JetBrains Kicks Off Product Release Binge with New IntelliJ IDEA IDE

Software development toolmaker JetBrains, has been on a bit of a product-release binge that started on July 28 with the release of IntelliJ IDEA 2020.2, which was followed by the releases of the IntelliJ Scala Plugin 2020.2,  PyCharm 2020.2, CLion 2020.2, PhpStorm 2020.2, the EduTools Plugin 3.9, GoLand 2020.2, IntelliJ Rust 2020.2, the Space Beta, and TeamCity 2020.1.3.


Leading this pack of products promulgations, of course, is the venerable code-centric Java IDE, IntelliJ IDEA. The company released version 2020.1, the first major update of the year, in April with support for the latest Java 14 release, as well as new features for several Web and test frameworks, an upgrade of the debugger with dataflow analysis assistance, and a new LightEdit mode. The company's newest product is Space, an all-in-one team collaboration environment.

IntelliJ IDEA 2020.2 comes with numerous updates, including the ability to review and merge GitHub pull requests from inside the IDE, navigate between warnings and errors in a file with the Inspections widget, view the full list of issues in a current file with the Problems tool window, and get notified if code changes would break other files. This release also provides new features for Jakarta EE, Quarkus, Micronaut, Amazon SQS API, and OpenAPI.

But the marquee feature in this release is probably support for Java 15, which is due in September. IntelliJ IDEA 2020.2 is fully ready for that release, said Zlata Kalyuzhnaya, JetBrains marketing manager, in a blog post. "We've updated our support for the Records feature, which is now in its second preview, added basic support for Sealed Classes, and provided full support for Text Blocks, which are a full-fledged feature in Java 15," she wrote.

The list of features Kalyuzhnaya highlighted in this release includes:

  • Inlay hint: If changes you make to a Java method or field will cause errors in other files, the IDE will notify you about it with an inlay hint. Click on the hint and the IDE will provide a list of the errors to fix.
  • Pinpointing runtime exception causes: In this release, JetBrains has supplemented exception stack trace analysis with dataflow analysis. Clicking on the stack trace takes you to the exact place in the code where the exception appears.
  • Improved autocompletion for Stream API methods: This release of the IDE is designed to work better with the Stream API. I allows you to start typing the stream method name within the collection itself, which will trigger IntelliJ IDEA to insert 'stream()'automatically. Also, the IDE now suggests chained calls of expected type in the autocompletion.
  • New Variable refactorings: This release introduces this feature, which allows you to replace occurrences of a variable in intermediate scopes, as opposed to only replacing one or all occurrences.
  • Regrouped Java Live Templates: This release groups the Java live templates under the Java node in Settings/Preferences to make it easier for developers to locate them among the live templates for all the other languages.

To learn more, visit the Java section of the JetBrains' what's new page.

Posted by John K. Waters on August 12, 20200 comments

Oracle's March Madness-Style Java Bracket

Oracle's Java Platform Group created a March Madness-style bracket to mark Java's 25th anniversary, substituting JEPs for the college basketball teams and using Twitter polls to determine the winners of the matchups.

The "Best of the JDK Feature Face-Off" concluded last week, with JDK Mission Control edging Records in the final round.

"I'm not saying that all developers like sports, but this thing really resonated," Sharat Chander, senior director of Oracle's Java Product Management and Developer Relations group, told me.

A total of 28,321 votes were cast in the mock tournament, with 8,969 votes cast in the finals alone. The tournament was followed on Twitter by a range of Java community leaders, including Java Champion Venkat Subramaniam and Oracle's language rockstar Brian Goetz, who offered comments and congratulations. It even inspired a kind of Twitter poetry slam, with exchanges of bits of doggerel like this one from Java architect Erik Costlow (@costlow):

To think I could ever see
A tool so lovely: JMC
A tool that streams events all day
Yet still performs without delay

The purpose of this project, Chander said, was to give visibility to Java features that were on releases starting with Java 9, with a couple of features in Java 8 added to round out the brackets. But the lighthearted exercise also yielded at least one unexpected insight, he said.

