- IBM is partnering with the Linux Foundation's Open Mainframe Project to launch a three-pronged initiative to support COBOL engineering needs, the company announced Thursday. Together, the organizations built a talent platform, a technical advice forum and an open source training course focused on expanding access to COBOL skills.
- As states grapple with record number of unemployment claims sparked by the novel coronavirus pandemic, their systems are facing "temporary challenges," said Meredith Stowell, VP of IBM Z Ecosystem, in a blog post announcing the COBOL initiatives. "We're closely working with these clients to respond to their needs and mobilize to find solutions to the challenges they face," Stowell said.
- By Monday, over 600 engineers had made themselves available through the new COBOL talent platform, either for hire or as volunteers to help states maintain ailing systems.
The spike in unemployment is bringing unprecedented traffic to state systems, many of which are based on COBOL, a programming language built in the 1950s that has largely been phased out of modern computer science curriculum. In New Jersey, a COBOL-based unemployment claims platform buckled under a 1,600% surge in demand.
States aren't alone in their demand for COBOL skills, as the language continues to be "very prevalent and highly mission-critical to many organizations," Stephen Hassett, president of GT Software, told CIO Dive.
IT teams, already in short supply of COBOL skills, are scrambling to maintain critical systems amid surges in demand. Resources like IBM's trio of platforms can help backfill the need for critical talent.
In this new context, leaders should work to align HR and engineering teams on what credentials will suffice to bring aboard new hires, said Ryan Neal, director of training at tech education nonprofit LaunchCode, in an interview with CIO Dive.
"In order to bring in more people into the system, they might bring in people who have more passion, drive and attitude, but in the short term, their skill may be a little bit less than what they would normally hire for," said Neal. "It's going to change things."
But fresh COBOL bodies alone won't help the problem; getting engineers up to speed on a new project takes time, said Hassett.
"Their problem may be integrating with external systems," Hassett said. "COBOL is an old language and the way most organizations deal with that is by developing integrations with modern systems."