Software Testing: Myths vs Reality

If you’re thinking about purusing a career as a Software Tester, this blog will make good reading! One of our junior testers Karthik Venkatesh puts pen to paper to help anyone starting out on a Testing career with some expectation setting. Here’s what he’s learnt so far.

“Testing started when the human race began”!

The whole analytical brain of the human mind is about doing verification and validation before concluding anything and Software Testing is no exception to this.

Market Outlook and Future for Software Testing

  • A survey by Global Software Testing Services Market (2016-2020) research analyst predicts the global software testing services market to grow at a CAGR of close to 11% during the forecast period.
  • According to a recent report by Fortune magazine- Software testing is listed among the top 10 in-demand careers of 2015

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So aiming to pursue a career as a Tester or Quality Assurance looks like a good plan. Let’s take a look through some Myths and Realities of being a Software Test Professional:

Myths vs Reality about Software Testing

Myth-1: Testing is Boring

Reality: Testing is not boring or a repetitive task. It is like a detective’s job! Testing is a process of investigation, exploration, discovery, and learning. The key is to try new things. In reality, testing presents new and exciting challenges every day.

Myth-2: Testers do not write code

Reality: Some people may say that software test engineers do not write code. Testers usually require entirely different skill set which could be a mix of Java, C, Ruby, and Python. That is not all you need to be a successful tester. A tester needs to have a good knowledge of the software manuals and automation tools. Depending on the complexity of a project, a software testing engineer may write more complex code than the developer.

Myth-3: Testers job is only to find bugs

Reality: The job of a software test engineer is not restricted to find bugs. A tester should be more customer focused, understands how the system works as a whole to accomplish customer goals, and have good understanding of how the product will be used by the end-user. A tester has to understand the complete product architecture, how it interacts with the environment, how the application works in a given situation, and how the application integrate with all the components and work seamlessly.

Myth-4: Software testers are paid less than the developers

Reality: These days quality of the product directly effects the products’ or the brands’ reputation. So no organizations are ready to compromise on quality. Organizations are always looking forward to work with energetic testers. An efficient software tester can draw more salary than the developer of similar experience.

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Top 6 tips for Software Test Engineer starting out on their career

  1. Development and testing are moving closer to the business units and you will need to communicate and work closely as a team.
  2. To find bugs, you will need to be creative. A software test engineer needs to come up with new ideas which would help in finding bugs. Work smart as well as hard! Always find better and simpler ways to do the assigned tasks, own tasks proactively and innovate.
  3. A good tester is the one who knows the application in and out. The tester should be aware of all the components in a product and the business logic behind it. Good knowledge of the product helps to understand the importance of a feature from a business perspective so become the expert!
  4. Always want to learn more!
  5. Try to hone some skill sets such as good negotiation skills, thinking out of the box, and multi-platform skills
  6. You will need to be persuasive and explain to the stakeholders which bugs have been found and how they are likely to impact on end-users and the business.
  7. You must be a perfectionist and resilient to pressure as Testing is the typically the last gate before the product reaches into the hands of customer.

Corporations cannot hire customers, so they hire software test engineers who put products through their paces in on potential Customers behalf. So, to represent customers within a corporate – What kind of a hat would you wear – a purple hat, a yellow, a blue, or a white?

Customers have different approaches to use a product. If you consider each approach as a colored hat, a test engineer needs to wear a wide variety of hats of different colors and shapes.

Testing is a career which is built with innovative thinking – be passionate about it and be strong enough to make your own choices work! Don’t forget to read the  Micro Focus approach to Software Testing and view our  impressive range of testing Products.

Karthik

 

 

 

 

Karthik Venkatesh

What does a good IT Skills strategy look like?

Jackie Anglin from Micro Focus reflects on a recent SHARE.org IT Skills webinar. In part 2 of this series Lonnie Emard – IT-ology President and David Rhoderick, Manager of IBM z Systems Competitive Project Office share their thoughts on what they heard.

My last blog recapped a Micro Focus IT Skills webinar, during which invited industry experts joined the Micro Focus team to debate the IT Skills issue. Here, Lonnie EmardIT-ology President and David Rhoderick, Manager of IBM z Systems Competitive Project Office, offer their thoughts on the discussion.

So, David and Lonnie, how does an organization build an appropriately skilled workforce?

David“Look for people who can really make a long-term difference to the company – and think about who’s leaving in the next five years. That equates to about 10,000 hours, or the amount of time it takes to become expert in a particular skill. Also, look at the way tools are evolving. We don’t need green-screen programmers – we need people who can understand which tools to use for the right job and then use them effectively.”

LonnieAt Blue Cross – BCBS of South Carolina is a big partner of IBM and Micro Focus – we realized that an organization who would do the right things to create talent acquisition development and retention programs around COBOL and around mainframe, around enterprise systems, is that in the future we couldn’t solve this problem by ourselves. 

The Blue Cross model is about creating the strategy that Derek mentioned, understanding what you’re about and appreciating your skills and talents. Certainly, most of the large companies still running enterprise systems and IBM servers must pass down a set of knowledge and skills for repurposing as a ‘master and apprentice’ model. That worked tremendously well for us. At the same time, what we do internally has to be complemented with greater external access and reach.”

To the second question: “How does technology play its part in the IT skills challenge?”

