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A Million Little Pieces Of My Mind

Heroes of Y2K

By: Judy Backhouse Viewed: 7/22/2024
Posted: 1/1/2002
Page Views: 939
Topics: #C++ #VisualC++ #VisualBasic
What really happened and why Y2K wasn't "hype".

What Really Happened?

by Judy Backhouse

The truly crazy headed for the hills with fortified bunkers and ammunition. The more cautious bought water and tinned food. Even the most optimistic drew some extra cash the week before. Everyone speculated about the outcome.

But in the IT world, we worked. We checked code. We corrected code. We tested code. We rolled dates forward and backward and forward and backward until our nerves were paper-thin. We upgraded hardware. We upgraded operating systems (to cope with the new hardware). We upgraded compilers (to cope with the new operating systems). We modified more code (to cope with the new compilers).

And then we began the cycle again of testing and rolling forward and testing and rolling backward.

We initiated great, complex Y2k projects. We compiled project plans. We filled in endless forms about the state of our Y2k projects. We wrote monthly reports about the progress of the Y2k projects. We went to meetings where we were told how the future of the company depended on the Y2k project being completed in time. We dealt with panicked business people. We soothed troubled nerves at dinner parties. We were asked to predict the outcome by distant cousins who knew we were "in IT". We became overnight experts in the working of diesel generators, photocopiers, motor vehicles and washing machines.

And, collectively, we averted the disaster.

Like Superman, the IT professionals of today managed to intercept nothing less than the end of the world. In an industry where projects run notoriously over the most pessimistic time estimates, we met the deadline.

The clocks ticked over to the year 2000 with nothing more than minor hitches.

And were they grateful? Did the world thank us and laud us as the heroes we quite clearly were?


They turned around and called it "all hype".

They questioned the money spent.

We did our jobs so damned well that the only question remaining was whether there had been any need to do the job at all.

So, to all those IT people out there who slaved away at the Y2K problems over the past few years, who endured the pressure of fearful but helpless managers; who lost endless sleep testing things at night because there wasn't a separate test machine; who cancelled their December leave; who couldn't be in exotic places to welcome the start of the new millennium; who stayed sober on New Year's eve because they were on standby; who went to work on the 1st and the 2nd to boot up the machines: I say put your feet up, pat yourselves and each other on the back and go and get some much needed sleep with a smug smile on your face.

We did it.

The IT people across the planet are heroes—even if unsung ones. Like housework, what we do is not appreciated unless we don't do it. But like the housewives of old we go on doing it, knowing that it is good, honest, necessary work - and that it gives us inordinate power.

So, my fellow programmers, system administrators, database administrators, operators, analysts and support staff - congratulations on a job well done.

Ours may be the youngest profession on the planet, but this 21st century belongs to us.

Additional comment by my friend, Kathy Gifford:

I'd like to add my own entry to this:

We did all of this while putting up with stupid, ignorant, and very thoughtless management who, after the Y2K effort was successfully completed, could do nothing but complain. Complain about how much we cost the company in doing this; complain about how much opportunity was lost because of taking the time to do this. Complain because we insisted on doing the process correctly; and when told to do so, insisted on documenting and bringing to light all of the improper shortcuts originally insisted upon by management. Complain that we, the lowly grunts, did not read their ever changing minds so that we could apply their wishes to processes that completed months before. And finally, complain that we are not willing to put in more 15 hour days to get caught up, in the next 2 months, on all of the work that was put on the backburner for the last 12 months. What a bunch on ungrateful misfits we must be.

I guess this meant that, in spite of what we were told before, the future of the company could not or does not justify the expense.

My Last Word on the Subject

As an instructor of Windows programming, I knew the state of Corporate America at the start of 1999. I knew companies that had lied to the government about their state of Y2K readiness; companies who refused to upgrade their software; companies who made a big public show of giving classes to achieve Y2K readiness but wouldn't allow their programmers one uninterrupted week to learn how to do it. Frankly, I was terrified.

That's why I taught almost every week last year, about twice my normal schedule. Many weekends I couldn't return home at all, because I had classes in distant cities, back-to-back.

Fortunately, my estimate of our collective ability to avoid disaster was off…and I now know why it was off. I had based my estimate on the preparedness of management, when it was really in the hands of the programmers.

World-wide, we had one nuclear power plant incident, one major city with a brief power outage, a few humorous incidents regarding paperwork with "1900" on them…but nothing major. Oh, sure, we had "a clear indication of an incoming attack" reported by one of our generals on the news on January first. This general went on to say that we were "pretty sure it was a glitch," and, apparently, it was.

Nothing major!

So I, too, thank the hundreds of thousands of rank-and-file programmers who managed to keep it all from ending. Non-programmers, it seems, will never know how close we came to losing it all.