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March 5, 2021 - No Comments!

Lighten your day with some programming humor

updated March 5, 2021

by Phase Change staff

There's a lot of great software-development humor out there, and we can all use a little more levity in our lives.

So we are collecting some of the best programming and software-industry humor posts we find and posting them here, along with the original sources.

If you come across funny or poignant programming posts, send us an email at terickson@phasechange.ai and we'll include them.


@cassidoo
January 5, 2021

 

@LaraNerdsom
January 5, 2021

 

@NicteTrujillo
January 5, 2021

 

@scripticles
September 25, 2020

 

From our own Twitter machine - @PhaseChangeAI
April 20, 2020

 

@MIT_CSAIL
June 3, 2019

 

February 24, 2021 - Comments Off on Legacy system failures expose the application knowledge gap’s harmful risks

Legacy system failures expose the application knowledge gap’s harmful risks

February 24, 2021

by Steve Brothers

Government system failures during the rush to provide public benefits to alleviate the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic publicly exposed the mainframe knowledge crisis that also threatens financial institutions, healthcare providers, and many other organizations foundational to the world economy.

Several states discovered the knowledge-gap’s potentially devastating consequences when waves of unemployment-claims poured into their systems as COVID-19 ravaged the economy in early 2020. The states’ unemployment computer systems crashed trying to process the deluge of claims using mainframes and decades-old programming languages.

But it wasn’t the mainframes or the legacy programming languages that failed, despite what you may have read. It was the lack of available expert programmers necessary to maintain and update these systems to handle the voluminous claims.

According to The Verge’s article, “Unemployment checks are being held up by a coding language almost nobody knows,” Colorado employed exactly one full-time programmer to maintain the state’s COBOL system prior to the pandemic. Back then, Colorado processed roughly 2,000 unemployment claims per week. In March and April 2020, that number rocketed to as high as 104,572 claims per week.

Now governments, non-profits, and private organizations are reviewing their systems’ strategies to learn from these mistakes. If your business relies on legacy systems, you probably should keep reading – and schedule some time with your IT people.

Mainframes are cornerstones

Legacy mainframe systems and software bedrock many of our most trusted institutions, including government services, finance and banking, healthcare, and insurance. In a substantial number of cases the expert developers that created and maintained these systems and software are retiring without a supporting workforce to replace them.

Besides the people that make your business run, your software is potentially the most important resource your organization has. Internal applications likely drive your employees' capabilities and productivity. Customer-facing programs attract new customers, close business deals, and increase revenue. New applications and features can open new markets and opportunities.

To maintain and improve your critical applications, your software team relies on individual engineers that developed an expert understanding of your programs through years of experience. They know the applications and all the accumulated system changes and challenges.

When those experienced engineers depart your business, the developers that replace them must acquire the same application knowledge through training, mentorship, and on-the-job programming. This exercise introduces several material business risks.

Learning on the job

Developers new to software applications typically require 6-12 months of on-the-job learning to become productive, depending on the size of the source code base. To become proficient, programmers may need up to 3 years.

Without qualified software developers knowledgeable about your applications, you endanger your business's operations, reputation, and security. You also risk a significant decrease in your software teams' productivity and efficiency.

Consider the monumental task confronting newly hired or transferred IRS developers last March. Congress passed the CARES Act on March 25, 2020, and then Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced that individual stimulus checks would be mailed in early April.

To assist with the delivery of economic stimulus payments, the new developers were required to immediately start working with the agency's source code base, which, in 2019, was estimated at nearly 20 million lines of code and includes over 60 years of legislative and system changes. As of mid-May 2020, nearly 20 million people had not received their stimulus checks, and some recipients had problems throughout the year.

These engineers didn’t have 6-12 months to become productive. They had to hit the ground running on day one. And without the benefit of weeks or months of training and on-the-job learning, they didn’t have the application knowledge necessary to understand how even simple changes could affect entire applications.

And let's not forget the productivity loss due to the remaining IRS's experienced engineers for training, mentoring, and supervising the new recruits.

What’s your risk?

