Surviving Y2K: What did we learn from the biggest tech scare in history?

Surviving Y2K: What did we learn from the biggest tech scare in history?


Many of our younger folks really don’t realize
that the year 2000 or Y2K digital transformation was perhaps the biggest digital transformation
to date across the world. So here’s a little bit of context. Y2K as a programming problem was caused because
two digits were allocated to computing related to the year. So 98 instead of 1998 which is perfectly fine
until then you added one for next year. So 98 plus one is 99 and then 99 plus one
is 100 which was three digits. Suddenly it was not two digits. And so as a result of this programming was
actually going to explode. Planes were going to fall out of the sky. Banks were going to go bust. And so this was a real catastrophe. And this is one of the reasons why I consider
the organizational changes that happen and how the world came together to successfully
drive Y2K conversion as one of the most successful examples that humanity has of digital transformation. Here’s what happened to drive successful
resolution of digital transformation during Y2K. Y2K was such a massive challenge that it would
take every programmer that wrote their program to go back and change it. So there was no way on earth a central authority
was going to coordinate all of the changes that happen. However, there were several things at play
that made this possible. One was there was clear understanding even
among politicians that really didn’t know what Y2K was. There was understanding that this was important
and so space was made to give technology organizations the room to go get it done. And that kind of empowerment is absolutely
essential when you’re faced with a massive change. The second thing that happened was the empowerment
of local teams. So every person, every IT organization whether
they work for a massive company or a small mom and pop shop knew that they had to protect
their own programs and they did whatever was necessary in order to get that done. And the third thing was the clarity of the
goals. The deadline was very clear. It was going to be December 31, 1999 and you
had to get it done or all bad things could potentially happen. And that’s really what worked in our favor. The entire world came together to make Y2K
successful and it did. There were no major catastrophes. I remember Jan. 1 came around. I was celebrating in Florida with the family. We kept a close eye on TV and all I could
see was celebration.

32 thoughts on “Surviving Y2K: What did we learn from the biggest tech scare in history?”

  1. 𝕍𝕆𝕃𝔸𝕀ℝ𝔼

    The fact that people actually thought toilets would stop flushing for Y2K was very concerning

  2. The Y2K scare was what happens when you have a lot of ignorant people. It NEVER was a major problem. I was a computer programmer and understood the problem. The worst thing that would have happened if nothing was don would of been your electric bill would be wrong. It was really laughable and quite sad at the same time. It did highlight the importance of a good education that teaches critical thinking.

    I have a cousin who for for 3 months wouldn't leave his apartment expecting the worse. He really thought planes would fall out of the shy, power plants would explode, cars, buses, trains would all crash, ships at sea would all sink, damns will collapse, etc… He is also a Luddite so he saw me as the enemy. Then on December, 31, 1999 at 11:59:58 tick tick and… nothing. Did this change his mind about the work I did? No, he still thinks technology is evil. I do not talk to him even at family gatherings.

  3. Our time clocks failed 9 September 1999, and again 1 Jan 2000. Y2K was not overblown. The problems it caused seem trivial now because we got a head of the problem. The consequences for not getting ahead of it could have been severe. Especially when you consider foreign militarizes. We can fix our stuff, but we can't also fix their stuff. Will it work? Who knows!

  4. Soumen Bhattacharya

    I must say it was a man-made creation of the problem. In my school days never have we written or learned to write four digit year. All manual as well as computer forms were having two blank space reserved. Didn't they understand that 99+1would lead to year 00

  5. I vaguely remember it now but whatever might have happened it was nothing compared to the following year(9/11😒)

  6. Big money scare got the job done. Companies were afraid of law suits if you failed your customer by not fixing a known problem. We spent a full year going through code to fix it, test it. That is one of the reasons everyone now looks back and says no big deal, but maybe you had no programs written in Cobol you had to support πŸ™‚

  7. Most of it was overblown, meant to sell consulting services. I remember one jerk on TV that claimed refrigerators would quit. Give me a break! But there WAS a system that I had worked on some years prior that wasn't Y2K compliant and must have needed a LOT of work, especially in the scheduling aspects. If it weren't fixed, people would not be able to see future events because the scheduler would have listed them as 100 years in the past.

  8. Of course, anyone with a brain (or a thirty-year-mortgage) knew already that much of the Y2k "problem" had to have been addressed as early as 1970! – j q t –

  9. A huge amount of effort went into addressing the problems that Y2K presented, and of course there are always plenty of dimwits to suggest that it was a myth because there then subsequently weren't massive failures. If nothing had been done to address the problem, and then there had been failures, those same dimwits would have had some other instant conspiracy-theory based nonsense to fall back on. Never argue with a dimwit.

  10. I took my kids to Disneyland for Y2K. The park had an emergency center set up just in case, and thankfully they had nothing to do all night, but we did get commemorative champagne glasses, a Y2K crystal paper weight with an embedded clock, and branded flashlights.

  11. Next: January 19, 2038, at 03:14:08 UTC

    That's assuming we still use signed 32-bit integers for storing clock data in 2038.

    Assuming anyone is using unsigned 32-bit int, their scare is extended to 06:28:15 UTC on Sunday, 7 February 2106.

  12. I was in supply chain at a utility company…all of vendors had to commit to being y2k compliant. Also, I bought 60 satellite (not cell) phones for "key management" which included a 1 year contract for each phone. P.O. was close to 150k. The phones were activated for about 24 hours, then turned off, never used again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *