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Women of COBOL Episode 2: Looking to the Next Generation

Misty Decker: Hi and welcome to Women of COBOL hosted by TechChannel. I’m your host, Misty Decker, and today I am pleased to be joined by two amazing women of COBOL. We’re going to chat about COBOL and getting young people involved and how to help them find really prosperous COBOL careers. So first let me introduce Dr. Gina Bullock. She is a professor at North Carolina A&T and she also leads the mainframe program there, which includes COBOL. So I have a long relationship with Gina and helping her reach her students, and I can’t wait to hear what you have to say on this topic. Hi Gina, welcome.

Gina Bullock: Yay.

Misty: And we also have Melissa Christie. She is a recent graduate of Georgian College, now working in her tech career—not in COBOL, but that’s okay. We’ll find a spot for her. I invited her here today because she won the 2020 Master the Mainframe contest with a final project that she chose to write on COBOL, so I thought this would be a fun conversation for these two ladies who really haven’t had a chance to get to know each other explore the perspective of a professor and the perspective of a student. How do we do this? How do we get people interested in COBOL and start building up that pipeline of skills? So how about if I kick the conversation off, right? Let’s just start with why. Why is this important? Why is it important to teach COBOL? Gina, you jump on this one to start us off.

Gina: All right. It’s important to teach COBOL because I was looking at the numbers of women in the area, in the field and I was also looking at the history of COBOL. Even though that some people say it’s obsolete, some people say that it’s no longer going to be in existence and why do we need it? Some companies have left the area of using COBOL on mainframes but what they [don’t] realize is the cost associated with it, the value of security. No one system can handle all the computerized information and store all the information like the mainframe, and using COBOL—and one thing so great about it and that I see is never going to change is I see the great chances that they’re trying to do modernization on it. It’s wonderful but one thing about it, it’s backwards-compatible. So I can use it on any mainframe system, the legacy on down to the new, and it’s straightforward. It’s easy to read. It’s English. One thing I learned about when you’re teaching students, it’s a little different because you know they’re so used to learning object-oriented programming. When we look at COBOL, it’s just straight talking to you like I’m going to just talk to you today. And so it’s not pretty, it’s not cute, but when it comes to transactions and storing data and holding your data, I don’t care how cute it looks. It’s the best for security [laughs].

Misty: I love that. It’s like it’s not a fashion statement, right?

Gina: Yes. It’s not a fashion statement.

Misty: It’s about what it can do. You know COBOL also runs on distributed systems. I mean that’s why COBOL was created. It was the first programming language that was not specific to a particular hardware architecture, so it was created specifically to run on multiple platforms and at Micro Focus, one of the things that we do a lot of is COBOL on distributed or Linux or other platforms. Vast amounts of COBOL still run on laptops and servers in the corner of somebody’s office somewhere. Melissa … why were you interested in learning it and growing your skills in that?

Melissa Christie: There’s this kind of draw with COBOL where like if you know, it’s incredibly readable. It’s a straightforward procedural language and it never feels like complex beyond just the code. Even as a new student coming in, you see it and you’re like oh, I get this. This is really clear. I know exactly what is going on, and I was one of those students who learned object-oriented programming via Java, which was the main focus of my schooling. You know there are three levels of Java they make you go through, and it’s so verbose. When I learned COBOL, I was like hmm, I wonder if I can try and do some of those complex things in COBOL? And it really kind of clears things up when you can see how they function in that procedural way and that really clear, English-like language.

Misty: Yeah, I get that point. It is very interesting how the language is different—you know which makes me ask you a question, Melissa, if you don’t mind. I know that you ended up getting a different tech job that wasn’t COBOL-related, but did you learn anything from COBOL that you find or from your experience in learning this technology that you’re leveraging in a non-COBOL job? Is there value to that?