Your situation may not be as dire as what the IRS faced – for now. But how much time can you really give your new developers to learn the system, and how much productivity can you afford to lose while your experienced programmers train and supervise them?

How much do you trust the developers that have just started working on your critical applications?

How confident will you be when your CEO or Board of Directors asks for assurances that the next customer-facing application update will not result in outages and lost revenue – especially if the update was programmed by a developer you hired just weeks ago?

Your software is a critical part of your organization, especially if you rely on legacy mainframe systems. You must have a plan or tool that keeps the code running and bridges the gap between retiring and departing developers and the people that will replace them.

Steve Brothers is the President of Phase Change Software. You can reach him on LinkedIn or at sbrothers@phasechange.ai.

July 20, 2020 - Comments Off on Researchers earn distinguished paper award with Phase Change help

Researchers earn distinguished paper award with Phase Change help

July 20, 2020

by Todd Erickson

A team of Oregon State University scientists partnered with Phase Change Research Scientist Rahul Pandita to study how cognitive biases affect software developers' everyday behavior. The resulting academic paper, "A Tale from the Trenches: Cognitive Biases and Software Development," was recently recognized by ICSE 2020 as an ACM SIGSOFT Distinguished Paper.

According to OpenResearch.org and ACM SIGSOFT, only 2% of all ICSE submissions earn Distinguished Paper Awards.

OSU researchers Nicholas Nelson and Anita Sarma enjoying time in Phase Change's offices.

"Bias is an essential tool for human cognition," said Rahul Pandita. "The presence of bias must not be automatically equated to something negative. In fact, some biases are extremely helpful in navigating the complexities of day to day life. The key is to understand how these biases operate. In the case of routine software development activities, such nuanced understanding allows us to develop effective intelligence augmentation (IA) technology to amplify the benefits of such biases and counter the detrimental effects."

The scientists conducted a two-part study from 2017-2018. Part one focused on observing Phase Change developers performing routine development tasks. They observed Phase Change developers at our offices for a week in March 2018.

“Getting to see the 'behind the scene' workings of this agile, innovative team was a great way of understanding how startups work," said Anita Sarma, an Associate Professor at Oregon State.

Part two involved triangulating their findings by interviewing developers from three other companies about how they perceive and deal with the observed biases found in Part One.

Research Scientists Anita Sarma, Nicholas Nelson, Souti Chattopadhyay, and Christopher Sanchez, along with research interns Audrey Au and Natalie Morales, co-wrote the paper with Pandita.

The research results were presented at ICSE 2020, the 42nd annual International Conference on Software Engineering, July 6-11 in Seoul, South Korea, and virtually from June 27-July 19. All of the Distinguished Papers were announced during a July 10 awards ceremony and appeared on other slides shown throughout the conference.

Todd Erickson is a Technology Writer at Phase Change Software. You can reach him at terickson@phasechange.ai.

February 4, 2019 - Comments Off on IEEE magazine publishes Phase Change research scientist co-authored paper

IEEE magazine publishes Phase Change research scientist co-authored paper

January 31, 2019

by Todd Erickson*

Phase Change research scientist Rahul Pandita’s co-written paper, “A Conceptual Framework for Engineering Chatbots,” was recently published in the November-December 2018 issue of IEEE Internet Computing^.

The industry magazine is published bi-monthly by the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Computer Society for evaluating and reviewing Internet-based computer applications and enabling technologies. It focuses on technologies and applications that enable practitioners to utilize Internet-based applications and tools, instead of having to build their own.

The paper

The use of chatbots as virtual assistants is becoming more widespread as companies strive to increase community engagement online and on social-media platforms.

The problem is that most commercially available bots are engineered with If-This-Then-That (IFTTT) frameworks from the 1980s. These decades-old frameworks often create inflexible chatbots that are difficult to maintain.

The bots can be monolithic and may mix dialog-managing rules with business-execution logic and response-generation rules. And when these chatbots must interact with third-party services to orchestrate workflows, the orchestration logic becomes entwined with the IFTTT rules.

Additionally, IFTTT tends to be order sensitive. As chatbots’ capabilities increase, their implementation rules grow more complex, and even simple modifications can require substantial effort.