"This is a huge ecosystem of users, and we really saw where their passions lie," he said. "In the finals, 60 percent of the voters selected a tool over significant language enhancement. I think this is proof that open-sourcing JMC was the right decision. I don't think it would have advanced if it had been a gated feature."

JDK Mission Control (JMC) is a profiling and diagnostics tools suite for the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) used by developers to gather detailed low-level information about how the JVM and the Java application are behaving. Records (JEP 359) is a kind of type declaration in the Java language.

Designing the brackets to provide a meaningful competition was tricky, Chander said. They settled on four categories (language, libraries, tooling and runtime), and they used a randomizer to set the matchups. "There was no science involved," he said, "like saying feature x will go up against feature y for these specific reasons. We thought leaving it to chance would get us closer to a level playing field. Then it's about what you're really passionate about."

And there were a couple of deliberate omissions. "People hit us with questions right away about why we left out xyz feature," Chander said. "Where's RMI? Where's serialization? And we did omit some features outright. But we had to make some choices. If we tried to encompass everything, the bracket structure would simply be too large and everything would have gone sideways. And let's face it, if we had included lambdas, there'd have been no competition at all."

In case you missed it, you can see the entire bracket and final tournament results on @java.

BTW: Chander posted his own bracket on Twitter.

Posted by John K. Waters on July 16, 20200 comments

Eclipse Foundation Releases 2020 Jakarta/Java Survey Findings

The Eclipse Foundation has been busy since the organization announced its move to Belgium last month. It announced the first milestone release of Jakarta EE 9, and published a white paper about open source in Europe and it just posted the results of its 2020 Jakarta EE Developer Survey. 

Based on the responses of several thousand enterprise developer, the survey provides a fascinating look at the growth of open source enterprise Java, as well as some details on what developer interest in things like microservices and platforms.

"Since the release of Jakarta EE 8 in September 2019, we have witnessed meteoric growth for Jakarta EE, both in its use by developers and the certification of compatible products based on its specifications," said Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation, in a statement. "Jakarta EE 8 has seen more certifications of Full Platform Compatible Products in 8 months than Java EE 8 had in over 2 years. With Jakarta EE 9 on track for release in fall of this year, the real work on innovation and the transition to cloud native Java and microservices support can begin."

The 2020 Jakarta EE Developer Survey received 19% more responses than last year's survey.

The survey results in their entirety can be found here.

The results show significantly increased growth in the use of Jakarta EE 8 and interest in cloud-native Java overall.

A list of the key findings from this survey include:

  • Java/Jakarta EE 8 hits the mainstream with 55% adoption among the developers surveyed.
  • Spring/Spring Boot continues to be the leading framework for building cloud native applications, but its share declined 13% (from 57% in 2019 to 44% in 2020).
  • With the delivery of Jakarta EE 8 in September 2019, Jakarta EE starts to fulfill its promise of accelerating business application development for the cloud, emerging as the second place cloud native framework with 35% usage in this year's survey.
  • Since its announcement early in 2019, the adoption of Red Hat's Quarkus has skyrocketed with 16% of developers now using the framework.
  • The overall usage of the microservices architecture for implementing Java systems in the cloud technically declined since last year (39% in 2020 vs 43% in 2019). This could potentially be due to implementers realizing that microservices are not a "one size fits all" solution, which is further borne out by the use of the monolithic architecture approach doubling since last year with 25% adoption reported in 2020.
  • Even with the generally flat use of microservices year-over-year, there is still continued interest from the Jakarta EE community for better support for microservices in the platform. Combined with the decline in adoption of Spring Boot and the rise of Jakarta EE, the takeaway here may be that developers are looking past single vendor microservices frameworks in favor of vendor-neutral standards for building Java microservices.
  • The adoption of Eclipse Che, an open source, Java-based developer workspace server and cloud Integrated Development Environment (IDE) for creating cloud native, enterprise applications on Kubernetes, has surged with reported usage growing from 4% in 2019 to 11% in 2020.
  • Java 11 use has surged to 28% (20% in 2019). Sitting at 11% usage, enterprises are also adopting Java 14. Java 14 uptake may be due to the cloud providers are looking to stay on the latest and greatest
  • Java 8 adoption has decreased to 64% (84% in 2019). This is an indicator that developers are finally moving away from Java 8 and Java 11 is replacing Java 8 as the default Java.