David“The mainframe is evolving in parallel with the wider business picture: mobile technology, Internet of Things, new workloads that mesh with the mainframe. We at IBM are active in connecting new technologies to the backend. People find new technologies like JSON easy to do. We’ve had web services, we’ve had XML, all of these newer, open standard capabilities. It should be easy for someone familiar with this style of programming to work with a mainframe. And clearly there are very strong, sophisticated DevOps tools.” 

LonnieWhen technology is this expansive it can become confusing and complex. Everybody wants a ‘one size fits all’ answer to every technology solution in every industry and that’s just not realistic. So part of what we’re doing is to change the message out in the community.  An example is cutting a COBOL video to prove young people are not thinking, “Hey, [I] don’t want to work in that environment!”

“I understand what we’re trying to accomplish with IT. That’s our goal. I’s not about having a computer science degree, but being applied in all facets of the business. Now you’ve got somebody who’s legitimately impactful in their work. That’s the kind of skills challenge I think we’re seeing. The answer is to put that interdisciplinary piece together.” 

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The last question focused on the long term solution. Derek asked “Doesn’t the skills issue highlight the gap between skills being taught in schools and those demanded in the commercial world?”

David“Well I think, first of all, the solution is a long-term view of your IT strategy. Clearly a long-term mainframe strategy is crucial for any company – – banks, insurance companies, whoever – still anticipating huge, growing volumes of transactions and queries with the need to be increasingly responsive and agile. 

My advice is to have a long-term strategy for hiring, and to work with universities.  As Lonnie said, it is crucial that the people consuming the skills are brokering and collaborating with the sector producing them, along with parties like IBM who try to make it all happen.”

Lonnie“That has been the magic behind the collaboration of ITology – companies must understand where they’re headed and what that means in terms of an alignment of skills.  We’ve found a resonance that almost every job has a technology underpinning. The messages we talked about earlier are key to this whole thing in terms of a long-term solution.”

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In summary

It was a terrific to get such valuable insights from industry experts. Do you agree with their comments?  To listen to the full webinar, go here.  For more information on the Enterprise skills question, visit our page.

Federal IT Modernization doesn’t have to be taxing

Ed Airey examines the recent and untimely IRS systems outage, the speedy recovery and the agency’s future aspirations of modernization– all just in time for tax season.

IRS Offline?

Did you catch the big IRS announcement? On 2 February and less than 12 weeks before the US tax filing deadline, a temporary but comprehensive computer systems outage took out many of its tax processing platforms. No 2015 tax returns could be filed electronically, a problem potentially impacting 27 million taxpayers. Additionally, refunds from 2015 returns would be delayed.

IRS tax payment processing systems are now back online and the agency has promised that the US taxpayer will feel minimal impact when they e-file their 2015 tax returns. While the delays amounted to no more than 24 hours, everyone is keen to find out what happened – and why?

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Who’s to blame?

The agency blamed an underlying hardware failure preventing the processing of electronically submitted, e-file returns. IRS commissioner John Koskinen indicated that all ‘other IRS services’ were available and most taxpayers would receive their refunds within the usual 21 day period after electronic submission.  Helpful comments for sure – less useful was the Where’s My Refund’ web inquiry feature that went offline when most needed.

But the outage still leaves many questions unanswered. Was this event preventable? Are older IT systems truly to blame?  How does the IRS avoid a similar event in the future?

Fact and Fiction

Fact: Hardware failures occur in every sector.  In many cases, mitigation rather than prevention is the watchword. So, did the IRS have no disaster recovery or failover systems? Not according to IRS officials; these systems continue run on isolated, older computing platforms running application programming languages such as COBOL. Funding cuts have delayed most application modernization projects and some media outlets and a few IRS officials have blamed the agency’s continued use of ‘older’ and ‘outdated’ technologies such as COBOL.

Unfortunately, their fact is mostly fiction. Take online or mobile banking. Most of us want to interact with our bank when we want on our preferred device.  But have normal banking practibces significantly changed your banking providers’ processes just because you’re interacting with them digitally?  Not really. Core banking processes are regulated and rarely change. While your bank has provided a new way for you to interact with their services, the backend processes are generally the same.

The same is true of booking an airline ticket.  Behind the mobile interfaces of Expedia, Travelocity, and Kayak is a core airline booking system that manages ticketing across the various airline carriers.  We experience the colourful overlay of a core system which has been in place for decades.

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And what do banking apps and airline booking systems have in common?  They both leverage core business applications written in that multi-decades old programming language, COBOL.

Yes, COBOL – the original programming language remains one of the most portable, flexible and scalable languages in the industry, particularly where high volume transaction and data processing is required at rapid speed. There are few viable alternatives. Perhaps this why the IRS continues to rely on its COBOL applications – they work, and work very well.

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The Move to Modernize

So, could COBOL, really be a contributing factor to the IRS’ system availability issues?  No. Blaming the programming language is as convenient as it is unhelpful What’s needed is a comprehensive modernization strategy that blends core strength, namely the current business rules and application logic, with next gen technology and platforms. This enables faster innovation with less risk. The IRS has a successful application portfolio – a suite of feature-rich, high performant transaction processing applications built for scale, speed and precision – to move into the future.

They could easily be ported to new platforms including distributed environments, .NET, the Java Virtual Machine or even the Cloud. This would provide new channels and enable a greater elasticity to meet increased future demand or negate unexpected IT failures. The IRS’ application investment could be extended for decades to come.