The paper, “A Conceptual Framework for Engineering Chatbots,“ outlines a high-level conceptual framework founded upon agent-oriented abstractions – goals, plans, and commitments.

It theorizes that well-studied abstractions of goals and commitments from the area of artificial intelligence (AI) and multiagent systems allow for more flexible chatbots. Goals capture an agent’s intentions, and commitments capture meaningful business relationships between agents.

The paper describes how employing goals and commitments can enable a model chatbot that can be verified at design time or runtime, offers flexible enactments, and provides a basis for judging correctness.

Authors

In addition to Pandita, the paper is written by:

It is available free online for IEEE members, and can be purchased through the IEEE Xplore Digital Library.

*Todd Erickson is a tech writer with Phase Change Software. You can reach him at terickson@phasechange.ai.

^The figure represented in the featured image and the IEEE Internet Computing magazine cover are copyrighted by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc..

October 30, 2018 - Comments Off on COBOL is dead! Long live COBOL!
A living collection of COBOL articles

COBOL is dead! Long live COBOL!
A living collection of COBOL articles

updated March 16, 2021

by Todd Erickson

To stay up-to-date with the latest news and commentary surrounding COBOL-based applications, we track and archive COBOL-related online articles. Below is our current collection of stories, which we try to update frequently.

Despite its age and multiple reports of its impended death, the Common Business Oriented Language (COBOL) remains responsible for a large portion of the world’s daily financial transactions – credible estimates include as much as $3 trillion per day and roughly 90 percent of all ATM and in-person financial transactions.

COBOL was first published in January 1960 by the Conference on Data Systems Languages (CODASLY), who based it on the first compiler developed by Admiral Grace Hopper and her team at Remington Rand in 1952. It’s designed to develop portable business applications that could be run on systems developed by multiple manufacturers.

It remains vital to the world’s financial systems because of its simplicity and reliability.

One measure of its importance is the number of news and commentary articles published in reliable industry sources that repeat a common theme, namely that the programming language is ancient, nobody wants to use it, but it’s so vital to the financial and government sectors that it won’t go away – COBOL is dead! Long live COBOL!

Once or twice a year a new piece pops up and we typically pass it around the office, discuss new information or opinions it reveals, and archive it.

Recently, one of our shrewd colleagues suggested we post links to these articles here on our website so others in the small but influential COBOL community can reference them.

So we did. We’ll update this page when we discover new COBOL media pieces. If we’ve missed something important, email terickson@phasechange.ai.

Long live COBOL!