Posted by John K. Waters on June 25, 20200 comments

Java at 25: Pluralsight's Teachers Weigh In

Oracle kicked off its celebration of Java's 25th anniversary, which arrived officially on Saturday, with ... you guessed it: online content. It's disappointing not to be able to celebrate the language and platform that is, let's face it, running world IRL. But Big Red mounted an able effort on its "Moved-by-Java" site with inspiring personal stories from its Java team and the larger Java community, many of which are genuinely inspiring. If you haven't already, be sure to check it out.

I was a bit ahead of the festivities last month when I talked with Rich Sharples, senior director of product management at Red Hat, about how Java had faired over the years compared with other technologies debuting in 1995. Feel free to check that out, too.

I don't have an equivalent lineup of stories and conversation to share, but I do have the answers to three questions the folks at online course provider Pluralsight put to their Java course authors -- and then shared with me.

What impact has Java had on the world and/or society?

Jim Wilson ( in Warner, NH: "Java helped clear the way for creating bigger and more sophisticated systems more efficiently. Java and the accompanying JVM (Java Virtual Machine) empowered developers to focus on the business problem being solved rather than being bogged down in managing many of the underlying technical details required by previous programming languages."

Sander Mak ( in The Netherlands: "Java is more than a technology: it also brought together a vibrant community of Java developers who share knowledge, build open-source tools, and move the world of software development forward. After 25 years, this community is still unique in its size and impact."

Kevin Jones ( in Bristol, UK: "Prior to 1995, [if you were] a developer on Windows, the predominant platform then and now, you had to be a C or a C++ programmer; similarly on Unix if you were writing server code. Then along came the web and this dinky language that many serious developers dismissed out of hand, letting us write these little toys called Applets with this promise of "Write Once, Run Anywhere." Looking back it's almost impossible to think of how we got from there to here. Java has become the dominant language in the enterprise with billions of lines of code running millions of server applications in tens of thousands of companies. Weirdly it's also gone back to its roots and runs on billions of devices. It's survived Sun's collapse and the takeover by Oracle; it's survived an early split with Microsoft and the incursion of .Net and is still the predominant language in the software world."

Jose Paumard ( in Paris, France: "The impact of Java on the software development community is tremendous. The 12M developers worldwide make it one of the most prolific languages along with C. And Java applications are everywhere, from the SIM cards that equip every single mobile phone on the planet to the largest applications running on the cloud. Besides that, along with Linux, Java was of the most prominent technology to promote Open source development, now adopted by everybody."

What impact has Java had on your career?

Wilson: "Java has been a major driver in my career for well over a decade. I began working in Java professionally back in 2008 as part of developing applications for the beta release of the Android platform. That early experience along with my relationship with Pluralsight have been major factors in the success I've been fortunate to experience as both a consultant and as an educator.

Mak: "I've been fortunate to work with a wide variety of organizations, ranging from governments, to banks, to Picnic, the online groceries start-up I'm currently at. They all use Java for their backend systems. Why? It offers the perfect balance between stability, performance, and continuous evolution. Working with such a versatile technology throughout my career allowed me to become an expert, while helping companies across many domains.

Jones: "Java has let me retire from full-time work early. I started doing Java development not long after it appeared as a language. That led to me teaching the language all over Europe and North America. I also spoke at numerous conferences including Java One where I met people from various publishing companies back when paper magazines were a thing. I wrote articles and columns on Java and segued that expertise into writing on-line courses for Pluralsight. I'm pretty sure that without Java I'd still be sitting at a desk somewhere working for somebody else getting very bored, rather than sitting at home working when I want and still interested in building new things."

