Guests: Derek Britton (LinkedIn, Twitter) | Misty Decker (LinkedIn, Twitter)
Company: Micro Focus (Twitter)
Project: Open Mainframe Project (LinkedIn, Twitter)

The COBOL Working Group aims to promote COBOL by identifying the challenges and misconceptions around it, using quantifiable data to create a central repository. At the recent Open Mainframe Summit in Philadelphia, I caught up with Micro Focus leaders Misty Decker, Director of Worldwide AMC Product Marketing and Derek Britton, Director of Communications and Brand Strategy to discuss a major focus of the event: diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Decker states that the mainframe community is tight-knit, welcoming, and supportive. Many think that it has always been male-dominated, but in the early days, COBOL programming was actually dominated by formidable, smart women. In the 1960s, when programming became prestigious and considered to be “an intellectual activity,” people who felt that women weren’t capable of those sorts of things started to push them out of the jobs and replace them with men. That’s how it became a male-dominated community. The mainframe community today, through its various working groups, is working on balancing the situation.

These working groups are also looking at other challenges facing the community, including the modernization of COBOL. While modernization could mean different things to different people, in its most primary form, it is “doing whatever it takes to meet the modern needs of your business.”

Key highlights from this video interview:

  • Decker discusses her background in mainframe technologies, telling us she joined Micro Focus about 18 months ago to do product marketing for their mainframe products. She explains her job role and what being an active advocate for mainframe technologies means.
  • Britton tells us he has been in the Open Mainframe Project since 2020 and has been at Micro Focus for many years. He explains that the co-working group was formed to address some of the challenges they saw in the marketplace around people’s understanding of COBOL.
  • Contrary to popular belief, COBOL never really went away and has actually grown steadily since its foundation in the early ‘60s. Britton discusses the central role it plays in supporting large commercial IT processing systems and how they have been working to provide objective quantifiable evidence of the value of COBOL.
  • Decker goes into depth about the initiatives of the Open Mainframe Project, saying that IBM has an academic initiative program, Broadcom has an apprenticeship program, and she is currently doing a Women in COBOL video series on the Tech Channel. She discusses one of her recent interviewees, Maggie Hall, telling us how she is teaching unhoused people COBOL programming skills. She goes on to discuss the other key initiatives they are working on.
  • Diversity and inclusion are hot topics for organizations right now; however, Decker feels that the mainframe community is a tight-knit community and is very supportive. She details the very early days of COBOL programming.
  • Britton tells us that COBOL started out as an open project run by a committee, which included all the key minds and was not originally owned by any vendor or institution.
  • One of the key things that is causing confusion around modernization and what that means for COBOL. Decker feels that modernization is better defined in terms of the modern needs and outcomes rather than the activities they are doing. She discusses how their goal is to create a common umbrella definition of modernization and a framework that will help them talk to customers.
  • The working group will have the community contribute thought leadership, white papers, educational videos, which will be organized into a central repository that is agreed on across the industry. For instances where they do not agree, they will present both sides of the story. Decker discusses her role in setting the definition and what this will entail.
  • Decker explains that the role of the working group is to identify COBOL-related challenges and issues they would like to educate the community on. She goes into depth about the importance of forming partnerships with the COBOL Working Group and CNCF and others to integrate some of the concepts and keep moving forward to build the central repository.
  • Britton discusses some of the areas the COBOL Working Group has been working on, such as effectively measuring attitudes towards COBOL usage, and future strategies and plans for COBOL. He explains how this data will be used to inform the modernization group and go towards building the framework.
  • Research has shown that there is more COBOL than ever before and so they set out to work out why it was thriving and what was causing them to turn to COBOL. Bitton discusses how the bias of decision-makers is affecting COBOL and why it is important to understand the misconceptions about COBOL and its value.

The summary of the show is written by Emily Nicholls.

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