Melissa: I think COBOL helped me be a better programmer, think about things in a more kind of grouped fashion where you can really break down problems a lot easier because you know the straightforward thinking of having COBOL. Nowadays I do do some programming in my job but not a ton, and I feel like my experience with the mainframe and with just that sort of stuff in general kind of gives me an advantage with looking at legacy systems. We do deal with legacy systems because I work for a company that does X-ray machines and X-ray software, and so some people keep those machines for 25-30 years.

Misty: Wow … You know you’re not writing a website that you’re going to have to update and completely replace a year or two from now. You’re writing critical software that is going to be around for a long time, and I think there is a mindset. Gina, do you see that with your students? From the beginning to end of your program, does it change the way they think about things just in general, not outside of the technology?

Gina: Yes it does because if you think about when you do object-oriented programming, you look at the different aspects of the different programs and programming language, and you finally learn that you have a language that you don’t have to worry about, like you just mentioned when you see that change. You don’t have to go back and if you make one change, that is going to affect the whole system. Looking at how they code now, it’s a little different. In Java, you can program but you want to make sure that it’s going to be sustainable. If I add something or I take something away, will it still function on all systems? That’s something that the student wasn’t looking at before. They were just trying to get it done and then they understand its rules. It’s strict. You have to do it this way and it brought about some structure in their programming, I think. You have the other languages and you can appreciate them because you know COBOL works with different languages and it does work with Java. So it’s not like it’s in some kind of box by itself, but it teaches people to understand that when you’re writing code, sometimes you need to make sure that you put some more adaptive changes into your coding because you’ve got to think about when changes occur. That’s the biggest thing that I see with the students now: they are eager about it. And I do have a question for you Melissa, because you know I ask my students all the time and they come up with funniest things, but do you think that COBOL is for every student to learn? Is that something that every student should learn? Let’s even take it there because you’re a woman and it’s good to see all the women on this line today. Let’s just even change it up a little bit. Do you think that as a woman, COBOL was something that was really significant for all women to learn? Because if you look at the percentages, the numbers have increased for women in the area of this field, but we still have a lack of African-American women, the diversity. So as a woman as a whole, how did you feel and do you think the students who were women felt the same way? Or is COBOL the way to go or is it something that—?

Melissa: I think historically just because if you look at the history of COBOL and those who are involved, it feels very like oh look, COBOL was developed by women … A lot of the other languages are so male-dominated, and then you have COBOL over here. You know sometimes people have that fear oh I’m not going to get this. Like COBOL has a great like straightforward uptake and so I think for a lot of like—unfortunately my program was also very male-saturated, so I think there were only like four or five of us who were women and so a lot of us really took to it in the course. I had a mandatory mainframe class and then also an optional COBOL class which I took along with, I think, three other female students, and then well, the rest were men. But we all kind of felt like it wasn’t an intimidating space anymore.

Misty: I love that point about how COBOL started out as being created by women because I think in the design of the language, you can see [that] women historically think more about people than the technology, and COBOL was designed with people in mind. They wanted it to be accessible to anyone with little training. I’ve read that COBOL is one of the fastest languages to learn to just start on. It takes a long time to be really, really proficient with it because you know a lot of those other languages have a lot of short cuts built into it which makes it take longer to learn, but COBOL was designed … so that anyone could pick up your code and understand what it was doing. A lot of that came from Grace Hopper, right? And she insisted that because she really at the environment that the language in those applications were going to be in from a people perspective in addition to the technology perspective, and I think that’s something that we can bring to this space and that COBOL brings.

Melissa: Yeah, it has a very like, kind of a shallow learning curve and then this great complexity that you can take for it. It has this, like we say that kind of backwards compatibility with it. Like I’m at the point in my COBOL learning journey where I’m looking at other people’s code to kind of learn from and I’m looking at code that was written in the 80s for a much older machine, and I can run it on a mainframe emulator that I have on my system here and it works. It’s a completely modern computer running on a modern terminal emulator.

Misty: Yeah.

