It’s cool 20 years later to snicker about the non-event Y2K turned out to be. However, the programmers who spent long hours ensuring it was a non-event get a bit defensive about that — and rightfully so. After all, their hard work — plus an estimated $200 billion to $600 billion investment in IT — prevented the world from a potential meltdown as the clock struck midnight on Jan. 1, 2000. Basically, no one notices IT when the system works.

The origins of Y2K

The so-called “Millennium Bug” was the result of computer code that chopped the “19” off of years in order to save hard drive space. That was fine in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, but when the ’00s rolled around, it was reasonable to expect a computer to roll back to the year 1900 instead of turning to 2000. No one was quite sure what would happen, but there was grave concern about business operations, air travel, medical institutions, and more. (The fears manifested in an NBC made-for-TV movie of dubious quality).

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) urged citizens to prepare for Y2K as they would prepare for a major winter storm, even holding a national Y2K readiness exercise in June 1999. In New York City, city officials prepared for the possibility of a Times Square plunged into darkness.

Y2K prep work proves valuable, more than once

None of that happened. The ball dropped, and thanks to the tireless work of programmers, the lights stayed on, and New Year’s Eve 1999 was just as anticlimactic as the year prior.

Civil infrastructure experts have credited New York’s expansive Y2K prep as the reason the city was able to maintain its operations in the days following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.

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Photo: lazyllama / Shutterstock.

Kate Johanns

Posted by Kate Johanns

Kate Johanns is a communications professional and freelance writer with more than 13 years of experience in publishing and marketing.

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