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Last month we saw many states scrambling to find engineers familiar with COBOL, a language which previously fell out of favor, but now is having a resurgence due to the infrastructure crisis. 

It’s not uncommon to find legacy systems running on COBOL. However, with much of the COBOL developer community retiring from the workforce, organizations today are searching for the next generation of developers who will be able to handle the complex COBOL code base to help them maintain and evolve their essential systems.

The Inherited Cost of Stability

Since 2018 we’ve noticed an increase in demand for COBOL programmers, from global enterprises, government organizations, and the recruitment agencies helping staff them. Many of these organizations have been around long enough to have been part of the first wave of COBOL adoption in the 80s during the initial digitization era. While technology using COBOL might seem out-of-date, there’s often a good reason that it’s lasted.

For many CTOs, the thought of uplifting older, essential systems does not only sound expensive, but high-risk. It’s normal to have older layers within a codebase, but if one of those was initially designed decades ago using COBOL, there is inherent fear in the potential to break it just by touching it. This is part of the reason why stable programs run in COBOL continue to be maintained today. The cost of modernizing it often does not outweigh the benefit.

But what happens when knowledge of a technology skips a generation?

Introducing COBOL Skills 

There are extra challenges than usual for those hiring COBOL developers. Unlike more modern languages, COBOL still suffers from lingering issues of portability. This makes finding the right developer more difficult because the language is closely associated with the machine it runs on. This is compounded by the fact that there are a limited number of COBOL programmers on the market.

We added COBOL to our skills evaluation library to make it easier for Hiring Managers to evaluate essential COBOL skills. Incorporating openCOBOL, an open source distribution of the language that any developer can install on their computer, we’ve partnered with our customers to design industry-relevant tasks which are already helping hire the next generation of COBOL programmers.

Book a demo with us to see how we’re evaluating COBOL skills and take a tour of our tech hiring platform.

Łukasz Krogulec is Senior Community Manager at Codility.

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