It’s been done before

Check out the COBOL modernization initiative at the US Small Business Administration, an agency now well positioned for future growth and leverage next gen technology. Or how about the City of Miami or Marin County, CA who have also undertaken similar COBOL application modernization projects? Modernizing core business systems is can be straightforward and almost risk-free and it all begins with a strategy geared towards leveraging past success and unique attributes.

Innovation Awaits

So, what’s next for the IRS?  With all systems now back online, its busy processing returns and issuing tax refund payments. But is the agency prepared for its next outage?  Will they have the modernization plan needed to mitigate foreseen and unexpected challenges?  There are many paths to modernization, but only one approach will truly enable the IRS and others to modernize core business systems while preparing for the future.

It’s time to turn yesterday’s investment into tomorrow’s new innovation.

SHARE-ing is caring

SHARE began as the first-ever enterprise IT community user group back in 1955 and is still going strong. The upcoming San Antonio event looks certain to be another great success. Here’s a sneak preview of the event and agenda.

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Since 1955 SHARE has provided education, networking opportunities and influence for the Enterprise Information Technology Community. It’s still voluntary and for 61 years its mission has remained steadfast; at its core it’s all about professional networking, Mainframe technology, education, professional growth and growing a strong community of like-minded technologists. And just like Mainframe technology, it’s moved with the times – check out the cool new look website complete with Social Media integration and you’ll see what I mean.

SHARE new look

The Dev is in the detail. Mainframe and COBOL AppDev

As proud members of the Mainframe and COBOL community Micro Focus has maintained a steady presence at SHARE events over the years. We’re now a bigger company that boasts SUSE Linux in our portfolio but does that make the event any less important for us? Absolutely not –both Micro Focus and SUSE will be at upcoming San Antonio event in March.

SanAntonio

We’ve spoken a lot recently about the digital age and how (and often contrary to popular perception) this is underpinned by so-called ‘legacy’ technology. SHARE provides a great opportunity to explore modern Enterprise computing challenges and how the mainframe world continues to meet them head on. This year SHARE has its own dedicated DevOps track, signalling the importance of this discipline as a topic in the ongoing Mainframe debate.  My colleague Ed Airey is looking forward to hosting his DevOps session ‘The Dev is in the detail: Appdev, DevOps and the IBM Mainframe’ and hopes to see many delegates join in to discuss how that discipline is shaping up. In his own words Ed explains: “We always look forward to the SHARE event as a highlight in the mainframe calendar. We are delighted not only to participate in the sessions and the exhibition hall, but also to present our mainframe solution to the SHARE community. Our focus this year on DevOps is in step with growing interest in this topic from the SHARE delegates”

Skills, Education, Rockhopper and Emperor

IT Skills too will be high on the agenda, after all Skills and Education is a core SHARE mission that we jointly spoke about on an IT skills webinar recently.  This year as a bigger Micro Focus we are particularly excited to be going as the value of Linux for enterprise workloads and new app innovation is sure to be the talk of the town.

Linux, at SHARE, has become a consistent topic of interest for its delegates.  IBM’s recent LinuxOne announcement and continued investment in Linux systems will certainly capture attention as well.  The SUSE team will be highlighting their recent capabilities including expanded enterprise grade scalability for core applications. For Enterprise IT shops interested in understanding how to implement Linux for new Mainframe app innovation, SHARE San Antonio won’t disappoint.

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Is it just for the Mainframe and COBOL Developer community?

Absolutely not.  The increasingly popular EXECUforum takes place for industry and commercial executives to come together, discuss key challenges and solutions, and share experiences too. IT Decision makers, Analysts and visionaries will all be there discussing challenges like Big Data, Analytics, Mobile, Skills, Productivity and the highly relevant DevOps methodology.  Micro Focus panellist Derek Britton comments; We are delighted to join the EXECUforum discussion panel this year. Our clients are driving towards DevOps as a means for improved application delivery, and we are helping them in a variety of ways to accelerate their implementation. We are only too pleased to be part of the discussion at SHARE”

San Antonio here we come…

We’re hoping many of our Mainframe and COBOL friends will be going too. Our brilliant #DevDay events are an ongoing testament to the value that face-to-face events bring to the Enterprise Tech community. Please stop by our booths to say hello to the Micro Focus and SUSE team who will be very keen to hear about your experiences. We’d also be honoured to see you at our sessions:

Our SUSE specific sessions:

What’s New with SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for z Systems (see session details and add to your agenda here)

SUSE Manager at Large Scale (see session details and add to your agenda here)

DevOps specific sessions:

The Dev is in the detail: Appdev, DevOps and the IBM Mainframe (see session details and add to your agenda here)

DevOps:  Cultural Mindset (see the EXECUForum agenda here)

See you there, whether you’re planning to attend for a day, or the whole week…..

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PL/I – 50 years young….

Relying on PL/I-based applications to tackle today’s challenges doesn’t have to be challenging. Amie Johnson checks out how the Micro Focus approach to modernization enables PL/I shops to get the most out of the rich and valuable business logic embedded in PL/I applications and support innovation.

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Did you know IBM shipped the first Pl/I compiler in 1966? Contemplating PL/I’s fifty-year anniversary made me wonder what fifty computer years feels like. Turning fifty in human years usually induces fear and anxiety because we’re forced to reckon with the fact that, according to today’s calculated life expectancy, we’ve lived more than half of our life. That’s intense. But, turning fifty in computer years seems dramatically more intense. Especially imagining if I were the CIO of a business relying on fifty year-old PL/I applications to compete in today’s world where the speed at which you can deliver services matters in fractions of a percentage point. Cue some uncertainty…..

