Because of an ancient programming language, hundreds of thousands of Americans have to wait to get unemployment benefits

Tram Ho

The Covid-19 pandemic is showing the weakness of aging computer systems in the heart of the US economy – not only that, but also the shortage of experts to fix this problem. This is slowing the government’s effort to bring billions of dollars in economic stimulus packages to new unemployed people.

While the $ 2,200 billion CARES stimulus package was approved in late March, hundreds of thousands of newly unemployed people will not be able to receive money until government agencies update the system. technology to promptly handle the flood of unemployment applications.

Chỉ vì một loại ngôn ngữ lập trình cổ lỗ sĩ, hàng trăm nghìn người Mỹ phải chờ mòn mỏi mới nhận được trợ cấp thất nghiệp - Ảnh 1.

Long lines are waiting in line for claims of unemployment benefits in Las Vegas, USA. In March, 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits.

This is because the process of processing this claim for unemployment benefits is being done on an old-fashioned mainframe computer with software written in an equally old programming language, COBOL, that has more than 60 years old. So people in Oklahoma will have to wait up to 2 weeks to process their application for unemployment benefits.

This is the biggest problem in implementing the CARES program .” Robin Roberson, executive director of the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission said. ” Our mainframe computers are over 30 years old. It’s very difficult to program and doesn’t do much. COBOL programmers are getting harder and harder to find .”

The same situation applies to other states. The Connecticut Department of Labor is telling people to stay calm while they work with experts to update the COBOL line of code to implement government subsidy programs. New Jersey governor Phil Murphy is even called upon people who know about COBOL programming to help the state upgrade the software for these computers.

This shortage of staff is the result of many years, a combination of a lack of training, a team of senior experts and a lack of employers willing to pay high salaries for a few who are still willing to work. .

Chỉ vì một loại ngôn ngữ lập trình cổ lỗ sĩ, hàng trăm nghìn người Mỹ phải chờ mòn mỏi mới nhận được trợ cấp thất nghiệp - Ảnh 2.

Mainframe computers in the 1960s.

Indeed, the Gartner report estimates that the average age of COBOL developers is often over 60. Not only that, the number of programmers in this language is also decreasing over the years. By 2004, Gartner estimates that there were only 2 million programmers in this language (out of 25 million software developers) and that the number was decreasing by 5% every year.

COBOL programmer – Rare to find

Typically, when the demand for a programming language far exceeds the number of programmers, short-term training courses or boot camps will be able to fill that void. But COBOL is different.

Short for Common Business Oriented Language, COBOL emerged from the late 50s of the last century – before computer science was taught in universities. Without pedagogical support, many COBOL programmers have to learn about it themselves while working at government agencies.

Not to mention that this language is not designed for the internet, nor is it easy to learn. Understandably, not many people are interested in pursuing such an old programming language.

Chỉ vì một loại ngôn ngữ lập trình cổ lỗ sĩ, hàng trăm nghìn người Mỹ phải chờ mòn mỏi mới nhận được trợ cấp thất nghiệp - Ảnh 3.

While there are few experts in this programming language, Phil Teplitzky, CTO of HP Marin Group LLC, said, there are still about 240 billion lines of code being used every day on old computer systems in companies, organizations. Moreover, such a long age makes the documentation of these machines scarce, and its software upgrades become even more difficult.

Moreover, COBOL programming way makes it very difficult to update. While modern programming languages ​​divide the program into small segments, each segment has a specific purpose. COBOL programs often put them all together, making changes to code in one part of the program can disrupt or disable the rest of the program.

Fortunately, there is still IBM, the company that makes the majority of mainframe computers powered by COBOL. For years, the company has been trying to help customers find COBOL experts and persuade new programmers to learn the language. Last week the company announced a new training course to teach COBOL to those new to it.

While these courses may help US government agencies live a while longer with this old programming language, they will hardly be able to create experts to upgrade machine systems. ancient calculation is currently using it. This also means that hundreds of thousands of new people who are unemployed because the Covid-19 pandemic will continue to have to wait for weeks, even longer, until they receive their valuable benefits.

Refer to Bloomberg

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Source : Genk