It’s time to build a better software developer experience

It’s time to build a better software developer experience

The job of a software developer is constantly evolving as organisations transform to meet new digital realities. This isn’t just true for developers of customer-facing technologies. As cloud-based solutions expand, they often require increased engagement with the mainframe, which means developers on IBM Z must also adapt to manage new business problems with greater quality, velocity and efficiency.

To do this, organisations must introduce a new path to engineering excellence that enables multi-platform developers to cut through the boring, unchallenging minutiae of day-to-day work so their energy can be invested in ideas, experimentation and innovation.

Time for a new software developer experience

In short, the software developer experience needs to be transformed. Businesses need to look at what developers encounter when they analyse a COBOL program (Common Business Oriented Language), what happens when they edit, test and deploy code and what culture, processes and tools they are being offered.

These are key components to ensuring developers continuously improve at solving new business challenges that involve the mainframe.

If the traditional developer experience on the mainframe is still in use – notorious for siloed culture, rigid, experiment-averse processes and text-based ‘green screen’ tools – businesses can’t expect to attract the talented next-gen programmers they desperately need to commit as the next stewards of their most mission-critical platform.

Businesses cannot count on talented new developers to pay a personal tax in time, effort and inspiration for digitally subpar culture, processes and tools in the face of escalating expectations. This is the same as hoping competitors will throttle their own innovation to ensure a rival organisation has time to catch up.

It’s not going to happen.

Modernise COBOL development

There’s no way to successfully transform an enterprise with Agile and DevOps practices without applying them across the entire organisation. Setting up developers with a culture of continuous improvement, processes that enable collaboration and agility and modern tools that integrate the mainframe into the DevOps toolchain increases the amount of energy and creativity they will put into solving business problems.

There are six key ways businesses can start building a better developer experience that will empower individuals to innovate with quality, velocity and efficiency and drive unique, competitive value to a business and its customers:

  1. Modernise the development experience: COBOL experts have been using the green screen for decades. They’ve had time to master it. However, businesses simply don’t have time to waste the talent of next-gen programming prodigies on learning archaic tools. They can learn COBOL no problem, but businesses need to get them familiar and comfortable coding on the mainframe. That means setting them up with a modern, intuitive IDE that looks like one for any other platform.
  2. Provide intuitive program visualisation: COBOL programs are large, complex and often poorly documented. Both experienced and inexperienced COBOL programmers need visualisation during analysis to understand what they’re working on. Visualisation helps as developers can actually see what a program touches and how it makes calls. This accelerates understanding and shortens the distance between identifying a problem and solving it with the right code changes.
  3. Automate testing: Testing is a significant point of friction in mainframe software delivery. Developers should be able to run automated unit tests and functional tests as they make changes, to ensure they aren’t breaking things. This will generate higher-quality code and reduce testing bottlenecks down the delivery pipeline.
  4. Enforce coding standards: To code with speed and quality, developers should have an efficient, automatic error-detection system in place that prompts them to make corrections as they code, ensuring what they write meets established standards before promoting it.
  5. Streamline knowledge sharing: Building a cross-generational community amongst developers, improving understanding and increasing productivity are all vital. Businesses should have in place a way for experienced developers to share their methods, techniques and assets with less-experienced colleagues, making it easier to transfer knowledge and easier to onboard new developers.
  6. Enable continuous improvement through feedback and metrics: Developers should be empowered to continuously improve. Businesses need a way to correlate their behaviours with key performance indicators, as this will help them understand what works and what doesn’t. Developers can then be coached like high-performance athletes based on the data accrued, ensuring their continued success—and, therefore, an organisation’s success.


Customer-facing innovation is tied to business-critical mainframe code and data, and this can either be a constraint on innovation or a liberator of the value needed to achieve enterprise-level digital transformation.

Unleashing that value requires a transformation of the COBOL developer experience, which is only possible through modernising mainframe culture, processes and tools so developers can focus on innovation instead of managing the intricacies of the platform. It’s time to make COBOL an essential challenge of a worthy endeavour.

Christopher O’Malley, CEO, Compuware