Melissa: It works just the same. It hasn’t changed at all and I don’t have to do anything special with it. I think that’s one of the really kind of beautiful things about COBOL.

Misty: Yeah.

Gina: One thing I did do with the students, because everybody is used to running it on IDs, we used the major IDs and we love Eclipse, and for me, my background is in computer science. I am a software engineering type of person. So you know I went to use Visual Studio and to show them that you know, it’s not ancient. It’s just like the other languages. We can run it off of here and it still works. I ran it off Eclipse too and they had them do things in class. It’s pretty interesting, but the thing that I really like about COBOL that really opens it up, it was created by a woman. It was more for a women’s view but we put expertise on things and I like it because yes, it’s a learning platform that you have to essentially learn and learn and learn in different things. You learn something new every day, but there’s something about when you start understanding it, the uniqueness in it, the time that it took. You can see the passion that went in behind it. There’s something about women … it’s not nothing against men. We really love you, but it’s [laughs] it’s a platform and it’s you know, understanding it and getting your students to understand. Now it is increased the amount of women in the area. It’s pretty interesting to see that women are going into COBOL and as far as jobs-wise, working with academia and different companies will increase that size. We do have a lot more. I noticed schools that came back to the area of mainframe teaching COBOL. I was doing some research. I see that a lot of schools are coming back that way. Yes, mainframe and COBOL are not dead. It’s not going anywhere. So when you learn that, it took a long time for people to realize, but money will bring you back [laughs]. You run everything on a cloud, it costs and people didn’t understand the percentages of cost. I was reading something and it was just so cute. They didn’t know that it’s a certain amount of space and you pay for the space that you put up there, right?

Misty: Right.

Gina: One thing I did learn … I’m not going to call it mainframe no more. I’m going to call it the Z because they’re going to get on me. Z—one thing I learned about it, it doesn’t change, but the system, you can last forever. When I went to IBM, that was the biggest thing. They were showing me how they kind of test the system to make sure that in any kind of storm or hurricane that the mainframe will still exist and I was like, this is pretty neat. I mean this is amazing because you need something that’s going to still function. You know with our money situations, it becomes a problem now and I know you can test of this. If they deal with financial in our banks and it deals with all about transactions on data and stuff, I don’t know about you but I know that as a woman, I am like drama about stuff. I’m like oh my gosh! So, you know the security behind it is so amazing. I just don’t understand how you go from 1960 and can still use the same code from one area on the newer systems, and that just kind of made me think like I need to stop writing bad Java, you know just writing it for that system in that time, right [laughs]?

Misty: Well, thank you. I think that’s a big part of why we did a recent survey and we found—what is the number? Thirty million? No, 30 billion lines of code in COBOL still exists. It’s growing. It’s massive how much COBOL code is out there and it’s because you don’t have to change it. You’re not forced to rewrite every few years because you upgraded your operating system or you upgraded your hardware. So let me ask you this: Gina, as you’re working with students and Melissa, when you were a student yourself and you had colleagues, what is it about COBOL that you see that surprises young people first learning about it?

Melissa: For me I had friends who were programmers outside of the program I was in, and they were like, you have a mainframe class this semester? What? Why? There are still mainframes out there? They thought they got rid of all of that. Isn’t it all Java now and I was like well no, apparently not. All of the banks are doing it. All of the airlines are doing it and they’re still going to be doing it probably 40 years from now. It’ll still be mostly COBOL because it works. But for me personally as a student, the thing that really surprised me when I first started learning it—because most of the COBOL programming I did was using that, like a green screen terminal emulator and it’s really strict about the columns and the lines—and you know, coming from other languages like Python where maybe the white space is strict or you know, Javascript where they’re just like you know what? Do whatever you want with your brackets. Put a semicolon, I don’t care—anything. Then COBOL is over here being like, it better be perfect.

Misty: Yeah, it’s very precise, right?

Melissa: I mean it’s great because I never looked at any COBOL where I was just like, what the heck is going on here?

