March is Women’s History Month, so we invited Open Mainframe Project community leaders and contributors to share their personal stories.
Sudharsana Srinivasan is the Co-Chair of the COBOL Programming Course, a member of the Open Mainframe Project Technical Steering Committee and an IBM Z Influencer Program Manager at IBM. This blog details her academic and professional journey with COBOL and how she changed a missed opportunity into a passion that she shares with others each day.
As I sit here today and reflect on my journey to becoming ‘COBOL Queen’ I cannot but help think about how it all started….
Rewind time to early 90’s in India
Not many colleges offered Computer Science as a major at the undergraduate level – let alone at high schools. It was a field of study that had been growing and offered in the larger schools but not every school in the country had the resources to invest in a Computer Science lab. When I learned that my high school offered a Computer Science elective, I jumped on the opportunity. Though I can honestly say I am not a 100% sure I knew what this entailed. I think it was the fascination of being able to program, the concept of logically designing code to accomplish a given task.
First Programming Class
I vividly remember my first ever programming class – ‘Assembler’ on an Intel 8088 microprocessor. Handwriting the assembler instructions for swap of registers, arithmetic operations, etc and then painstakingly keying in the instructions in the exact same order to get the desired output… PRICELESS! The course taught me more than programming, more than basics of Computer Science…. It taught me patience. When your code does not work as you thought it would, you go back to it and debug. Sometimes you did this for hours – anyone who has written code will agree with me – and you stare at the code and just cannot see the error, which was usually in plain sight. After a semester of Assembler, I was ready for high-level programming language – BASIC (Beginners’ All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code). A simple language that helped me learn how to think through a problem logically and translate that logic into simple lines of code to get the desired output. Exciting times indeed!
This excitement translated into my enrolling for a Bachelors in Computer Science and that’s when I encountered the programming language that runs the world’s economy to date – COBOL (COmmon Business Oriented Language).
The language was easy to learn, very structured and simple to code given it’s English-like instructions. I enjoyed the class enough to do my final year project in COBOL – creating an inventory system for a local pharmaceutical company.
While my professors taught COBOL and did a very good job at it, what I did not take-away is how important the language is to mission critical businesses. How this language runs the world’s economy because of it’s arithmetic precision. How it runs core applications on mainframes. This real-world context was missing and I, unfortunately, missed the opportunity to truly understand the power of the language while I knew how to code in it.
Life Comes Full Circle with COBOL
Fast forward to today where I lead the IBM zSystems Advocacy Program at IBM and co-lead the Open Mainframe Project’s COBOL Programming Course. I had the opportunity to lead a team of IBMers, client developers and American River College professor to create a COBOL Programming Course that leveraged conventional tools and interfaces that students and programmers today are familiar with – VSCode and Zowe. The goal of creating this new course with this interface was to help learners focus on learning COBOL in an environment that they are already familiar with – removing the barrier to entry and growing COBOL skills. This course was created in record time and launched as an open source project on Open Mainframe Project in April 2020 amid a lot of news about lack of COBOL skills, the need for COBOL Programmers. This drove huge number of learners to the course – more than 100K views in the first few months of launch.
Remember the missed opportunity I talked about earlier? I address it every day in my work and love every moment of it – Connecting the dots for our learners and sharing the importance of COBOL in our world today. Learning COBOL is a key differentiator – sets you apart and opens doors of opportunities you never knew were there.
What a wonderful coincidence that after all these years life brought me full circle to COBOL, to grow the next generation of COBOLers!
What did I learn along the way?
- Be Bold: It’s easy to conform and go with the crowd. I say be bold and chose the path least traveled, the path that your interests lead you to.
- Find a mentor: I cannot emphasize the importance of having a mentor. Students!! Take the time to find a mentor. It would be one of the best (if not the best) decision you ever made.
- Be an AND not an OR: Being an AND helps you differentiate yourself. As I always tell students who ask me if they should learn Java OR COBOL – Learn Java AND COBOL.
Thank you Open Mainframe Project for giving me this opportunity to share my journey with COBOL in celebration of Women’s History Month!