Y2K was 20 years ago this week and we seem to have forgotten what it was really like to live through the Y2K crisis. Worse yet, many Y2K people now regard as a sort of prank or hoax in pop culture.
There was no fakery when it came to the Y2K bug and the disasters avoided by dedicated IT folks who programmed their way out of the deepest hole one could imagine to avoid collapse. Sure, your Windows 95 PC made it through Y2K without a hiccup. Of course it did. Y2K never really threatened the consumer PC market. There were crooks who took advantage of people’s ignorance; many believed their home computers were vulnerable to the Y2K crisis.
Failures in both large-scale computing and very small embedded systems were the most immediate threat of Y2K. What if the mainframe at your bank thought it was 1900? What if the microchip that controls the gas pump and charges your credit card thought it was 1900? What if the code that manages satellite trajectories started pulling paths from the year 1900? Worse yet, what if we missed a system after fixing all of these issues? Would that system corrupt all the others?
The truth is, no one knew what would happen and no one wanted to find out the hard way. Thousands upon thousands of programmers spent millions of hours reprogramming decades-old, deeply buried code to ensure the year was always represented in 4 digits. Only when New Year’s Eve turned into New Year’s Day did the Y2K code warriors know they had won the battle – nothing broke. We averted the very real possibility of a society reliant on technology collapsing for weeks, or perhaps even months.
The next time ignorant giggles rise at the mention of Y2K, our technical team begs you to set the story straight. Y2K was no hoax.