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Your Quick Guide to COBOL Education

By Misty Decker posted Fri April 10, 2020 10:10 AM


Much has been said about COBOL over the years, some true and some - well let's say misguided.  COBOL is fundamentally a tool, good at some things and not so good at others.  In fact, COBOL is the best tool for certain things as this article by a young COBOL programmer named Marianne Bellotti explains very well - COBOL Holding you Hostage with Math.

Much has been written about the shortage of COBOL skills, including this recent article by Phil Teplitzky - Closing the COBOL Programming Skills Gap. The truth is that the way to address a need for COBOL skills is very much the same as how we address other skills needs.  It comes down to making people aware of the need and creating opportunities for them to learn. 

For those that pursue COBOL and any of the many other careers in enterprise computing, there are rewards at the end of this rainbow.  Read this recently published study by Forrester Research that shows careers in enterprise computing pay more, offer better work/life balance, more meaningful work and greater career stability.  There are already lots of young people pursuing COBOL who think it's a valuable skill just as Torrie McLaughlin states in her video.

A comment by a US government official led to the most recent discussion about COBOL.  Read this press release to learn more about what IBM and the Linux Foundation are doing to help solve that problem.

So let's take a look at a few of my favorite ways to brush up on your COBOL skills, but before we start let's take a quick music break with this COBOL rap - Cobollin'.

Getting the Lay of the Land - Master the Mainframe

The best place to start with anything Enterprise Computing is always Master the Mainframe.  Officially a contest for high school and college students every fall, the same challenges are made available year round for everyone as the Master the Mainframe Learning System.  

Part 1 of the challenges give you step by step instructions to navigate the traditional interfaces of the mainframe environment.  There are more modern ways to use the mainframe and COBOL, but you'll learn those later.

Part 2 is what I call the Sampler Platter.  For a wide variety of topics, you will learn a topic and then be asked to complete a small challenge related to it.  For each challenge, we will have taught you everything you need to know.

Part 3 we call the Real World Challenge because all of the challenges are based on what IT professionals have to do in their day to day jobs.  For each challenge, we teach you most of what you need, but not everything.  You will need to use the reference manuals just like you will in an IT job.  Challenge 4 is a COBOL challenge.

** Hot tip:  You will earn a badge at the end of Part 2 and another one at the end of Part 3.  Employers regularly use these badges to search for candidates for their jobs, especially that Part 3 badge!

Master the Mainframe Part 3

Level up - Earning COBOL Specific Credentials

Many companies offer COBOL classes both in person and online.  You can search through them at the IBM Skills Gateway.  Some of the best known are the online, self-paced courses offered by IBM Partner Interskill.  Interskill offers over 250 mainframe computing courses and 60 official IBM badges.  The COBOL Curriculum alone has 9 badges.

Students and Educators can take a subset of the Interskill courses for free through the IBM Z Academic Initiative.  You must first register with your school issued email and then you can request access to the Enterprise Computing Kickstart listed under the Software tab.

Not a student or an educator?  The Interskill courses are so widely used by mainframe computing organizations worldwide, you may already have access through your organization.  You can chat with Interskill live at to determine if you are already eligible for their courses at no additional cost.

To the Future and Beyond - New Course on Modern COBOL

COBOL may have been created 60 years ago, but it's continued to evolve and grow.  We are currently working on a new course that modernizes how we teach, learn and interact with COBOL using VSCode and ZOWE as the tools for instruction and coding exercises.  This very unique course will soon be available in the public domain, free for anyone to use.  

Join and subscribe to the Student Hub so you'll be the first to know when it is available.

** Hot tip:  The labs for this soon to be released course are available today in GitHub.

In summary

COBOL is just one of many programming languages in use today.  It happens to be one of the most pervasive languages and simultaneously one most people aren't paying attention to.  Adding COBOL to your programming language tool belt is a wise move and we're working hard to make it easy for you.  Comment in the Discussions with your favorite COBOL resources and keep on Cobollin'!

** New Resource:  Developer at IBM has a created a collection of all things COBOL including a really amazing video with our own Jeff Bisti!