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Of Cockroaches and Kings

A recent toot on Mastodon reminded me of a phenomenon I believe is pretty common these days: An unusual event causes us to reconsider our habits and assumptions in some way.

The toot was this one from Benji Weber, posted on February 9, 2023:

The blog post he references is here: I Was Saved By Test Driven Development.

The toot and blog post explain what happened clearly enough; there’s no need to reiterate the details.

The angle I’d like to bring out is the pattern: We operate in domain X in a certain way based on our established habits and our assumptions about the best way to do X. Then something unexpected and/or unusual happens that causes our habitual way of doing X to be uncomfortable, clumsy, expensive, or unworkable. At that point we reconsider our habits and assumptions, and possibly change the way we do X.

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COBOL is not the problem

In the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, there’s a lot of buzz on social media about a sudden need for COBOL programmers to help US State government agencies cope with the problem. IBM is even offering free COBOL training courses through a partner that specializes in mainframe-focused technical training.

But what’s the problem, really?

Domino #1: Coronavirus, knocks down domino #2: Constrained mobility, which knocks down domino #3: Reduced demand for workers, which knocks down domino #4: Increased unemployment rate, which knocks down domino #5: Increased demand for State services, which bangs its head against wall #1: Inadequate computing capacity to handle the increased workload.

Many of the State government computer systems are written in COBOL. Therefore (the reasoning goes), there’s a desperate need for more COBOL programmers.

Let’s pause for a moment and take a deep breath (through our masks, of course).
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