back to his true coding capacity. I'm sure it can be done though.
 
There are so many problems with all of these breathless attempts to induce panic on yet another topic, but yet another poorly informed "tech writer" that doesn't understand the topic and is just reformatting 5 other articles he read on the subject. Let's break it down:
1. Were are the URL's to apply for these supposed jobs?
2. What platform is this running on?
3. What operating system are they using?
4. What file system are they using?
5. What DBMS are they using?
6. What IS the actual problem?

These programs have run for decades without issue because COBOL is very stable. They might be poorly written in terms of their ability to scale, like missing indexes for efficient lookups, but the only difference is a moderate uptick in data, this is not that big of a difference, so the only real issues are going to be their ability to churn through the data in a reasonable amount of time. Maybe they have an issue of printing. If the people screaming for help actually WANT help, then they should include some details and some links/emails where people who are willing and able to help can sign up. I've checked the COBOL boards where COBOL programmers are posting and there isn't a single response from any of these supposedly panicked organizations. This is a really crappy thing for you publications to try and get more people freaked out about more things.
Less than 30 seconds with my secretary (Ms. Google) returns:

https://www.inputmag.com/tech/ibm-w...ng-to-address-overloaded-unemployment-systems

and

https://community.openmainframeproject.org/


Further the problems are likely not just the current processing but migration off these systems as in the wake of this money will be there to do what couldn't be done for these aging systems as yet. But that's a great negative spin you got there.
So while you bring up some decent points about knowing the platform and DBMS, it's unfortunate you still manage to add nothing useful.

If IBM is doing a scramble, clearly it's not all scare tactic. But then I guess in your expert opinion it was just a "scare tactic" when they said this silly COVID-19 thingy wasn't "just like the flu".
 
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There are so many problems with all of these breathless attempts to induce panic on yet another topic, but yet another poorly informed "tech writer" that doesn't understand the topic and is just reformatting 5 other articles he read on the subject. Let's break it down:
1. Were are the URL's to apply for these supposed jobs?
2. What platform is this running on?
3. What operating system are they using?
4. What file system are they using?
5. What DBMS are they using?
6. What IS the actual problem?

These programs have run for decades without issue because COBOL is very stable. They might be poorly written in terms of their ability to scale, like missing indexes for efficient lookups, but the only difference is a moderate uptick in data, this is not that big of a difference, so the only real issues are going to be their ability to churn through the data in a reasonable amount of time. Maybe they have an issue of printing. If the people screaming for help actually WANT help, then they should include some details and some links/emails where people who are willing and able to help can sign up. I've checked the COBOL boards where COBOL programmers are posting and there isn't a single response from any of these supposedly panicked organizations. This is a really crappy thing for you publications to try and get more people freaked out about more things.

1. These jobs are located all across the country (and planet) with a variety of commercial, non profit, local, state, and federal government organizations. There's no way you can post all of the URLs for all of the jobs into the same article, and if you only posted some while omitting others, it'd be a conflict of interest I would imagine.

The answer to the rest of your number list is basically: It Depends.

In most states, the number of unemployment claims have risen considerably (not a "moderate uptick", so the software needs to be able to scale accordingly.
In my state in particular, the requirements for unemployment benefits have changed, so the software needs to be updated to better keep track of who is and isn't eligible for benefits, etc.
There's also groups currently using COBOL that would like to upgrade their systems using new software, but they don't have access to the human talent to actually record/understand/translate the COBOL coded processes correctly into a new system. There are plenty of systems using COBOL today that had estimated product lifetimes ending years (even decades) ago, and whether you want to maintain the outdated systems anyway or make a new system from scratch, someone needs to be able to understand what those older COBOL systems were actually doing during all that time.

The issue with COBOL being used on so many systems, but with fewer and fewer people able to program in it, has been a long time coming, so nothing in this article should be a surprise to anyone. However, the current pandemic and unemployment crisis is making it come to a head even faster than generally anticipated.

I don't know why an article stating plain and obvious information is supposed to cause a "panic" or "freak" people out. Perhaps you'd feel safer reading only the positive news stories?
 
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sac39507

Posts: 308   +133
Less than 30 seconds with my secretary (Ms. Google) returns:

https://www.inputmag.com/tech/ibm-w...ng-to-address-overloaded-unemployment-systems

and

https://community.openmainframeproject.org/


Further the problems are likely not just the current processing but migration off these systems as in the wake of this money will be there to do what couldn't be done for these aging systems as yet. But that's a great negative spin you got there.
So while you bring up some decent points about knowing the platform and DBMS, it's unfortunate you still manage to add nothing useful.

If IBM is doing a scramble, clearly it's not all scare tactic. But then I guess in your expert opinion it was just a "scare tactic" when they said this silly COVID-19 thingy wasn't "just like the flu".
Be careful, smga3000 might call you a poorly informed "Googler" because it took you 30 secs instead of the 5 secs he will claim to be able to do
 
Oh please (other commenters), tell young kids to learn COBOL? I worked a govt project that used COBOL for a few months and never again will I be going near COBOL. If you take yourself and your future seriously, learn the modern stuff and don't make it easy for these shite legacy systems to stay running.
First off, if it wasn't for the "shite legacy systems" and coding, you wouldn't have anything to complain about here in this "future" (as you've mentioned here). Secondly, everyone knows the prehistoric saying, "if it works/is not broke, then don't break it." So, again, "If you take yourself and your future seriously," good knowledge usually starts with knowing "how it all started", changes over time (which could help knowing specifics from one application vs. another of a different "brand"), and then learning the "new" stuff. No disrespect intended towards you or anyone else reading my reply, but it sounds like you (and many others as well) look for the fast and quick shortcuts to education. Yes, I will agree that even good projects/applications sometimes could use a "better or more efficient/productive" update - keyword is "update" and NOT start from scratch or make so many changes that you no longer know what you have or what to do when "it doesn't work right as planned". If a pecan pie for centuries uses an ingredient REAL pecans, DO YOU REALLY BELIEVE "upgrading or changing" to someone's idea of "better/hi-tech" usage of "simulated taste and/or texture" is making that pie better than it already has been for longer than you have be alive? I agree/relate to and with all of the COBOL comments thus far here especially where it has been proven its "milestone" of does-as-planned uses worldwide for generations.