Misty: Yeah.

Melissa: Most of the time when I looked at it, I was just like okay, why are they doing this? But it was still clear, you know, which functions were which, which areas were which. Everything had this great top down, and you’d see the occasional comment, as opposed to Java I wrote which has comments almost every four lines because you’d have this giant object and people would be like oh, what is that? And it’s like well it’s a this, this, this, and this.

Misty: Right.

Melissa: COBOL just doesn’t do that and it’s great but I still—I had you know, tons of people telling me I was wasting my time and I was just like no, it’s so prevalent. It’s everywhere.

Misty: Yeah.

Melissa: Even if I never write any new COBOL code, you’ll still need people who are able to interact with it and know what they’re doing.

Misty: Right. Gina, what is surprising to your students?

Gina:  Hmm it’s the screen [laughs]. Getting past the screen because you know, I like to go to the old-fashioned way and show them—use the screen that I’m not scared of.

Misty: Nice. You mean ISP?

Gina: We grew up on it, and so what I do as a new approach now is I just kind of I start up a game or something that looks like it, right? Yes, this used to be the game you know and [laughs] this is how to green back read it. It’s an underlying joke but the students one thing about it, they are excited. It’s a little different for them at the beginning and it is strict. It’s straight, write it this way, stop. Don’t try to do this, don’t add this, just write it straight. But one thing I learned looking at the students’ faces—I teach Java and all of that but if you have me in programming class, I make you comment like no other, and there was like, no documentation. I don’t have to put any comments. It’s so easy to read and I was like yes, you don’t have to put any comments. It’s fine and so you know it’s the excitement. They’re excited about not putting comments in, so it’s forcing them to learn indirectly because you know but the biggest draw of it is the way it’s written and understanding it. They’re so used to writing it and sometimes I look at the screen. They might have some Python or Java up there. It’s not working. It’s not going to work. What’s that? It’s the funniest thing because sometimes when you’re taking—and I notice that I have some students are taking two different languages at the same time and I notice that they spill in different things from one class to another a lot—

Misty: Oh right, yeah.

Gina: And so, they might be learning like some WAL and doing some WAL statements and then they come into here and just type it so it’s just—I just laugh. I’m like okay this would work if we were in Python, right but this is not Python. They say oh no, wrong class [laughs]. So it’s pretty interesting when you see that students are taking different languages at the same time and that was kind of awkward to me too … We get different walks of life—transfer students you know and they’ve taken different classes and it’s so funny to see that they’re taking like the second or third level of a class and it’s intertwining and they take COBOL back to Python, so they might turn in some COBOL on their Python test or something and the teacher is like, what is this? [laughs].

Misty: That is hilarious. I never thought about having to learn two languages at the same time, but I can imagine that’s really confusing.

Gina: It is.

Misty: I’ll tell you what surprised me the most now that I work for a company that’s famous for their COBOL. They showed me how you can take those legacy haven’t been updated in forever, and with a relatively small amount of work turn them into microservices in containers on a cloud. The exact same COBOL—

Gina: What?

Misty: Microservices in a container on the cloud, yes.

Gina: That’s interesting. That’s more of the modernization piece, right? Misty, that’s more of the modernization piece that they are—

Misty: Modernization. Well, I mean modernization is a word that a lot of people get really confused about in this space because they define it as being modernization is this technology or this DevOps is modernization, but I define modernization as taking your IT system, your IT processes, your applications, your infrastructure and doing whatever you need to it to deliver the modern needs of your business … You know a lot of times the real issues in a business isn’t that they aren’t using Java, it’s because they haven’t maintained their COBOL applications, and maybe it’s moving off of the mainframe but maybe it’s fixing what you’ve already got on your mainframe and making it better suited to your modern business needs. It’s not one thing; it is one end goal of being able to deliver what your business needs but how you get there is a wide, wide variety of paths. It’s just amazing the things that COBOL can do without having to get rid of it and people just assume it can’t do, right?

