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Open Mainframe Project Mentorship, COBOL and IBM Z Skills

Sudhanshu Dubey, former Open Mainframe Project mentee, successfully modernized a legacy COBOL application—proving it’s possible to use COBOL in new ways

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Mainframe and COBOL are not things of the past as some might believe. They’re important tools for businesses and organizations to use for progression into the future.
 
The Open Mainframe Project Mentorship Program understands this, which is why it encourages mentees to expand their knowledge of IBM Z technology and contribute to simplifying the process for infrastructure platforms to run on mainframe. 
 
Sudhanshu Dubey, a recent mentee with the Open Mainframe Project Mentorship, has proven it’s possible to use COBOL in new ways by modernizing a legacy COBOL application. Dubey’s current passion for COBOL stems from his journey through this mentorship opportunity, which pushed him to ask questions and continue learning. 
 
In 2020, during his fourth year of college, Dubey first became interested in mainframe and COBOL. While browsing LinkedIn, he came across a coding competition—Master the Mainframe—and decided to participate. At the time, his interests were spread across many different areas, and he was not sure which field he wanted to pursue a career in. 
 
“I joined Master the Mainframe and that’s when I learned about COBOL and mainframe and its importance in today’s world—what mainframe actually does, what COBOL does,” Dubey says.
 
After learning more about COBOL through Master the Mainframe and some additional coursework, Dubey applied for the OMP Mentorship and was later contacted by Misty Decker, a former program manager for IBM Z Master the Mainframe, and current product marketing director for Micro Focus. She told Dubey that the project “COBOL Mentorship” was looking for applicants and he was a good fit. This turned out successful as he was selected to participate in the project. 
 
“When I finally got selected after five or six months, that was a great achievement. You plan for something; you make a long goal and then you achieve that goal. So that was what I was feeling,” Dubey says. 

The Mentorship Journey

The first month of the mentorship was spent gaining an understanding of the software and developing a plan to reach specific targets. Dubey began with training courses on software that he would need to use throughout the project and tried to think very clearly about larger project goals.  
 
“I had to make a plan, so I was asking myself, ‘What is the end goal that we are targeting? What is the architecture that we are targeting?’ ” Dubey says. 
 
There were weekly meetings where the mentorship group—consisting of Dubey, fellow mentee- Josh Fogus, Decker and Dubey’s mentors, Guy Sofer and Gary Evans—would collaborate and talk about what needed to be modernized and what components would be used to understand the application. This was the first portion of evaluation from the program—laying down the plan and writing documentation. 
 
The second part involved the actual coding. However, when first starting work on the code, Dubey realized that the process would need to become much more simplified.
 
“The overall aim of the project was to show that COBOL modernization is easy for a business professional.” Dubey says. “But initially, it was not that easy.”
 
The problem lay in extracting the right code and  configuring the enterprise server regions, as those are things that you actually learn by doing. To address these, Dubey turned to online resources and advice from his mentor, Sofer. 
 
While this proved helpful, some problems related to the GNU COBOL compiler usage remained. At this point, Dubey decided to reach out to the mainframe community and pose his question in their online forum where he received excellent responses, especially from Brian Tiffin.
 
“The mainframe community, in general, is very generous,” Dubey says. “They had accepted me, and they are very welcoming. They help at every point. Even random people you don’t know, they come and appreciate your work and it feels great.”
 
Dubey found the answers he needed to solve the coding errors and, going into the final month of the mentorship, was able to get all four of the required services up and running by the project deadline. 
 
“These four services, they all use different languages. They use different technologies for their UI, and this is something that we really pitch in our webinars and in our conferences—that you have these options,” Dubey says.
 
Giving organizations and business professionals options when it comes to navigating mainframe technology is at the forefront of the project’s goal to modernize COBOL.

Future Focused

Throughout the course of the mentorship, Dubey navigated challenges that arose and leveraged any resources he had to find answers. His drive to keep trying even when errors occurred is part of what made his experience successful within the COBOL space. 
 
“Fortunately, in anything, if there’s an error, there’s an error code associated with it,” Dubey says. “People just look at the error and they’re like, ‘Oh, it’s an error. Let’s run away. This thing is about to blast.’ But no, it isn’t. It’s showing the error code. It’s showing the message, what is exactly wrong.”
 
The process of modernizing a COBOL application during the mentorship came with its fair share of errors, but Dubey was able to innovate and prove that COBOL can be used in new ways. 
 
As for the future, Dubey feels more confident than ever about the career path he wants to go down. His experience with COBOL and the Open Mainframe Project Mentorship played a large role in solidifying his interests. 
 
“I’m aiming to make a career in mainframe, and this mentorship program was a huge step,” Dubey says. 
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