As you can imagine, a fifty year old IT estate is an unwieldy array of disparate, heterogeneous systems, often woven together by a delicate fabric of dependencies and relationships. But the Intellectual Property captured within these estates contains nuggets of genuine gold. For example PL/I has boasting rights to some pretty remarkable accomplishments – from space travel to laying the foundation for the instant-price-quote economy that drives fierce competition in industries like insurance and travel.

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The truth is, there is still a sizable group of industry leading businesses using the differentiators delivered by their PL/I-based systems to compete and win today. And IBM has shipped new enhancements every year since 1999 including providing modernization capabilities that enable business-critical applications to interoperate with Java, process inbound and outbound XML documents, and work with Web services and the latest middleware.

Micro Focus too continues to invest in helping our PL/I customers by continuing to cultivate a team of PL/I talent that is unrivaled in the industry. Additionally, the latest update to the Enterprise Product Suite boasts an array of PL/I enhancements geared toward making the work of the PL/I teams more integrated.

Enterprise Developer support for PL/I now enables users to create projects on remote UNIX/Linux machines from the Eclipse IDE so developers can remotely edit, compile and debug their PL/I applications on the target machine from within the IDE running on Windows. This makes the use of development tools more consistent and the results from testing more relevant as the applications are running on the target environment.

Visual Studio-specific improvements include support for squiggles, IntelliSense, margins and error checking when editing, which improves developer productivity by making code development and problem determination easier.

And for organizations that need to consider a multi-platform environment or want to modernize their applications to take advantage of 64-bit server architecture, Enterprise Server offers improved functionality and greater language compatibility, making it easier to deploy PL/I workloads wherever the business needs them to be.

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CIOs today have to contend with plenty of challenges, like addressing the IT Backlog and meeting tough compliance targets while delivering new web, mobile and cloud-based services quickly. Relying on PL/I-based applications to tackle these challenges doesn’t have to be be challenging. Check out how our approach to modernization enables you to get the most from the rich and valuable business logic embedded in your PL/I applications, so you can support the business as it looks to innovate.

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IT Skills: Industry experts have their say, Part 1

IT Skills remains an important topic in many organizations. In a recent webinar, hosted by SHARE, experts from Micro Focus, IBM and IT-ology gave some tremendous insights into this important question. Jackie Anglin caught up with Micro Focus’ panelist, Ed Airey, to hear all about it

Recently I helped arrange a webinar on IT Skills, featuring a panel of experts. Hosted by Micro Focus’ Derek Britton, the panel included Ed Airey – Micro Focus’ solutions marketing director, Lonnie Emard – President of IT-ology, David Rhoderick – Manager of IBM z Systems Competitive Project Office.

Derek set the scene describing reports of concerns over dwindling technical skills, but then asked Ed and the other panelists a range of key questions. Having worked with our University partners through the Micro Focus Academic Program and a variety of customers around our COBOL-based technology, Ed has some unique insights, so I was glad to catch up with him and ask him about how the webinar went:

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Ed the first question was “How does an organization build an appropriately skilled workforce?” – how did you see it?

Ed: “That’s a great question.  To best address future IT workforce needs, an organization must first assess their current IT (application) estate.  A strong understanding of the application portfolio supporting core business will drive the necessary conversation and action to best develop or recruit that sought after talent.  Fundamentally, though, an organization must begin by examining the value within its core business application portfolio.  If such applications remain vital to the long term success of that organization then IT leadership must align its IT skills plans to that of its core business applications.  That being said, this new’ digital economy’ has added even further complexity to the skills planning process.  Supporting core business systems is important, but IT must also possess the skills needed to deliver ‘new innovation’ as requested by the business.  For an organization to appropriately respond to this challenge, it must recruit and develop IT talent with an understanding and appreciation of core business applications but also with eye to future technology and how the ‘best of both worlds’ can come together to address core business needs.”

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The second question was about how technology plays its part in the skill challenge. Thoughts?

Ed: “Yes – and we see this pretty clearly. Technology plays a hugely important role in addressing IT skills concerns.  Both IBM and Micro Focus share a long standing commitment to technology innovation and have made similar investments in this area.  Here at Micro Focus, we believe that technology can mitigate challenges organizations have in attracting ‘next gen’ talent.  In the context of business applications, many IT shops use tech that ‘did the job’ well enough, but required many years of experience to command.  But the application development landscape has changed.  According to reports, over 70% of professional software developers are building enterprise applications using either Visual Studio or Eclipse.  And these same IDEs are the development tools being taught within most IT university programs. So graduates will have modern IT development skills but also a command (and interest) for many programming languages.  Herein is the strategy for enterprise organizations to attract next generation talent in support of core business systems but also to acquire the same talent needed to modernize these applications for the future. Micro Focus and IBM have made investments in this space to simplify application development across all environments, mainframe, distributed and cloud.   Developers can now easily build and test enterprise applications (COBOL, PL/I) using the latest IDEs (Visual Studio or Eclipse) allowing organizations to leverage modern technology to bring on more skilled talent where it is needed.”

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Finally Ed, you were asked what is the long term solution?