Gina: Yeah. I want to make sure I’m reading this right but I was reading something about COBOL and object-oriented programming.

Misty: Oh yeah.

Gina: I was like, this is pretty neat … I’ve got to find this and so it’s amazing that they are moving to different levels and they starting to use it. It can change and adapt to any language that you use and I think that’s pretty interesting what’s going on now. It’s not like you’re getting rid of COBOL. It’s like adding different languages like Python and different things that can be interpreted so it can run on different platforms, but it’s more of a COBOL base, right?

Misty: Yeah.

Gina: I was looking at that and I thought that was pretty interesting. Did I read that right, Misty?

Misty: You’re absolutely right.

Gina: I’m not in the field. I’m at A&M University, so I want to make sure.

Misty: My eyes have been opened. I mean we even have the ability with some of products to take our COBOL code and compile it and generate Java object source—I mean object—

Gina: Stop.

Misty: Out of-and .net. You can create .net object code out of your COBOL source code. Yeah.

Gina: I did read that and you know what? To be honest with you … I do see your company’s name out there a lot. Like I was like wait a minute: Misty works for them. So—

Misty: Yes.

Gina: It’s pretty neat to see. Is that the question?

Misty: This webinar isn’t about Micro Focus so we’re not supposed to—

Gina: No, it’s not [crosstalk]. The reason why I said it because they are covering a lot of aspects that are related to the COBOL area that people need to understand, and you work there so it’s a plus that you’re in the midst of learning and seeing new things being—

Misty: I mean we’ll do a shout out to some of our other favorite companies, right? IBM is doing a whole lot around modernizing the mainframe, the hardware, that IT environment. Broadcom leans very heavily into modernizing the DevOps, the development process—

Gina: Yes.

Misty: You know as I said all of that counts as modernization. Modernization is not about what you’re doing as much as delivering the business modern needs. That’s where the modern comes in, is meeting what the modern business needs.

Gina: So, you know Misty, I have a hard question because when we start talking about COBOL and women and we’re just bringing students into the area of COBOL. How do we create a better filtering system so we can ensure that we have pipelines built in place to get more students in the area of COBOL and meet the needs? I know that I was reading there are so many career opportunities available in this space, but the problem I see as a disconnect in the space is not a filtering system. It’s not like you know, we need them, but how are we going to get what you need as you have the schools now and that’s—

Misty: Yeah.

Gina: Not doing it so how is that because you know we have Melissa on this line and Melissa, it would have been nice if something was brought out in her class where you know, here’s some opportunities. Here’s a partnership.

Misty: Right.

Gina: So, this is a problem.

Misty: I agree, Gina. Here we have Melissa, who won North America Master the Mainframe and she’s not in a mainframe COBOL job, right?

Gina: Yeah.

Melissa: And the difficulty there is is that when you learn COBOL, the beginner level, the starting level is abundant. You can find beginner COBOL courses everywhere, but when it comes to intermediate level or just seeing production code or even having the opportunity to do maintenance on COBOL or do bug correction on COBOL, you don’t really get that unless you’re in the industry, part of the industry. And one of the only ways to kind of break in or breach industry is to get some other COBOL person to take you under their wing, like an apprentice under another mainframer, which is something I kind of tried to do but due to some limitations I was unable to get kind of those opportunities. I just wasn’t in the right place at the right time and it’s unfortunate, but I don’t think it’s something that’s completely out the window for me or any new student, especially now that we have more programs that are starting to bring back the COBOL and starting to flesh their COBOL out like my program, we had the mainframe course which was mandatory. You know everybody has to learn about mainframes but the COBOL course, the programming course, was kind of optional. If we had more opportunities to just get people to like touch COBOL or the mainframe just a little bit, I find that that’s a driving force to bring people in. Most people when they start programming in COBOL or start interacting with mainframe, they’re like oh my God. This is amazing. I love this, and they want to do it. That’s why Master the Mainframe and Z explorer and the courses provided by IBM or Micro Focus for free, but sometimes people need that little push to really get in there, to really see that it’s fun and amazing. I think these companies have opportunity to hook in people just by doing that, just by trying to bring people in saying oh hey, do you want to come and learn mainframe at our company?

