Wanted: COBOL Programmers

The demand for programmers that know COBOL, a decades-old programming language in which many mission-critical applications were written, is reaching new heights. In April 2020, the Governor of New Jersey put out a plea for COBOL programmers to help the state update its unemployment processing application. Other public and private-sector organizations are clamoring for COBOL skills as they race to adapt mainframe applications. The COVID pandemic has brought a new sense of urgency to this dynamic. However, IT organizations around the world have been dealing with making their mainframe applications available in new ways to support customer needs for a long time.

Top 10 Bank Mitigates COBOL Shortage with JavaScript

One of the nation’s largest banks is not struggling with support of its COBOL applications. The bank still has COBOL applications, many of them running core business processes. Years ago, however, it chose to create APIs to these applications. This strategy continues to provide benefits in the bank’s hybrid IT environment. Today, the bank’s API strategy is paying dividends by allowing it to avoid the impact of the COBOL skills shortage. According to an AVP and system consultant at the bank, “It’s not impossible to get, but it’s harder and harder to get COBOL talent. But, by creating APIs on the mainframe using JavaScript, we are able to bypass the required knowledge to write code in COBOL.”

This API approach is allowing the bank to mitigate the COBOL issues spawned by the COVID pandemic. Using the HostBridge JavaScript Engine (HB.js), the bank has implemented APIs to many of its CICS applications originally written in COBOL. Using this approach, applications off the mainframe get data from mainframe applications through the HB.js-created API running on the mainframe. HB.js runs the requested CICS applications, even orchestrating full sequences of transactions from a single API call. Applications off the mainframe don’t have to know how to navigate mainframe applications, or what screen layouts look like. They simply need to know how to send an HTTP request to the HostBridge-created API. Mainframe application changes aren’t required either. It’s a simple way to make mainframe CICS applications available to anyone or anything that needs them; and, it requires no COBOL skills.

Accessing COBOL programs via a JavaScript-created API

“The issues other people are seeing because of COVID, we have avoided,” continued this AVP. “HostBridge helps us not require as much specialized COBOL mainframe knowledge, and still expose our legacy applications to the outside world.” The APIs are created using JavaScript, one of the most-used programming languages in the world, with many more users than COBOL. Developing and deploying APIs is also fast, letting the bank create new APIs in agile fashion. “You can go from not having one to having one in a couple of hours, with no specialized mainframe knowledge needed.”

APIs Make COBOL Programs Available to Non-COBOL Programmers

Russ Teubner, co-founder and CEO of HostBridge Technology, has championed the API strategy for legacy applications for decades. “What exacerbates the current shortage of COBOL talent is the fact that organizations are not following the modern IT best practice of making sure mission critical apps are accessible via a platform-agnostic API,” said Teubner.  “It doesn’t matter whether an enterprise considers their mainframe COBOL apps strategic or tactical. Either way, the best thing it can do is put an API in front of mission critical apps.  If those apps are strategic, the enterprise has greater freedom to enhance them without impacting end users, because the API stays the same.  If, however, the mainframe apps are tactical, then the API gives the enterprise a layer they can hold constant while completely changing the backend platform or application.”

Teubner and HostBridge co-founder Scott Glenn pioneered using JavaScript on the mainframe over 10 years ago just for this purpose. “Using HB.js to rapidly create APIs for existing mainframe apps creates a productive ‘division of labor’,” Teubner concluded. “Organizations can focus their relatively scarce COBOL resources on enhancing or refining core business logic in their apps. They can also focus their relatively abundant JavaScript resources on creating APIs to those COBOL apps.”

About the HostBridge JavaScript Engine (HB.js)

The HostBridge JavaScript Engine (HB.js) is a server-side JavaScript implementation. It is an open source JavaScript engine ported to run natively under CICS. HB.js includes enhancements to exploit IBM z System facilities, where appropriate, and is also zIIP enabled. Enterprises can author and execute HB.js Scripts to integrate and orchestrate CICS applications and transactions. Use the form below to start a conversation with us about creating APIs for your mainframe COBOL programs.