Articles

2020
Title Date Author Snippet
The code that controls your money November 10, 2020 Clive Thompson
Tech Journalist
COBOL underpins the world's financial systems, and it's not going away soon.
Why the Government Is Desperate for Programmers Who Know This Old Language April 9, 2020 Caroline Delbert
Popular Mechanics
As the U.S. grapples with the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, government agencies with aging systems are clammering for COBOL developers.
A lazy fix 20 years ago means the Y2K bug is taking down computers now January 7, 2020 Chris Stokel-Walker
New Scientist.com
A quick but lazy fix to the Y2K bug is now putting the same systems in danger.
2019
Title Date Author Snippet
How COBOL still powers the global economy at 60 years old may 23, 2019 Paul Flahive
Texas Public radio
Financial institutions continue to rely on COBOL code, but will new training programs be enough to replace the retiring workforce?
SHARE: GAO’s Mainframe Risk Claims Debunked May 9, 2019 SHARE'D Intelligence The 2018 GAO Report that says government systems are at significant risk due to their reliance on legacy programming languages is nonsense. Evolving architecture is always bridging the gap between older and modern applications.
2018
Title Date Author Snippet
Quartz Obsession: COBOL June 28, 2018 Justin Sablich What's going to happen when all the Baby-Boomer COBOL developers retire?
In digital transformation top banks are leading April 3, 2018 Tom Groenfeldt Instead of ripping and replacing legacy systems and code, which can be prohibitively expensive and time consuming, some banks are maintaining these systems and wrapping customer engagement systems around them.
It’s Cobol all the way down April 2018 Glenn Fleishman COBOL-based systems continue to run much of the world’s financial systems. But its supporting workforce is retiring and efforts to convert these applications to modern programming languages are expensive and time-consuming.
2017
Title Pub Date Author Snippet
COBOL is everywhere. Who will maintain it? May 6, 2017 David Cassel Many of the world’s financial institutions and U.S. government agencies, such as Homeland Security, Department of Veterans Affairs, and Social Security, rely on COBOL-based systems, but a shortage of programming talent and education institutions that provide programming courses is on the horizon.
Trump said government has one 40-year-old IT system. It actually has at least 10. April 12, 2017 Frank Konkel A list of 10 U.S. government computer systems that are at least 40-years old. Three of the systems run on COBOL code.
Banks scramble to fix old systems as IT 'cowboys' ride into sunset April 9, 2017 Anna Irrera
Reuters.com
Organizations that rely on Cobol-based applications have a hard time replacing retiring programmers and support personnel, which has given veteran developers opportunities to continue working, even after retirement.
2016
Title Date Author Snippet
Why it’s time to learn COBOL April 1, 2016 Paul Rubens
CIO.com
Acquiring COBOL programming skills might be a wise career move. Hundreds-of-billions of lines of COBOL code are still in use and many universities have stopped offering classes in the 50+ year old language.
2015
Title Date Author Snippet
The inevitable return of COBOL July 6, 2015 Ritika Trikha
HackerRank
The looming shortage of COBOL programmers will inevitably lead to COBOL programming once again becoming an in-demand skill set.
2014
Title Date Author Snippet
CIOs should prepare for lack of Cobol (Yes, Cobol) developers October 2, 2014 Sharon Florentine
CIO.com
While the demand for talented and skilled Cobol programmers remains steady, the programming language’s lack of popularity has shrunk the available talent pool. As the existing Cobol support workforce ages and retires, companies are resorting to novel strategies to acquire and train staff.
Cobol is dead. Long live Cobol! October 2, 2014 Gary Beach
Wall Street Journal CIO Journal blogs
CIOs that rely on Cobol-based systems keep developer staff as long as possible while others prefer new hires with multi-language capabilities over Cobol-specific or Cobol-only skills.
All the rich kids are into COBOL – but why? September 17, 2014 Matt Asay
readwrite.com
COBOL isn’t sexy or even that popular. But the basic tenants of supply and demand remain true – if there are still a lot of COBOL applications running critical systems and not a lot of programmers interested in learning the 50-year-old programming language, then brushing up on your COBOL skills might make it easier to find a job earning more money.
The government’s COBOL conundrum June 2, 2014 Nicole Blake Johnson
FedTech magazine.com
The U.S. federal government’s Office of Personnel Management released its “Strategic Information Technology Plan” for revamping the agency’s IP operations. Part of the plan discusses the office’s plans for maintaining and eventually migrating away from the roughly 60-million-lines of production COBOL code that enable the agency to meet a number of its regulatory requirements.
2012
Title Date Author Snippet
Brain Drain: Where COBOL systems go from here May 21, 2012 Robert L. Mitchell
CIO.com
Not only does losing experienced COBOL programmers hurt many companies’ ability to maintain its mainframe systems, but it also means the loss of the programmers’ deep understanding of the business logic. A number of organizations are teaming with private businesses to educate younger programmers and team them with experienced developers before it’s too late.
Cobol brain drain: Survey results March 14, 2012 Compuworld Staff Results from the Compuworld survey on Cobol use in business and government, which showed that nearly 50 percent of respondents had operational Cobol-based systems and a large number continue to develop new business applications with Cobol.
The future of COBOL: Why it won’t go away soon – Part 2 January 11, 2012 Brian Bloom
IT World Canada
When thinking about maintaining or replacing their COBOL systems, companies must consider the employee angle. Can they continue to hire COBOL programmers when experts forecast that a major COBOL skills gap in on the horizon, and is that enough of a reason to rip and replace?
The future of COBOL: Why it won’t go away soon – Part 1 January 10, 2012 Brian Bloom
IT World Canada
COBOL-based systems will not be going away anytime soon because of the millions of invested man-hours and dollars already spent to develop these mainframe programs and the enormous predicted replacement costs. There’s also the fact that we don’t have anything better enough to make the change.
Fun

