Hats Off to the Y2K Warriors

By now you are sick of reading about how Y2K was, in the words of the popular media, a non-event.

Of course it was. But what John Q. Public doesn't realize is how much of your sweat and blood went into ensuring it was a non-event.

In fact, even as we gladly begin to put it all behind us, the world seems to feel kind of gypped. After all, there is nothing like a pending disaster to bring people together.

It's the basic storm mentality. People are downright congenial when they're socking away provisions for a coming blow. Chatter in supermarkets increases and neighbors suddenly have something to say to people they don't otherwise talk to.

Y2K was even better conversation material because it lasted for more than a year and it wasn't regional. You could talk Y2K to complete strangers almost regardless of location or vocation. Case in point: I was making a Christmas visit to the 98-year-old woman whose house I bought a few years ago, and when I went to leave she asked if I would mind fixing her flashlights "in preparation for Y2K."

But after the big buildup, all the public had to satisfy its hunger for disaster was a few wafer-thin glitches. For example, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms had to shut down its Firearms Licensing System when it couldn't read the date on applications.

John Koskinen, chairman of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion, last Monday reported that he had spoken to 36 state government Y2K coordinators, of which 18 had no glitches to report. The other 18 had only minor problems.

More interesting, Koskinen said one state had replaced three non-mission-critical systems "related to correspondence and message tracking," but left the old systems running. All three failed at the appointed hour.

Unfortunately, not enough of that kind of information will circulate to validate your hard work. The industry so thoroughly eradicated the bugs that the public was left thinking the whole thing was overblown.

So be it.

What is annoying, however, are the doomsayers who won't let it go. They're already out there wagging their fingers and shouting that we haven't seen the last of Y2K yet. They're probably right, but only to some small degree. For the moment, let's revel in our success.

-- John Dix

jdix@nww.com

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