Paumard: "For the past 25 years, Java shaped my professional life. I gave my first Java course at the university in 1998 and I am still doing that. Java made me travel the world from conferences to conferences, where I talk several times a year. I became a Java Champion in 2016 and have more than a hundred of hours of online courses. I worked for countless companies helping them to better write and organize their Java applications."

What is your prediction for the future of Java over the next 5 years? 

Wilson: "Java will continue to innovate and lead the way. Recent additions like microservice support and cloud-based services integration combined with a strong existing code base, rich APIs, and a well-established developer community will keep Java in the forefront of development for many years to come."

Mak: "In the coming years, Java will cement itself further as the platform for cloud applications. We can expect new features lowering Java's footprint and improving its already impressive performance even further. The pace of improvement for the Java programming language will keep increasing, ensuring Java's relevance for many years to come."

Jones "Some things are not going to change, Java will still be ubiquitous in the enterprise and still running on most of the world's phones. Some change we're already seeing, Java has always evolved, but very slowly, but now the release cadence has gone up and this is great, it means that new features are coming into the language at a much higher rate, and the language gets to be modernized. Java as a language is being challenged from within the ecosystem by languages such as Kotlin and externally by languages such as C# and Go, this is a good thing as it, again, forces the language to evolve. I can see the language becoming more functional and less verbose, we already see this with the use of the 'var' keyword. If you could take a Java developer from 25 years ago and put her in 2025 she'd be amazed at the way code is being written, the language continues to evolve to a state where that developer would find it completely alien."


Paumard: "Java will continue on its current path for the next 5 years. Several major projects are under very active development and since their development is Open source, we can see, week after week the progress of them. The Loom project will bring new paradigms in concurrent programming, leading to critical performance improvements for web servers for instance.  The Valhalla project will provide better ways to control how data is laid out in memory, bringing new performances for intensive data processing applications. But for me the most important of them is the Amber project, that will bring new ways of writing code and will have the same kind of impact on the way Java code is organized as the introduction of lambda expressions in 2014. Java 14, published earlier in March saw the first release of preview features from Amber and it was a great success."

Posted by John K. Waters on May 29, 20200 comments

Mike Milinkovich Explains Eclipse Foundation's Move To Belgium

The Eclipse Foundation is moving its headquarters to Belgium, the organization has just revealed. One of the world's leading open-source software foundations, steward of the Eclipse IDE, enterprise Java, and the Eclipse MicroProfile, and the heart of a global ecosystem of developers, companies, and public sector entities, is pulling up stakes and heading for Brussels.

Well, figuratively speaking.

This "move" is more about establishing an official identity in a region poised to embrace open source in a big way than physically relocating. The Foundation offices in Ottawa, Canada, will still be there when the new legal entity in Europe is established later this summer; it should be finalized by July 2020. The Foundation will then be legally "domiciled" in Belgium as an AISBL (Association internationale sans but lucratif), which is the international version of the country's two forms of non-profits. 

I asked the Foundation's executive director, Mike Milinkovich, who has led the organization since its founding just over 16 years ago (mostly from those offices in Canada) why the EF is doing this.

"From one perspective, we're just doubling down on the status quo," he told me. "Two-thirds of our committers are based in European countries, and we're already the largest open-source organization in Europe. But from another perspective, we're getting ahead of a kind of awakening in Europe about the true value of open source. Last year, we started to see the light bulb going off in the form of more and more publications and various governmental and industry organizations emerging with a focus on open source. Open source has gone from something that was tactical or perhaps interesting to something that's strategic and central to their thinking. It was pretty clear that if we didn't do this, someone else would."

"Don't get me wrong," he added. "There are open-source organizations in Europe, but they largely stick to single projects—the Open Document Foundation, for example. And none of them have the scope of the Eclipse Foundation, which hosts hundreds of projects."

