IBM Rallies COBOL Engineers to Save Overloaded Unemployment Systems

The company is offering free COBOL training and a forum for COBOL engineers

Dave Gershgorn
OneZero
Published in
2 min readApr 10, 2020

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Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

As millions file for unemployment benefits in the United States every week, states’ aging computer systems simply cannot keep up.

States like New Jersey and Connecticut have said they are desperate for programmers who are still familiar with COBOL, a programming language that debuted in 1960 and is still used in critical computer systems like unemployment databases and banks. It’s estimated that COBOL is currently used in 95% of ATMs around the world.

Despite its wide usage, most programmers today are taught newer languages, like C (which is only a few years newer but has had more staying power) or Python, since they are more immediately applicable to tech jobs.

IBM, the leading provider of mainframes typically used to compile and run COBOL code, is trying to help bridge that gap.

On Friday, IBM announced it was launching a free training program to teach coders COBOL as well as new forums to match those who know the language with those who need help maintaining their critical systems.

The COBOL course will teach coders how to use the language in Microsoft’s popular VSCode software and will be available next week. Next month, IBM says it will release a more fully fledged video COBOL course on online learning platforms like Coursera.

The two forums that IBM has launched live on the Linux Foundation’s Open Mainframe Project website. One of the forums, Calling all COBOL Programmers, has had dozens of engineers sign up in the last 24 hours from around the world. The other forum is more technical in nature, where coders can pose specific COBOL questions and work through projects with experts.

The company also says that it’s actively teaching COBOL through its existing “Master the Mainframe” series of free courses, and matches programmers with companies through its Talent Match portal.

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Dave Gershgorn
OneZero

Senior Writer at OneZero covering surveillance, facial recognition, DIY tech, and artificial intelligence. Previously: Qz, PopSci, and NYTimes.