Why didn’t Y2K problem end the world?



Why didn’t Y2K problem end the world?

In: Engineering

People saw it coming, and spent years preparing by having engineers and programmers work really hard to alter every computer still being used so that when the date changed, it’d go from 1999 to 2000, instead of 99 to 00, and cause major problems and errors.

It was a serious issue, and was treated seriously and fixed before it could cause major problems.

Because people anticipated the problem and worked hard to correct for it. It’s estimated that the world spent about $300 billion on Y2K preparation.

By the time the year 2000 actually rolled around, almost all computer systems were upgraded or patched to be Y2K compliant. There were only a few actual computer failures or errors from unpatched systems.

Once the alarm was raised loud enough that people started to take it serious, systems were tested in stimulations, code or equipment was identified as problematic and either fixed, replaced or a work around created. I was part of that effort and by the time it was ready to roll over to 2000, I was pretty confident all would be okay. I will say that we had to replace some outdated systems at our company as they absolutely failed at cut over. This would have resulted in some slowdowns in production but we would have limped along.

Because a lot of work was done to check and fix lots of software.
The risk of a serious problem was always low, but not impossible, so every reasonable means had to be taken to prevent something going wrong, otherwise companies could have lost billions in compensation claims.
In truth it brought forward investment in new solutions by a few years and made some consulting firms and contractors lots of money.

There was more potential for banking payments to be rejected due to bad dates rather than planes to fall out of the sky (in my opinion) but they landed all the planes overnight just in case.

Where I worked we had one system failure after Y2K that was due to the date programming: at the end of February the payroll went from 28 Feb 2000 to 1 March 2000. We waited a day and reset the clock. (Leap Years are divisible by 400). People had already had their February pay and we did a manual adjustment.

The Y2K problem wasn’t really a problem to begin with. Programs had been designed with a two digit year and there was fear that the computers would mistake 2000 as 1900 and cause glitches. Very few problems arose.

> Countries such as Italy, Russia, and South Korea had done little to prepare for Y2K. They had no more technological problems than those countries, like the U.S., that spent millions of dollars to combat the problem.


It was barely a problem to start with. Most dates weren’t encoded with years stored as two-digit numbers. It was already much more common to store dates as UNIX timestamps, i.e., the number of seconds since the first of January 1970, for instance.

Much of the concern was overblown.

A powerplant wouldn’t stop working because it suddenly thought it was a hundred years earlier, for example. The power would still flow.

Any systems that might have had a problem would have been worked on for months before. Switches from the savage two-digit problem were either changed to understand it meant a new century, it were changed to a more forward-thinking date use. The systems that didn’t get changed were largely found to not be critical or dramatically impacted.

There’s another potential problems as the “milliseconds since 1 January 1970” that many systems use will run out of milliseconds in 2038, if they use 32-bit integers. People are changing these systems as well.

The problem was the worry that the change in date would cause problems for computer equipment – that older systems that only saved the date in a two digit format would throw an error when the date tried to count above the maximum value of ’99’, and would fail rather than rolling back to ’00’.

If this error happened somewhere important – the software running banking transactions for example, or coordinating the power grid – then there could be serious problems until it was repaired.

The reason nothing much actually happened? Ultimately because we were well prepared.
The problem had been long identified, so the majority of modern tech at that point was immune to the problem anyway – with the date being stored as four digits rather than two.
For the tech remaining, the hazards of the millenium’ bug were well broadcast, and we had all had plenty of time to test everything that needed testing, and patch anything that needed patched.

At midnight, everything ticked over correctly, and a lot of IT workers breathed a sigh of relief that they had done their job properly and fixed everything in advance, and everyone else questioned what the worry was about, as nothing actually happened…