The Eclipse Foundation is already the largest open-source organization in Europe, with nearly 1,000 committers and a staff of about 10 mostly development staff spit between France and Germany. This move builds on that large international membership base and will almost certainly accelerate its growth. As the Foundation put it in a press release, "The Eclipse Foundation's new home will enhance all its global members' abilities to participate in European projects via open technologies. This will provide new opportunities for all, in a competitive global level playing field, to bring new solutions to the global market."

"This is a move motivated by a business opportunity, an opening to establish a truly global institution for open source," Milinkovich said.

When all this virtual rearranging is completed, the Eclipse Foundation will have headquarters in Belgium, Canada, and the US, though its official home will be in Europe. Consider that trifurcation in the context of the Foundation's mission to prove to the enterprise that the world of open-source solutions can be trusted and relied on—a mission that spawned the annual simultaneous release of multiple Eclipse Foundation projects known as the Release Train—and the move makes even more sense. The industries that use the solutions developed and maintained by Eclipse committers (and those the Foundation wants to use them) are governed by the local laws. Europe-based companies are often more comfortable with Belgian law, Milinkovich pointed out.

"We're essentially creating a home that's more appealing to European industry," he said. "The number one reason we ended up in Belgium is that the country's legal structure is absolutely fit to purpose for an international organization like ours. But also, it's considered sort of the neutral country within Europe."

Not all of this ephemeral shuffling is going to be virtual. The Foundation is establishing a new GitLab-based forge hosted on servers in Europe. Currently, the Foundation offers projects a choice between its own original forge, which is based on Git, Bugzilla, and Garrett, and GitHub.

A team at IBM developed the original Eclipse Java-based IDE in the late 1990s. That IDE was the EF's first killer app. "The Eclipse Foundation is vital to millions of developers worldwide, as are Eclipse projects to companies in many industries," said Todd Moore, vice president of Open Technology and Advocacy at IBM, in a statement. "The Eclipse Foundation is taking steps to expand its global presence and reach. IBM welcomes the initiative and is providing support."

More information on the Foundation's plans and how interested parties can get involved can be found on the Eclipse Foundation website.

Posted by John K. Waters on May 13, 20200 comments

Red Hat's OpenShift Update Strategy: If You Want Alpha/Beta Kubernetes Features, You Can Have Them

Red Hat has been making a lot of news over the past two weeks, with product and services announcements fairly gushing from the Red Hat Summit online event last week, as well as IBM's online Think event, which is wrapping up today.

Red Hat kept its identity as an open source powerhouse more or less intact after IBM closed the deal to acquire it last year, but Big Blue is definitely leveraging the fruits of that acquisition. Red Hat's OpenShift hybrid cloud application Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), in particular, was in the spotlight at the both events.

A week earlier, I had an opportunity to talk with Brian Gracely, senior director of product strategy in IBM's Red Hat OpenShift group. Gracely lives "at the intersection of new technologies and new business models" (cool image). More from his LinkedIn profile: "Take complex new technologies, figure out the future business opportunities, connect the dots across the industry, simplify it and explain it to people in suits or t-shirts. That's what I do."

Clearly, this was the right guy to help me understand Red Hat's quirky OpenShift feature release strategy. OpenShift is built on the open source Kubernetes project, which has a new release approximately every three months, give or take a day. Within those Kubernetes releases, however, are features and capabilities classified as alpha, beta and GA (generally available).

Red Hat's OpenShift is upgraded on a four-to-six-month release cadence, which puts them about three months behind the open source project releases. "Three months later, we've done the integration testing, scale testing, fixed some bugs and updated our documentation for better training," Gracely told me. "It's a cadence that works for us and our customers."

However, in any given Kubernetes release, there might be -- let's say for the sake of this explanation -- half-a-dozen GA features, maybe 10 or 12 beta features, and 15 or 20 alpha features. Gracely explained, "What we find with customers is that the majority of them want GA stuff only, because those features are going into production and stability is a top concern. But there's also a subset of customers -- sometimes they're in a unique industry; sometimes they have a unique use case -- who want access to those alpha and beta features immediately."

