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COVID-19 Response: New Jersey Urgently Needs COBOL Programmers (Yes, You Read That Correctly)

By Joseph Steinberg

April 6, 2020

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New Jersey desperately needs COBOL Programmers.

That's what the State's Governor, Phil Murphy, apparently meant today, when he said at a press conference that the State needed volunteers who with "Cobalt" computer skills to help fix 40-year-old-plus unemployment insurance systems that are currently overwhelmed as a result of COVID-19-related job losses.

COBOL, for those who are unfamiliar, is a computer language that is over 60 years old, and was once the staple of software development across industry and government. By the late 1980s, however, it had become sufficiently obsolete that many universities did not even include it in their computer science curricula. In fact, while there are certainly are COBOL systems still in use today, relatively few software developers under the age of 50 have ever seen, never mind written, even one line of COBOL. It is not surprising that even New Jersey's 62-year old governor, who was an executive at Goldman Sachs for decades, had apparently not heard its name recently enough to remember it correctly.

COBOL's heyday in the 1970s means that the majority of COBOL experts in America are likely well over 60 years old – making them significantly at risk for death or danger by COVID-19 – and probably a bit rusty at their former craft; many of them have likely not developed in COBOL since long before many of the readers of this article were born.

 

From Joseph Steinberg
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