Ed: “That’s right. Here’s how I saw it – the long term solution to addressing industry skills concern rests with the greater community and the ability of that collective group to better collaborate together, align business need to IT skill development and ultimately, deliver lasting change.  That change occurs through honest, open and continual dialogue between partners – Academic universities shaping IT curriculums to the needs of its local business partners (the enterprise).  Enterprise IT partnering more closely with their local university and IT vendors playing their role through the FREE provision and education of modern technology.  It’s only when these three forces align, can the community truly implement lasting change and a long term solution to the ‘IT skills’ concern.”

Thanks Ed – was there anything else you saw as important?

Ed: “To be honest this is an ongoing discussion for many organizations, which are constantly changing, and need to look at their talent pool regularly. But for organizations seeking to move quickly to address IT Skills uneasiness, I would suggest the following actions:

  • Begin an assessment of your current and future IT skill needs.  Ask how do these skills align to your existing CORE business application portfolio?  Develop a succession plan (shadow program) to cross train IT talent within your organization.
  • Reach out to your local university.  Develop a partnership.  Share your needs and begin to influence the IT program at that university.  Better still suggest your local university research the IBM Academic Initiative or the Micro Focus Academic program for software and educational support.”

In my next blog, we’ll recap the panel discussion including thoughts and views from IT-ology and IBM on tackling the skills opportunity that organizations have. I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback too! Find me on Twitter

COBOL: The original language for business – and a continued chart success!

This month’s TIOBE.COM index ranks COBOL – the pioneering and continually pacesetting programming language – at number 20 in terms of global computing language activity. But why is a 50-year-old language climbing the charts? Derek Britton investigates.

It’s official: COBOL is a new chart success. The new ratings prove it. The TIOBE index shows COBOL up 6 places year to year number 20 in the charts in December 2015. The TIOBE Programming Community index is an indicator of the popularity of programming languages. It bases these ratings on a number of key criteria, including the number of skilled software engineers using each language world-wide. It uses all the popular search engines to calculate the ratings with a newly improved algorithm.

We have mentioned before – as far back as 2012 and as recently as February of this year – that COBOL’s durability, prevalence and reliability are finally being reflected in the right places. This graph indicates just how well COBOL has done in the last few years. This represents a continued growth in the popularity of COBOL, having climbed from a steady decline towards obscurity a few years back to cementing a place in the top 20.

But this is a language conceived in 1959. It has a reputation in some quarters as being a little outdated. So how is this possible revival possible? TIOBE itself cites the growing popularity of Visual Studio 2015– Microsoft’s development framework and IDE – as a prime mover. But what else might be affecting this continued improvement?

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Visual Studio – the ratings booster

First things first, let’s look at what TIOBE said. Perhaps an adjustment in ratings, based on an increase in Visual Studio activity, may be in order. It has certainly boosted the fortunes of other Visual Studio and .NET-friendly languages that seen improved chart placings this month, including Visual Basic .NET and C#.

As an equal citizen in the .NET framework and a major player in the field of managed code, this would improve ratings for COBOL, as would an uptick in Eclipse usage – COBOL equally supports this IDE as well as the JVM managed code environment. COBOL’s portability across all major platforms ensures it will benefit from a surge in popularity of any such environment.

A new blue

Of course, managed code environments aren’t the whole story. The overwhelming majority of COBOL systems are mainframe-based, particularly the IBM mainframe – another unfairly maligned and reliable piece of tech. The continued relevance of Big Iron is no surprise to the Micro Focus team and we’ve long been singing the praises of big blue, not least the new z13 environment. Our attendance at SHARE and continued partnership with IBM means are enabling organizations to continue to extract value from the mainframe and their COBOL applications to support innovative IT projects.

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Skills – the new challenge?

Core systems based on COBOL have – in many cases – over-delivered and outlived any original prediction of their proposed value. Unsurprisingly, IT leaders need to examine resource plans to support those systems in the future. However, much of the current narrative is around ‘skills gaps’ and looming crises. Assessing IT skills and determining strategy based on available talent could easily be the result of pragmatic IT leaders recognising that COBOL’s reliability makes it worth planning around, rather than dispensing with. This would explain why COBOL continues to improve climb the charts, and echoes our view, shared recently with IBM Systems Magazine, that the skills question is a relatively straightforward future activity for IT leadership.

Interestingly, despite our explanation, much of the press remains ostensibly negative towards skills issues. However, many clients, academic partners and vendors are helping to support our academic program, which represents very smart thinking and a new way to support the next batch of COBOL developers with modern tools. So perhaps Micro Focus’s answer to these skills questions is another factor here. (Check back soon for more observations on COBOL skills).

Go to work with COBOL

And a related issue is quite a simple one – jobs. If demand for staff continues, the jobs are out there. If the supply wanes, more organizations and more recruiters need to be more visible to get the remaining talent. It certainly represents a win-win for COBOL developers who find their skills in such demand. On the flipside, would-be joiners must differentiate themselves.

COBOL saw the highest growth in available jobs in one survey, and is often cited as a differentiating skill in landing a well-paid job. A buoyant COBOL jobs market with renewed interest from applications could easily have helped tip the scales.

So, we can conclude that many contributory factors could all be supporting the ongoing popularity of COBOL. And Micro Focus are confident that we’re backing a winner – our ongoing R&D investments will help to ensure key attributes such as portability, future-proofing and innovation help ensure COBOL can support the business needs of 2016 and beyond.