To accommodate the needs of those customers, Red Hat created "channels" through which its customers could have easy access to those features classified as not ready for prime time. "It lets our technology partners have early access to the software," Gracely said. "It lets systems integrators who have to do some follow-on work have access to the software. And it gives customers, who say, 'I need to start testing this new stuff as early you can get it to me' the access they need. It's kind of new a way of distributing Infrastructure Center of software."

Red Hat has refined its understanding of Kubernetes over the years, Gracely said, and compensated for the early limitations of the platform when it came to extensibility and modularity. "Back in 2015, Kubernetes was just kind of a giant hunk of software," he said. "So, as stuff was added to it, it just became a bigger hunk of software, kind of a ball of mud."

Two years into the project, Red Hat made the platform extensible to accommodate new and useful features that needed the platform, but were not part of the Kubernetes core. Originally called third-party resources, they're now known as custom resource definitions (CRDs). "The CRD provides a standard way to extend Kubernetes without breaking the core stuff," Gracely said. "If you have new things to add, here's how you add them in a structured way."

The CRD was developed a year-and-a-half ago. As current examples, Gracely pointed to the service mesh project and serverless -- tech that lives on top of Kubernetes, but remains apart for the core project. But the CRD didn't remain static; it evolved, Gracely said, into "operator patterns."

"Operators are software extensions to Kubernetes that make use of custom resources to manage applications and their components," the org's Web site states. "The Operator pattern aims to capture the key goal of a human operator who is managing a service or set of services. Human operators who look after specific applications and services have deep knowledge of how the system ought to behave, how to deploy it, and how to react if there are problems."

"And so, while we have main versions of Kubernetes that come out, we now have the ability to say, 'Oh, I have an operator extension for something new that doesn't have to be bound to a specific release,'" Gracely said. "And what that means is, 'I don't have to wait for multiple releases in order to get access to something new.' It's another way of adding flexibility to Kubernetes, while staying true to the projects, making sure your APIs are compatible, and not slowing down your ability to ship new software or a new feature.

OpenShift 4.4 was scheduled for general availability this week.

Posted by John K. Waters on May 7, 20200 comments

Online Course Providers Are Making Offers You Can't Refuse

Now that you're working from home and not spending all that time on a daily commute or regular showers, instead of binge-watching back episodes of Rick and Morty, you might want to use that time to up-level your skillset with some online education -- much of which is suddenly very affordable.

Many of the top online technology education providers are offering deals during the lockdown. Pluralsight, for example, has a "Free April" offering that includes free, unlimited access to the Pluralsight Skills platform for the entire month. The company is allowing anyone to access Pluralsight's entire library of more than 7,000 courses during the month.

The Udacity "Quarantine Special" gives enrollees 30 days of free access to many of the classes in the company's catalog, including its newly announced Intel Edge AI for IoT Developers Nanodegree Program, which was developed with Intel and uses the Intel Distribution of OpenVINO toolkit to provide this training. (More on that course in this Pure AI article.)

Udemy's April deals include 90 percent discounts on a number of courses. Introduction To Python Programming is one of a number of free courses currently being offered by the online education provider.

Coursera has a seven-day free trial, and edX has posted a list of coupon promotions and discounts on its Web site.

Clearly, many of you don't need my advice on this subject. (OK, most of you.) Earlier this month, Udemy reported a spike in enrollments in its online courses, including a 62 percent popularity jump during a 30-day period for its Complete Guide to TensorFlow for Deep Learning with Python course, and a 45 percent spike in interest in its ChatBots: Messenger ChatBot - DialogFlow and nodejs course.

Pluralsight's April deal is also drawing quite a crowd. The company is reporting more than 898,000 new sign-ups and over 142,000 skill assessments completed as of Monday. I had a chance to talk with  Gilbert Lee, head of content at Pluralsight, about how the online learning business is going during the lockdown. He said the company's most popular offerings are application development courses, which was true before the lockdown.

