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Older Programmers Are Suddenly in High Demand

NJ urgently needs volunteers who know COBOL
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 8, 2020 6:36 PM CDT

(Newser) – People who know a computer programming language that has been around since the Eisenhower administration are suddenly in high demand. With unemployment claims surging amid the coronavirus pandemic, New Jersey has put out an urgent call for volunteers who know COBOL, the language that still underpins the state's unemployment system. The language was first developed in 1959 and is still used by many government and banking systems. "We have systems that are 40-plus years old," New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said at a weekend press conference, per New York magazine. "There'll be lots of postmortems, and one of them will be 'how the heck did we get here?' when we literally needed COBOL programmers."

"It's a programming language that was used to create a very significant percentage of business systems over the period of the 60s, 70s, and even into the 80s," but few people learn it now, cybersecurity expert Joseph Steinberg tells CNN. "The general population of COBOL programmers is generally much older than the average age of a coder. Many American universities have not taught COBOL in their computer science programs since the 1980s." Other states struggling to find COBOL programmers include Connecticut and Kansas, where Gov. Laura Kelly says the Department of Labor is operating on "really old stuff" that was in the process of being modernized when the pandemic hit. (Read more computer programming stories.)

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