Gina: I did see the average age is 50, and so that’s the average age of a COBOL mainframer. I see so many questions around—people are now asking are you going to have enough people working on the mainframe? I know that we came here to talk about COBOL and it’s very significant, but if it’s a disconnect then we have more schools now because you know at one time, everybody dropped it … It’s really sad. You heard me say, you know the average age—

Misty: Right.

Gina: But then they’re giving more money, Misty. I did see the states are giving more money, you know so you can make six figures now, right? So I’m trying to understand how can we bridge that between academia. You’ve got your student. Like you said Misty, you’ve been a supporter all these years for the student and you still are and you’ve been an advocate, and they have like all these badges and certifications. Some people are just going where—you know, that’s not where their passion is. We’re losing.

Misty: It’s a complex problem with a lot of points, right? Let’s just start at the beginning. There’s awareness. The students need to know what these careers are before they take the classes. The universities will offer classes where their students demand. Even if there’s jobs but students won’t sign up for the classes, the universities won’t offer them. So then you need to have the universities on board with a pipeline of students that are aware and interested. Then you need to have employers engaging with those campuses to try to get the students involved to support the faculty, to support the university advisory boards … I get contacted all the time by people looking for COBOL skills and they say I need someone who’s already in the United States with 20 years of experience in COBOL [laughs]. I’m like, listen. You know there’s maybe a dozen of those people and everybody wants that one person. You need to build a pipeline with regards to the average age of COBOL programmer—I find it really interesting that that number has not changed for 15 years. Now people are getting older, so what does that mean? Newer people coming in to the point where it’s keeping that number, that average is still around 40-50. My personal theory—I don’t know this for a fact—is that you have a significant number of people that start their career in something else and then transition into COBOL and mainframes, so they’re not coming straight out of college. That’s my theory. I don’t have any data to support that. I think it’s a mix. I think that companies really need to do a mix and it comes down to when it comes to Java programmers or cloud developers or whatever, it’s a many to many matching scenario, right? There’s many, many people with those skills and there’s many, many jobs. These jobs, there are fewer of them and there are fewer people graduating, so it’s harder to find that pairing especially when you add geographical preferences, schedule preferences, employer preferences. Employers don’t help themselves when they limit themselves to only college graduates with a four-year degree. There’s some really amazing talent coming out of community colleges, for example, and their corporate rules won’t let them even talk to them. So you know so there’s a lot of pieces here that need to updated. I’m encouraged by the current employment climate, because there’s nothing like making people consider new ways of doing things as being on a burning platform, as they say. So the employment environment is burning [laughs].

Gina: Yes.

Misty: There’s a sense of urgency going on right now and I think that with the ecosystem that we have and the partnership that we have between Micro Focus and IBM and Broadcom and BMC and all of these companies, I think that we now have the momentum and the sense of urgency in the industry that we can really make some real things happen. So I’m excited.

Gina: And I didn’t want to take you off COBOL, but that is like a big piece of COBOL right now.

Misty: COBOL is a big piece of it.

