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Why Y2K was far from an embarrassment

Farhad over at slate is doing a two-part piece on Y2K – ten years later, and I can’t help but comment. On January 2nd, 2000, while everyone was coming out of their bomb shelters giving a collective “Pffft”, I always thought the fact that nothing happened was a grand testament to how well the problem was resolved. But for whatever reason, everyone figured it was a big waste of time and money.

Come to think of it, that’s kind of the burden of the IT profession in general… if there aren’t any problems, and all anyone can see is you kicking back at your desk, then it means you are doing a damn good job (while everyone thinks you get paid way too much to sit on your arse).

Anyhow, the extensive first part is online now… totally worth a read if you have time. Here’s the last paragraph:

Indeed, looking back at the record, this remains one of the most interesting facts about Y2K—the whole world worked together to prevent an expensive problem. When people first became aware of the computer bug in the early 1990s, Y2K was easy to dismiss—it was a far-off threat whose importance was a matter of dispute, and which would clearly cost a lot to fix. Many of our thorniest problems share these features: global warming, health care policy, the federal budget, disaster preparedness. So what made Y2K different? How did we manage to do something about it, and can we replicate that success for other potential catastrophes? For answers, stay tuned for Part 2.

The only thing Y2K and global warming do not have in common is a well defined, un-relenting, un-alterable deadline. I just hope people in charge of today’s problems aren’t the type that scoffed at our Y2K efforts on January 2nd.

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