I have, time and time again in the past few years, come across some reference to the Y2K issue in the media. And all the references have been negative in nature.

“Y2K? That was nothing.”

“Y2K? Just a tactic to get people scared so that corporations can make more money.”

“Y2K was a fake bomb.”

Having been in the IT sector for more than 8 years I have to say that I have had enough of these accusations and will try and set the record straight.

Y2K was a legitimate threat to various software and hardware systems around the world. To those who were not aware of what Y2K was, here is a little synopsis :-

Programming took off in the manufacturing and financial
industries in the 70s and 80s in a big way. That’s when
the standards and procedures were hashed out and laid
in stone. These were the times when programmers pretty
much decided on what rules to put on stone without really
looking at the consequences 3 to 4 decades hence. So the
programmers of the day merrily went on to create stellar
software and hardware products. These products basically
continue to be used in one form or other till today including the
practices and procedures of the 70s and 80s were also
used leading to devastating situations.

In the early 90s, reports came out of America that some tests
which were being carried out for a company with the simulated
date as 1st Jan 2000 had failed with some catastrophic results.
Why? Because one of the procedures that was practiced by
all the programmers and hardware experts, on a fairly large
scale, was to use only 2 digits for the year instead of 4. Why
is that an issue, you ask? Because of this form of representation
of the year, the year 2000 would have been read by these
millions of products out there in the market as ’00’, in other
words the year 1900!!

Imagine your insurance policy was to mature on 1st Jan. 2000 and you were expecting to receive $75,000. But the application which calculates the matured amount failed to recoganise ’00’ as 2000 and recoganised it as 1900, your actual matured amount is calculated as $75!! This is but a small example of the problems that could occur in 2000. The problems could occur in programs in Insurance companies, hospitals, airports, emergency services etc. The list is endless.

The key to Y2K solution was recoganising that there was a problem. This was quickly established by numerous experts in all sectors of various industries around the world. Studies were carried out and education of the customers began in earnest.

Y2K was a demonstration of recognition of the problem, organisation of the resources, laying of plans of carrying out the Y2K project, executing the plan by all the companies around the world bar none. That is a fact. I have worked in a IT shop that created software to help companies have their applications Y2K ready, I have worked for a company that executed a Y2K plan, I have worked for a company that consulted other companies on how to be Y2K ready. The organisation of all these companies I worked for was exceptional and everyone, from CEO to junior programmer, rallied around the task of eliminating the Y2K problem. And this was not the case in one or two companies, this level of organisation was witnessed around the world. This is why, nowadays project managers often consult the documentation related to Y2K to enhance their current projects.

Why were Y2K projects so successful around the world? Simply because everyone recoganised the problem. This was the most striking part of the Y2K issue. Everyone, including a small shop owner in the middle of Bahrain’s slum shopping areas, knew what the problem was. This helped management pass some difficult decisions. E.g. the decision to curtail some expensive project and move the resources to Y2K project; The decision to stop all projects until the Y2K issue was over etc. This was a mass movement which, to a degree, helped IT garner more attention in the eyes of the senior management and the public at large.

So the next time someone tells you that Y2K was a hoax, you know better. Y2K was a problem to which the world rose to the occasion and helped tame the problem. The problem was that the MSM needed a doomsday scenario in order to sell more newspapers and TVware. Which is why it was hyped so much and when there was no problem (as a result of stupendous reaction from all the organisations world over), the responders were blamed and not the “hypers”.

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