*All images are copyrighted by their respective owners

Title Date Author Snippet
Are you a COBOL programmer? November 4, 1997 Scott Adams
Dilbert.com
Are you a COBOL programmer?
The Holy Grail of [programming] technology! June 10, 1994 Scott Adams
Dilbert.com
It's the Holy Grail of programming! dilbert cartoon

Todd Erickson is a tech writer with Phase Change. You can reach him at terickson@phasechange.ai.

July 17, 2018 - Comments Off on Phase Change research scientist publishes technical papers in prominent research journals

Phase Change research scientist publishes technical papers in prominent research journals

July 16, 2018

by Rahul Pandita and Todd Erickson

Phase Change research scientist Dr. Rahul Pandita recently had two co-written papers published in well-known research journals. The first paper, “Are vulnerabilities discovered and resolved like other defects?,” was published in the June 2018 volume of the Empirical Software Engineering: An International Journal and presented as a Journal First Paper at the 40th International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE) in Gothenburg, Sweden.

The paper was co-written with Patrick Morrison, Dr. Xusheng Xiao, Dr. Ram Chillarege, and Dr. Laurie Williams. Patrick Morrison is a Ph.D. candidate in the Computer Science Department at North Carolina State University. Dr. Xusheng Xiao is an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Case Western University.

Dr. Ram Chillarege is the founder and president of Chillarege Inc. Dr. Laurie Williams is a professor, and the department head, at the North Carolina State University Department of Computer Science.

The paper

The goal of the project’s research was to determine if security defects (referred to as vulnerabilities in the paper) are discovered and resolved by different software-development practices in comparison to non-security defects. If true, technical leaders could use the distinction to drive security-specific software development process improvements.

The research consisted of extending Orthogonal Defect Classification (ODC), which is a well-established scheme for classifying software defects, to study process-related differences between vulnerabilities and non-security defects, and thereby creating ODC + Vulnerabilities (ODC+V). This new classification was applied to 583 vulnerabilities and 583 defects across 133 releases of three open-source projects – the Firefox web browser, phpMyAdmin, and Google’s Chrome web browser.

The study found that compared with non-security defects, vulnerabilities are found much later in the development cycle and are more likely to be resolved through changes to conditional logic. The results indicate opportunities may exist for more efficient vulnerability detection and resolution.

The paper was accepted by the 40th International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE) that was held in Gothenburg Sweden, between May 27 and June 3, as part of the *ICSE 2018* Journal First Papers track. Dr. Williams presented it on May 31, 2018.

But wait, there’s more

The second paper, “Mapping the field of software life cycle security measures,” is scheduled to be published in the October 2018 issue of Information and Software Technology. It was co-written with Patrick Morrison, Dr. Laurie Williams, and David Moye, a program site lead with Aelius Exploration Technologies LLC.

The authors suspected that a catalog of software-development life cycle security metrics could assist practitioners in choosing appropriate metrics, and researchers in identifying opportunities for security measurement refinement.

They conducted a systematic mapping study, beginning with 4,818 papers and focusing on 71 papers reporting on 324 unique security metrics. For each metric, the researchers identified the subject being measured, how the metric had been validated, and how the metric was used. Then they categorized the metrics and included examples of metrics for each category.

The research found that approximately 85% of the security metrics studied were proposed and evaluated solely by their authors, leaving room for replication and confirmation through field studies. Approximately 60% of the metrics were empirically evaluated by their authors or others.

They concluded that the primary application of security metrics to the software development lifecycle is studying the relationship between properties of source code and reported vulnerabilities. This suggests that researchers need to refine vulnerability measurements and give greater attention to metrics for the requirement, design, and testing phases of development.

Rahul Pandita is a senior research scientist at Phase Change. He earned his Ph.D. in computer science from North Carolina State University. You can reach him at rpandita@phasechange.ai.

Todd Erickson is a tech writer at Phase Change. You can reach him at terickson@phasechange.ai.