What’s your view?

Of course, these are just a personal view. And, after five decades, who can say why COBOL is soaring up the TIOBE charts right now? Why not share a comment here or tweet to @microfocus on why #COBOLrocks? Better still, find out for yourselves at an upcoming #DevDay event near you.

Legacy Systems timebomb. What ‘timebomb’? Re-use and defuse…

A piece on the FCW site, calling out the supposed dangers of legacy IT caught the eye of Ed Airey, our Solutions Director. He responds below.

This article raises some interesting – and some very familiar – points. Many of them I agree with, some of them less so.

I certainly concur that putting the right people in the right places is just good business sense. For any forward-thinking organization, underpinning future business strategy depends on recruiting, retaining and developing the next generation of talent.

This is particularly true for enterprises with significant investment in legacy applications and it’s an area we have addressed ourselves. But this is where our paths diverge slightly.

To recap Mark Rockwell’s concerns, any business that allows IT staff with core business app knowledge to leave the business without being replaced by developers with the right skills is looking at the potential for organization-wide impact. For “legacy IT systems”, I read ‘COBOL applications’. And I disagree with the apocalyptic scenarios he is using.

For sure, a so-called ‘skills gap’ could affect business continuity and compromise future innovation prospects.  It is – or should be – a concern for many organizations, including the federal agencies that Mark calls out. But he quotes a CIO, speaking at the President’s Management Advisory Board who likens the potential, albeit more slow-burning impact to the Y2K bug.  The IT industry knows about the so-called skills crisis just as it knew about the Y2K bug. By preparing in the same diligent and focused fashion it’s highly likely that the crisis will fizzle out leaving the apocalyptic headlines high and dry.

Fewer people, more challenges

Now, safely into 2015, the modern CIO has plenty of other challenges. Addressing the IT Backlog, meeting tough compliance targets and developing a smarter outsourcing strategy all add to the In Tray. Meanwhile, organizations must support the evolving needs of the customer – that means delivering news web, mobile and Cloud-based services quickly and in response to new user requirements.

There always a right way to do things; the key is to distinguish it from the many alternatives. For owners of so-called legacy IT, modern development tooling offers many benefits. Modernization enables easier maintenance of well-established applications, and will support the business as it looks to innovate.

In addition, contemporary development environments (IDEs) make supporting core business systems easier.  With a wider array of development aids at their fingertips to accelerate the build, test and deploy process, more programmers than ever can support organizations in filling these skills shortfalls.

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Why rewrite – just re-use

These game-changing modern tools help organizations proactively develop their own future talent today and extract new value from older business applications, while providing a more contemporary toolset for next gen developers.

How ‘modern’ are these modern tools?  Next generation COBOL and PL/I development can be easily integrated within Visual Studio or Eclipse environments, reducing development complexity and delivery time.  The Visual Studio and Eclipse skillsets acquired through local universities are quickly applied to supporting those ‘archaic’ core business systems that have quietly supported processes for many decades yet are – suddenly – no longer fit for purpose.

But of course, they are perfectly able to support organizations meet future innovation challenges. The key is embracing new technology through modern development tooling. It is this ‘re-use’ policy that helps IT to confidently address skills concerns, build an innovation strategy – and support trusted business applications.

Late in the piece, the writer references the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act. For government agencies facing these multiple compliance challenges, the modern tooling approach offers a low risk, low cost and pragmatic process to delivering value through IT.

This stuff works

Micro Focus can point to a significant body of work and an order book full of happy customers. The Fire and Rescue Department of the City of Miami, for example – their modernization program halved their IT costs.  The Cypriot Ministry of Finance being another example where 25 year old COBOL-based Inland Revenue payment and collection system was given a new lease of life through Micro Focus technology.

So – can you hear a ticking sound? Me neither.

To learn more about modern development tooling in support of core business applications, visit: www.microfocus.com

‘Sur-thrive-al’ guide to attending #Devday

We get asked a lot of questions via Social Media, our website and email about upcoming Micro Focus #DevDays. Jackie Anglin is now a seasoned #DevDay Veteran having presided over 25 of them to date aross North America. We’ve summed up the most common questions and here are Jackie’s answers to help you plan your day!

We get asked a lot of questions via Social Media, our website and email about upcoming Micro Focus #DevDays.  Jackie Anglin is now a seasoned #DevDay Veteran having presided over 25 of them to date aross North America. We’ve summed up the most common questions and here are Jackie’s answers to help you plan your day!

Where do I register and how far in advance should I let you know I will be going?

We do our best to make sure everyone has a great seat and a great view. Registering early is key and the best place to find the schedule is the #DevDay hubpage Plan to arrive before the morning session begins because these events are growing.

You’ll see from the photos there are very few spare seats and a some delegates show up on the door on the day too. Register early to help us find the right space, cater correctly and get the logistics right. If there isn’t a #DevDay scheduled near you then simply fill out the form to at the bottom of the #DevDay hubpage to request one and we’ll see what we can do.

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Are the #DevDay events only aimed at COBOL or Mainframe COBOL Developers?

Think about bringing a COBOL sceptic or two! Your whole development team is welcome, COBOL developers and non-COBOL developers alike! It’s been really interesting to watch developers who haven’t been exposed to COBOL see how easily they can work with the language using modern Visual Studio or eclipse IDEs.  It’s all about taking what works today and ensuring it will still work in years to come – we’ve covered some of this in a previous #DevDay blog. Don’t forget that a #DevDay only costs your time so the business-case of expanding the invitation to a wider team may not be as difficult as you think. Being there together might just lead to a light bulb moment of cross team developer efficiency!

