It's no secret that Java and C++ programmers are hard to find. And companies are fast realizing it is fiscally impossible to translate COBOL into an Internet-based language such as Java, C++, or Visual Basic. "Even if you could, you'd end up putting all your data at risk because the Internet is notoriously vulnerable," says Payson. "The entire world is paranoid about Web security."
An estimated 1.5 million COBOL programmers are available worldwide. Payson has the names of more than 2,500 COBOL experts in his database alone. "The challenge is not just finding veteran COBOL people, but finding COBOL developers who know the Internet," he says. "Our strategy is based on the belief that it is easier to train veteran COBOL staff in the Internet than it is to teach dot-comers in the complex business rules of COBOL. For the most part, young dot-comers don't know COBOL nor do they want to learn it. They think it is something from the walls of King Tut's tomb." Complicating matters, most major universities don't even teach COBOL anymore, according to Payson.
Solution? "Go where the bodies are," Payson suggests. "Find unemployed veteran COBOL programmers and get them to train themselves about the Web."
Easier said than done. Despite the well-documented shortage of IT pros, experienced techies who are age 50 and older find that even a hungry technical job market is not that quick to embrace their talents. Fearing age discrimination lawsuits, no employer will admit to not hiring capable candidates because of their age. Seasoned techies like Lockhart must work twice as hard to convince employers they're not over the hill. But, it's worth the battle because both the senior techs and companies benefit.
For information about the demand for COBOL skills, check out some of the large Web-enabling companies like Fujitsu and Merant. Or, consider attending the COBOL World 2001 conference in Anaheim, Calif., October 2-4.