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COBOL programmers are in demand to fight the coronavirus pandemic

2020-04-10 18:31 by
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Some states have found themselves in need of people who know a 60-year-old programming language called COBOL to retrofit the antiquated government systems now struggling to process the deluge of unemployment claims brought by the coronavirus crisis. The states of Kansas, New Jersey, and Connecticut all experienced technical meltdowns after a stunning 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week.

"Literally, we have systems that are 40 years-plus old, and there'll be lots of postmortems. And one of them on our list will be, 'How did we get here where we literally needed COBOL programmers?'" Gov. Phil Murphy said during his daily press briefing Saturday.

The governor didn't cite the specific issues the code was causing in processing unemployment claims in the state, though experts say it's possible the code was not written to process tens of thousands of applications at a time. The volunteers may be needed to tweak that code to increase processing capacity.

Invented in 1959, COBOL - short for Common Business-Oriented Language - is considered the first truly interoperable programming language and has served as the foundation of most mission critical banking and financial services applications, including within government agencies.

COBOL is still used today by some financial companies, government agencies and ATMs, but most universities haven't offered it in their curriculum since before Y2K.

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