UNT BCIS graduates offer needed skills during COVID-19 lockdown

What role does a 61-year-old programming language like the Common Business-Oriented Language (COBOL) play in response to a global COVID-19 pandemic? The answer may surprise you. While artificial intelligence, advanced data analytics, and computer simulations have taken center stage in the media and in support of the decision-making process to stem the spread of COVID-19, the ramifications of those decisions have had significant impacts on other areas of information technology, education and society in general.

Take, for example, the surge in unemployment claims caused by the recent economic shutdown. As if the massive number of claims weren’t enough to cause delays in processing, the governmental agencies responsible for that processing had to change the software applications to account for changes in unemployment eligibility. Many of these applications are written in COBOL and the general lack of programmers knowledgeable in COBOL and mainframe computing prompted pleas for assistance from the Governors of New Jersey and Kansas, as well as others. 

Such delays only compound the difficulties related to COVID-19. Individuals and families that need unemployment assistance not only have to worry about staying healthy and not spreading the disease, but they must keep food on their tables and a roof over their heads. Enter the graduates of the Department of Information Technology and Decision Sciences (ITDS) in UNT’s G. Brint Ryan College of Business. 

The students that complete UNT's Mainframe computing track gain valuable competencies in a variety of Mainframe concepts, in addition to COBOL. An ITDS student has won the North American region of IBM’s Master the Mainframe competition three of the past four years. Of the 4,286 students from over 600 schools across the US last year, only 126 completed all the parts of the rigorous challenge, and 14 of those 126 were ITDS students, the most from any school in the United States. So, in a time when the world needs graduates with industry-relevant technical skills to assist in a global crisis, you can be sure that UNT is answering the call.

Despite its age, COBOL applications and mainframe computing platforms are a major part of the transaction processing backbone of today’s economy. They provide much of the critical technology infrastructure for the government as well as key industries such as financial services, healthcare, wholesale, retail, and transportation. There are hundreds of billions of lines of COBOL in use today that power 43% of banking transactions, 80% of in-person transactions, and 95% of ATM transactions. If the fashion show of higher education, many universities have moved from teaching mainframe concepts and COBOL to technologies that are considered more contemporary. But the ITDS Department’s close relationships with its industry partners and the valuable input they provide about the skills needed in the workplace prompted the decision to offer a specialized track in mainframe computing in the curriculum.