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CIOs should prepare for lack of Cobol (yes, Cobol) developers

Sharon Florentine | Oct. 3, 2014
Businesses are faced with a shortage of programmers with Cobol skills, but there is hope that a new generation of developers will emerge.

"Most colleges and universities aren't teaching these; they're favoring newer languages like Java, C++, UNIX and Linux, and therefore Cobol and skills like mainframe are at a premium," he says.

"Our clients are having a hard time figuring out how to innovate on top of this old code and with these old systems," says Laura McGarrity, vice president of Digital Marketing Strategy at Mondo. "It can be hard to find the talent with the skills and knowledge to do that for our clients; it's a really tricky market. The pool of available talent isn't growing as quickly, and in many cases, talent's close to retirement age," she says.

Addressing the Cobol Shortage
Some organizations with deep investment in Cobol-based systems are handling the shortage by creating internships within their company, or by sponsoring education and learning opportunities to train existing staff. Micro Focus itself has modernized the language and integrated Cobol into the top two software development environments, Visual Studio and Eclipse, to make the language easier to learn and remove the 'proprietary' nature of individual companies' implementations, says Airey.

"We looked at why Cobol was so difficult to learn, and why there wasn't as high a demand for it, and realized so many companies have their own proprietary toolsets," Airey says. "So we took the language and integrated it into Visual Studio or Eclipse so developers could use familiar integrated development environments (IDEs) to build application software for their employers in what we call Visual Cobol - we made it easier to learn," he says.

Micro Focus offers Visual Cobol personal edition for free to anyone who wants to work with the language, Airey says. The personal edition, available in a 12-month software license, is available through Micro Focus' Bridge the Gap initiative.

Airey adds that a few Micro Focus clients put local university students through ten- or twenty-week programs to learn Cobol in the context of how the business uses it in their own systems, he says.

"We have clients like IBM and CA that teach these skills in the classroom. Over 350 universities worldwide are using our software, support and courseware to teach these skills, and we've seen an upswing in the subscribership to these programs," he says.

Cobol endures because businesses must continue to focus on profit margins and competitive advantage; in many cases, switching to newer, more costly systems isn't an option, Airey says. The key is using legacy tech like Cobol effectively and in such a way that it furthers innovation, not stifles it.

"How can you keep your profit margins and also maintain that competitive advantage? Well, you keep the stuff that's working - like Cobol - that you've already paid for, and instead work on building a path from the legacy tech to the new way of doing business," Airey says.


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