"What I think we're seeing now is some urgency around the idea that the world is changing because of the pandemic," Lee told me. "We're all talking about this new reality and what that might mean for all of us going forward. But no one really knows what it will mean, and that creates insecurity. We're seeing all these folks who want to make sure they're skilled up and deep in competitive technology areas -- say, an application developer studying machine learning and AI, which wasn't such a big deal in their jobs before, but has become increasingly important."

There's an irony here, in that the tech sector is proving to be stronger than many other industries during the lockdown. The businesses that have remained open need technology more than ever. (Can I get a "zoom" from somebody!)

"That's right," Lee said, "but not only are the professionals going deeper, but we're seeing a surge of people getting into tech, looking to begin developing new careers."

The company has also put together a deal for Pluralsight One that is less unwieldy for accessing thousands of courses. Plurasight One is a separate program focused on bridging the technology skills gap for nonprofits and educators.

"Throughout the lockdown we will be pursuing our core mission, which is to democratize technology skills," he added. "We're building goodwill and we're providing a tangible benefit and a service we are super proud of."

Posted by John K. Waters on April 23, 20200 comments

Looking for a Few Good (or Bad, or Ugly) COBOL Programmers

Here's an unexpected side effect of the pandemic: increased demand for COBOL programmers. The need seems to be particularly acute among states whose unemployment systems were originally written in the decades-old language -- systems suddenly tasked with processing a record number of unemployment claims. Estimates vary, but it's safe to say that there are a couple hundred billion lines of COBOL code currently in use. And it seems to be gumming up the works.

This news should provoke a bit of déjà vu in more than a few IT industry watchers. Remember Y2K? People were calling it the COBOL Programmers' Re-employment Act, as companies worldwide begged and bribed a virtually retired community to help them make changes to this language nobody seemed to understand anymore.

Meredith Stowell, VP of the IBM Z Ecosystem, wrote about the sudden demand for scarce COBOL expertise in a blog post, in which she also outlined three new initiatives members of the Linux Foundation's Open Mainframe Project have devised to address the immediate need.  

The Open Mainframe Project is a collaborative effort managed by the Linux Foundation to encourage the use of Linux-based operating systems and open source software on mainframe computers. The five-year-old project's members, including IBM, Broadcom, Phoenix Software, Rocket Software, SUSE, Vicom Infinity, and Zoss, developed the initiatives "in response to this urgent need from our public sector officials." They include:

Calling all COBOL Programmers Forum: a new talent portal where employers can connect with available and experienced COBOL programmers. This new initiative provides an immediate way to help connect professionals where needs arise – with skilled talent ready to get to work. This is open to those looking for employment, retired skilled veterans, students who have successfully completed COBOL courses, or professionals wanting to volunteer.

COBOL Technical Forum - a new temporary resource being actively monitored by experienced COBOL programmers providing free advice and expertise during the crisis. This tool will allow all levels of programmers to manage issues, learn new techniques and expedite solutions needed as programmers alter this critical code.

Open Source COBOL Training – a brand new open source course designed to teach COBOL to beginners and refresh experienced professionals. IBM worked with clients and an institute of higher education to develop an in-depth COBOL Programming with VSCode course that will be available next week on the public domain at no charge to anyone.  This curriculum will be made into a self-service video course with hands-on labs and tutorials available via Coursera and other learning platforms next month. The course will be available on IBM's own training platform free of charge.

Hundreds of engineers had made themselves available through the new COBOL talent platform, the Project reported, both for hire and as volunteers. They'll have their hands full: The federal labor department reported 16.8 million unemployment claims were filed between March 15 and April 4.

"This call for skills is a great example of how communities, and in particular open source communities, pulling together can quickly and efficiently address critical needs in times of crisis," said Alan Clark, Open Mainframe Governing Board Member and SUSE CTO.

IBM should get some extra credit for maintaining its own programs to help fill the shallow pool of COBOL coders. "IBM has a long history of investing in mainframe skills," Stowell wrote. "In addition to contributing to the Open Mainframe Project Community Forum and providing expanded open-source training, there are a number of initiatives that IBM has been participating in to address the continuous need for COBOL skills by our community."