Gina: It’s a big piece and when I look at the average age—and like you said Misty, they might be just starting off. Because a lot of them do have—it’s intimidating—20 years’ experience or different experience, but you know the stipulations like you said. It’s got a change to occur and that’s between academia and employers and the university as a whole. They really don’t have do to too much. If you work with that employer, it’d change some things, and it’s just a relationship. I really appreciate all the companies that bring in supplies, so when we talk about hands-on opportunities, we do work with IBM, we do work with companies that actually sponsor things to help our students with COBOL, so these are some paths and avenues. So when you asked me those questions Misty, that’s one of the things. I don’t do COBOL for a living. That’s not something I ever did for a living, so it’s great when you have the sites, the platforms that you have hands-on for your students, and then the competition. The competition helps a lot, and people don’t understand the value of that competition. There’s a lot of work that you do bringing in COBOL and all the areas, JCL, so you know even teaching students sometimes—and you look at JCLs. You try to incorporate the COBOL into it and they’re looking confused as ever but there’s something about going into the Z system, and it used to be called Master the Mainframe. There was something about them going into there and start doing it and seeing their faces light up and understanding. Well, you understand it now? What made you understand it now [laughs]? Back in time, it’s kind of like this is a game and I got to win so you know—

Misty: Yup, yup.

Melissa: Yeah, now it’s fun.

Gina: So you are offering things to academia, that really helps. Melissa when you were in school, did you all have things that helped you through the program and understand your classes well, or is it something that you did in there as far as COBOL and the learning of the language? What are some things that you all did in there that were really beneficial to you?

Melissa: So the professor I had for my COBOL course, he was a consultant for the Bank of Montreal, maintaining local mainframes. So he was actually getting the chance to, you know, be currently directly working with mainframes. But to him, he really liked to just kind of joke around about things and not too serious. He found that there’s kind of this weird hostility with like, old-school programmers where they’re like oh you don’t know that? Get out of here. But he was just like, that’s such a terrible thing to do to somebody who is just trying to become a part of it. You have to be welcoming to newcomers. But some of the kind of fun projects he had us do were—he was like yeah, we can change data in files and we can make a transaction system, but let’s not do that. It’s boring. Let’s make a game with COBOL. So our final project for our programming class was to make one of those kind of old-fashioned text adventure games all in COBOL.

Gina: Pretty neat.

Misty: Nice. Oh, I love it.

Melissa: And we had to manipulate data coming in. The one I wrote printed off like—after you died in the game, it would print off how far you got and what was in your backpack as a report afterwards. It was just kind of a silly little thing, but it made you—a lot of the problems that you see in COBOL, like a lot of things you need to solve, you know transactions and those kind of things, it’s all kind of the same problem, and you all kind of do the same thing. So in this case we have to kind of like really think out of the box to—you know, let’s display text on the screen. Let’s do calculations for damage. Originally, we had like a set map that the player could go through, but I set mine up that it would randomize the rooms, and learning how to do you know proper randomization in COBOL—which I could do easily in Python, but in COBOL because you know you don’t have libraries to do stuff, you have to invent the wheel every time. And it really gave us the opportunity to like, from that college, like I know this. This is how to do this and COBOL is one of those languages where I don’t really need to look at the documentation because I’ve done things enough times that it’s just there. I don’t need to look anything up. And so that was kind of like the really fun, interesting project. He also was pretty against using modern IDs to program in, so we did everything terminal emulator green screen.

Misty: Wow.

Melissa: So I actually find it a little awkward using modern IDs to program COBOL in, because it doesn’t feel right. You get used to a certain way of doing things and you’re like, it should be all black with green text [laughs].

Misty: I’m finding this very funny, Melissa.

Melissa: I do actually now—I don’t mind using like Visual Studio code to do COBOL in since now lots of people have made lots of nice extensions for COBOL. And I think that’s in part that there was a little pocket of time where people really were not thinking about COBOL. Then the pandemic happened and we kind of got thrown under the bus at one p0int, where they were just like the reason this is all held up is because of the COBOL, when what it really was is that they didn’t do their job which was maintaining their system.

Misty: Exactly.

Melissa: It sort of did us a favor and then also an injustice where it was just like COBOL it’s your fault but hey, we need COBOL programmers. People better start funding this because we don’t have any.