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Do you provide lunch and drinks?

We like to feed our guests well, blame it on my Southern American upbringing, but no one leaves hungry. I highly recommend everyone stay for the networking reception afterwards, and invite your local colleagues (and maybe even your boss or manager) to join us.  Our techies let their hair down (or not, in the case of Mike Bleistein) and like to talk even more about the COBOL community, the old days, the future and answer your tough questions.  A designated driver or public transport might be a good idea! If you are travelling in why not get in the mood by downloading our #COBOLRocks playlist to your Spotify account. bier19

What do you mean by ‘Stump the expert’?

It’s the last and my favourite part of the day!!  It’s your chance to ask our panel of experts your hardest questions specific to your environment or related to your current and future projects and development challenges. I want our know-it-all experts to get stumped.  If you stump them, make sure you boast remorselessly about it on Twitter to let the world know!  As far as I know they’ve never been defeated with any COBOL or Mainframe AppDev challenge……

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Can I find the events online too?

 These events buzz as much online as they do in the room, we’re very passionate about social media if you can’t tell by the hashtag in our event name. We seriously love it and our large developer community talks regularly via Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. In fact, I get pretty giddy when I meet a fellow tweeter…so much so that I may have to take a selfie to tweet. If you do tweet about #DevDay you’ll be in line for a reward  and quickly find out how many likeminded Developers there are out there! Details of prizes and awards with will be announced on the day.

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What do I need to bring with me?

While we love the stories about Derek Britton back in the day at past Developer Conferences, I love hearing the stories about the cool applications powered by COBOL out there. Please  bring your real world stories to share. You could also bring a laptop if you’re involved in a Product Trial. There aren’t many opportunities these days to get up close and personal with the Principal Product Architects and Managers so use the opportunity for your own advantage!

Trial

Don’t hesitate to find me on Twitter and point out what I’ve missed from the list if you’re one of our #DevDay alumni. Hopefully see you there in person at a North American #DevDay soon! If you can’t attend one of our North American events, you can find a location near you or request one at the hubpage.

Standing_Very Very Happy

Development technologies and strategies – meeting the skills challenge – Part II

In his second blog, Neil Fowler, Micro Focus Development Director, discusses aligning skills requirements to IT business priorities – and suggests some strategies for overcoming the issues associated with a potential development skills shortfall.

More strategies for enabling long term development flexibility

Workforce flexibility:

Clearly, the solution is to meet future staffing projections, with flexibility in the workforce to build an enterprise-class resource strategy. That either means upskilling the people you already have or training new hires with the requisite skills. These are the people to overcome your IT complexity and bridge the gap between old and new to unlock the value of your core appliances.

Your organisation may take the outsourcing route. In many ways, utilising the skills on demand business model represents a solid business decision. Even if just represents part of the mix, handled – and supported – correctly outsourcing, can resolve a complex array of current IT challenges. But whether you embrace this or keep it in house, there are low-maintenance solutions available.

Radical surgery is not required. Your technology has proven itself over time and bearing in mind the amount of business intelligence you have invested in it – and the application complexity that will make a rip or replace approach potentially difficult – training a new generation of application developers to maintain your application going forwards represents the most practical solution.

Motivating your teams to upskill:

A further consideration is encouraging your current developers to upskill. With a familiar IDE and an easy-to-learn language, the transition becomes easy. Familiar features and functions with new flexibility encourage users to work in a more creative and interesting way.  A motivated team aligned to the right technology can achieve many things.

Creating the right blend of talent is the key to future success and motivating is at least as important as recruitment. Because at this level, skills is not just about where you are now, but where you want to be. Once again, technology – in the form of appropriate tooling – is the bridge between your development team and the future possibilities.When your team works with a modern IDE running a future-proof language, then your organization is ready for innovation – because in the new IDEs, COBOL is as easy to work with as more contemporary languages.

It is no coincidence that COBOL underpins the business systems of 91 of the Fortune 100 companies. Learning COBOL improves your work today and your career prospects tomorrow – a key motivator. COBOL aligns with other agile methodologies and developers discovering that they can use the same development processes and concepts quickly realise that this stuff really works.

Easy to learn, those currently working with Eclipse and Java can master COBOL in a matter of hours. COBOL is enabled in both Eclipse and Visual Studio, and these contemporary environments help the newly-skilled COBOL developer to do more than ever before.  To do the right job, successful organizations need the right people with the right skills. Beyond that, they need tools that bridge the gap between the skills they have and the experience they need.

Micro Focus technology has been developed specifically to deliver the fine-tuning your core assets need to attract the broader range of skills required to maintain and develop your mainframe applications.

Our enterprise tooling offers a development path that enables a new generation of enterprise developers to meet the future needs of the business and resolve any resource challenge.

In summary,

Essentially, aligning an IT resourcing strategy with Micro Focus tooling will ensure flexibility, consistency, attract and retain vital knowledge and create the future generation of COBOL developers that organizations need to maintain their enterprise applications.

To read more about how Micro Focus is aligning strategies with technology to help our customers meet their development challenges, visit the dedicated skills area of our website here.