Those programs include:

  • IBM Z Academic Initiative: Through the IBM Z Academic Initiative program, IBM actively partners with over 120 schools across the United States located in the vicinity of our clients to integrate critical Enterprise Computing content into curriculum. These courses often include an introduction to COBOL. Over 45 of these schools have specific courses dedicated to COBOL programming and more are added each year.  For example, Bergen Community College in New Jersey includes mainframe content in their curriculum in addition to having a vibrant, active mainframe student club.
  • Master the Mainframe: COBOL is also introduced through our Master the Mainframe program which reached 4,286 students from over 600 schools across the US last year. No charge, COBOL e-learning courses are also available to academic students globally, year-round.
  • Mainframe Application Developer Standard: To help broaden the skill base, IBM has recently developed a Mainframe Application Developer standard in cooperation with a number of clients.  This standard is registered as an apprenticeship with the Department of Labor and COBOL training is incorporated into that standard to meet the demands of the marketplace.
  • A robust ecosystem of partners: COBOL training is offered globally through our ecosystem of partners.  For example, Inter-skill offers a significant number of e-learning courses and approximately 1,000 digital badges have been issued for COBOL.

Posted by John K. Waters on April 16, 20200 comments

Red Hat's Rich Sharples on Java at 25

Java's silver anniversary is right around the corner; in May, the venerable language undergirding acres of the enterprise and still supported by a community of more than seven million developers turns 25. But Java wasn't the only technology hitting the mainstream in 1995. The folks at Red Hat sent me a list of ground-breaking technology platforms, which, "taken as a whole, are the ancestral equivalent of the way we work, play, and live today." The idea was "to put Java and its birth-year brethren in context."

Cool idea.

Windows 95 was the most obvious item on the list, and if you thought about it for a minute, you'd probably recall that Internet Explorer 1.0 was released in 1995. But did you know that the DVD was invented in 1995 and released in late 1996? That the SSL (Secure Socket Layer) protocol was developed in 1994? That the first PlayStation was released in Japan in December 1994 and the rest of the world in 1995? Or that was founded in 1994? Or that JavaScript was created by Brendan Eich the same year James Gosling created Java?

"It's an interesting exercise," Rich Sharples, senior director of product management at Red Hat, told me. "Those are some cool technologies, but I think there's a big difference with some of them, in that consumer tech is rapidly forgotten as soon as there's a better alternative, like DVDs. But programming languages are not like that. They don't get deprecated very quickly, if ever. When people use them to build business critical systems, they can't just stop using them. They have to evolve and be maintained virtually forever."

The COVID-19-driven spike in unemployment claims has driven IBM to reach out to COBOL programmers to help scale those systems, Sharples pointed out. COBOL has been around since 1959. "Imagine if those systems had been built with microservices and four or five different languages," he said. "They probably wouldn't have survived 2 years, let alone 30."  

One big difference between Java and COBOL, of course, is Java's large and active community, which continues to contribute to the evolution of the language and platform. "Java has a bigger ecosystem now than it has at any time in its history," Sharples said. "There are lots of players, old and new, with an interest in Java, including Microsoft. So, there's still plenty of innovation going on in the Java world. People are still building cool stuff with Java."

Red Hat is among those still building the cool stuff. For example, last April the company launched Quarkus, a Kubernetes-native Java framework. The Raleigh, NC-based open-source solutions provider and long-time Java community leader also stepped in last year to assume the stewardship of OpenJDK projects no longer supported, long-term, by Oracle.

"Languages do tend to have a long shelf life, and Java is no exception," Sharples said, "In fact the two languages that top the popularity charts along with Java are Python, which is going through a renaissance with AI and ML, and JavaScript, the duct tape of the web—both of which are older languages. And C++ is always in there, too."

"I said this on the 10th anniversary," Sharples added, "the last Java developer has not been born yet. My 18-year-old daughter is at home from university, where she's been studying AI and machine learning. But in her basic computer science classes the language she's learning is Java."

Posted by John K. Waters on April 15, 20200 comments