Misty: Yup. All right. So we’re running out of time so I want to make sure I give you guys a chance to make one last comment, and that is what is one thing that you’d like our audience to really understand when it comes to the next generation in COBOL? What is it? You’re speaking to the community now. Is there something that you would like them to know or you would like them to do? What are your parting words here?

Gina: Okay.

Misty: So much pressure.

Gina: No. My parting words are is I am about academia and about the students and the growth, seeing students move into the areas of need. I do want to see a big surge of our students go into the areas of COBOL. We know there’s a lot of attractive jobs out there. Java is there. Everybody has Java, Google and all the nice kind of flashy companies, but it’s always great to see students have a diverse background and join. I want to see a big swift increase of getting more African Americans in the area of COBOL. As I was doing my research, it was a little disheartening to see how the numbers are not there. When we look at women, [there’s an] increase but we need more women, promotion of more women and actually more—I saw it was 74% of men in the area of COBOL right now, in the area of mainframe, period. So you know the need and the push is the schools are doing now. They’re actually producing students. That’s amazing and so if I had to say these last words to you, the students actually know, so if you can just bend back and stop saying 20 years or ten years, and take some of the students and teach them. The biggest thing we know is that average age. They’ve got to go home sooner or later, right? So you pair the new with the young and all of them—I said the new with the young because I will never call them elderly [laughs]. Then have them grow that way. You’re missing out on a lot of amazing students … Melissa is a prime example. I even have students that go to the third and finish the third levels and completing, and nobody is looking at them. Nobody is grabbing them and they’re going off to other places where they really love and that’s their passion. COBOL is not going anywhere. I see the amazing things that’s happening and it’s a big need so for me, I love it. I love to see the student’s face when they learn it and I love to see the amazing things that they’re doing in class. I am going to take that game from where she did that idea … This is a great time to have this conversation. Everybody’s jumping on the bandwagon and giving more money to COBOL. Everybody wants to increase the amount of COBOL or experience for the mainframe, but this is going to be wonderful because this is my plea to say we’re here.

Misty: Yes. I will say your students have always impressed me. They have such a passion and a focus. [At] A&T is not a single one of them is going there because they didn’t have anything better to do, or they just felt like oh this is automatically the next step. They’re all there because they want to be there, because they want to pursue this career, and that’s exactly the kind of person you want to hire. So definitely recruit at—

Gina: I have one student who went to Wells Fargo. She’s a mainframer now.

Misty: Yay. So proud of her.

Gina: I’m so proud.

Misty: All right Melissa, your parting words.

Melissa: All I can say is, as a student and to students who are coming into this, you know you’re going to get into lots of computer science courses and a lot of courses that just teach Java and Python and stuff like that, but give mainframe a chance. It’s wonderful. The systems are impressive and capable of amazing things. COBOL is a great language to program in. It feels great. It doesn’t look great, but don’t worry about that. It’s got an impressive historical background. Get a chance to learn it. Even if you never use it again, like you should just learn it. It’s not going to hurt you. It’s going to benefit you. It’s going to be great. It’s going to be fun. Even if you start in mainframe ten years later—maybe your boss comes over to you and says, hey you know stuff on the mainframe, right? We’ve got a mainframe in the back. You want to do stuff with it? And it’s going to be great. You’re going to be like yeah, play on the mainframe. So really my advice to people is just do it. It’s fun. There’s lots of great ways to try it, lots of great courses along the line, lots of great programs at schools now, and you know I’m an advocate for using the Z Xplore with IBM and stuff like that. It’s great. It’s a great way to get introduced to it.

Misty: And it’s so much fun, right?

Melissa: Yeah.

Misty: So thank you so much, Melissa, and thank you so much, Gina. I had a lot of fun with this conversation. I hope you did too and thank you to our audience for joining us. I want to give a shout out to my producer, Marcella Marrugo. For all of you watching today if you have any feedback for us or suggestions for future episodes, you can contact Marcella. She’s happy to take your calls and your emails. We’ll be scheduling more of these episodes in the future. Thank you for joining us.