IT Skills: Crisis? What Crisis?

The much-discussed IT skills shortage is a relative concept, argues Derek Britton from Micro Focus, as he examines what this talk about a “crisis” really means in this fascinating blog post. Read on.

Mind the Gap

Read the trade press nowadays and you can’t help but stumble across another story about the IT skills shortage. And for more eye-catching headlines, the word “crisis” is often thrown in for good measure.

But even the most cursory ‘skills gap’ search on Google reveals a lot of reported problems, and very few positive solutions. This article mentions 43 distinct areas where positions outnumber people to fill them. Admittedly, developers, coders and programmers are included, but that still represents a small percentage.

So, realistically, how big is this problem – and who is affected?

Recent Skills Reports

Ann Swain, chief executive of The Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo). She claims that an IT skills shortage is likely to grow in the coming years, as reported in Computing.

“The IT sector was one of the hardest hit during the recession, and our monthly trends report – which analyses vacancies and placements across the professional staffing sector – has in the last few months pointed towards the early stages of a skills shortage,” Ann said.

Elsewhere, ITPro reported that British firms are struggling to find the right talent to fill vacancies, according to a report published by CompTIA, a company that provides vendor-neutral certifications to workers globally. The International Technology Adoption and Workforce Trends Study found that 44% of 1,500 IT workers believed staff productivity is suffering because of the skills gap.

Accepted wisdom suggests the skills in shortest supply are those associated with ‘legacy’ [sic] technologies. Notwithstanding this erroneous label, this category includes COBOL and mainframe skills. Interesting then, that commentators talk about a skills shortage in more contemporary technologies.

“Demand for skills like C#, .NET and other programming languages has been consistent during the recession and has really started picking back up. However, we simply can’t find enough skills in the UK market,” claims the same Computing article.

This concern is highlighted in a lucid WSJ.com article by Skills Gap commentator Gary Beach. This piece calls out the proliferation of choice among the software development community as a reason for the difficulty in finding people with the desired skills: “All those choices have slowed down the hiring process. Tom Monahan, chief executive officer at CEB, a global consultancy, said it took chief information officers 40 days to fill an IT job two years ago. Now, it’s up to 70 days”, says the post, citing the spread of popularity in terms of development tooling including “Java, Java Script, C#, PHP, Python, Ruby, Perl and Objective C.”

Moreover, the US Government predicts that “approximately 810,000 new and replacement administrative personnel will be needed across all platforms by 2020”, according to the US. Bureau of Labor Statistics (Occupational Outlook, March 2013). This is compared with less than 100,000 of those being mainframe specific positions.

SkillsJuggle

A Global Reality

Importantly, discussions around skills are not restricted to the IT sector or even STEM-related jobs. In a report on the BBC News website, a “skills emergency” was being used to describe the current state of skilled worker demand in the UK. It went on “More than half of employers fear they will not be able to recruit enough high-skilled workers, according to a survey by the CBI (Confederation of British Industry).

The employers’ organisation is warning that a skills shortage is “threatening to starve economic growth”.

“Firms are facing a skills emergency now,” said CBI deputy director-general Katja Hall. According to the CBI, two-thirds of businesses are expected to need more high-skilled staff”

Furthermore, the skill level and affected industries are also illuminating. Nestle USA CEO Paul Grimwood outlined in a recent article the demands for skills in manufacturing “Estimates put the need for U.S. manufacturing jobs at nearly 3.5 million over the next decade. The current skills gap means that 2 million of those jobs — which require technical expertise, but not a college degree — will go unfilled”

Commentator Cait Murphy agreed, in Inc, “In a survey of Inc. 5,000 CEOs last year, 76% said that finding qualified people was a major problem. What’s really interesting about all this is that it’s not just the usual suspects who are complaining about the lack of good workers… it turns out that … manufacturers are having trouble finding excellent employees.”

Further afield, search results reveal plenty of manpower shortfalls in engineering and manufacturing – even potato picking. The list of skills gaps – coinciding with a period of relatively high employment – seems to be a fact of commercial life.

Meanwhile, Back in the Back Office

And these skills crises affect every walk of commercial life, including core IT systems. Right? Well, we see it differently. Micro Focus recognises the need to ensure that the next generation of talent is available to replace those lost to natural wastage. But that isn’t a crisis – it is common sense aligned with good planning.

As the global economy evolves and the digital age takes hold, a new generation of commerce shapes itself. The natural ebb-and-flow of staffing supply and demand causes inevitable variance in the availability of certain skills in certain sectors. It’s just life. Employers, vendors and academia own the collective responsibility to service that marketplace, just as they always have done.

In other words, it’s as much of a crisis as we choose to make it.

That is not to say that we don’t acknowledge a prospective skills shortfall. Indeed, to meet the continued requirement around COBOL skills, Micro Focus is continuing to invest heavily in both the technology itself, and build partnerships with academia, to help build the ‘next generation’ of COBOL application developers. It’s a pre-emptive, rather than reactive move.

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Conclusion

So, not just IT then – and certainly not just COBOL, there are skills questions out there.

But a crisis?

The word crisis is supposed to describe a situation that is out of control that you can do nothing about. Readers of a certain age may recall the 1975 album release by English prog-rock  group Supertramp. Called Crisis? What Crisis? The Micro Focus campaign highlights the myriad ways Micro Focus supports organizations in meeting the challenges of skills planning for the future. What crisis?

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