OK, Enough With The Y2K Hoax BS

OK, Enough With The Y2K Hoax BS

It was just one of twenty panels on a graphic celebrating the 20th anniversary of TechEd in Australia. But it made my blood boil. “’00: Y2K does not happen. Life goes on.” I expect that kind of uninformed trolling on forums. I don’t expect it at a technical conference.

If you’re too young to remember, the Y2K problem, often referred to as the millennium bug, was the challenge of dealing with older software which wasn’t designed to recognise dates after 2000. Space was absolutely at a premium in the first few decades of computing, so coding to recognise four-digit dates simply didn’t happen. That didn’t seem like a problem in 1970 or earlier, but it was a problem once 2000 hit, since you could no longer assume the first two digits of a date based on the last two digits. The behaviour of some of those old systems was unpredictable, and in many cases the COBOL coders who had worked on it had long since retired.

I began working as an IT journalist in 1994, and how to deal with the Y2K bug was one of the most persistent topics we covered. Changing those entrenched systems was fiddly, expensive and time consuming, but the process started early. As a result, by the time 2000 actually rolled around, most major issues had been dealt with.

Prior to Y2K, the most dire predictions suggested that most utilities in the world would fail and we’d all be forced into a survivalist scenario, eating baked beans and plucking spare clothing from corpses. Post-2000, a different tinfoil hat scenario emerged: that the entire thing was a con, designed to give cushy work to programmers, and that if we’d ignored them, it would have made no difference. That’s essentially the attitude conveyed in the image pictured.

It’s stupid, it’s dishonest and it’s wrong. There wasn’t a major issue with the Y2K bug, but that wasn’t because the potential didn’t exist. It was because numerous IT workers put in significant effort to make sure their software would function correctly. That doesn’t deserve mocking or a casually dismissive attitude.

Date-related problems frequently occur in computing. For instance, many 32-bit systems may experience problems when we reach 2038. In Excel, you can’t perform calculations on dates earlier than 1 January 1900. The complex and arbitrary nature of dates (uneven month and year lengths plus calendar changes) mean this will probably always be the case. We have to code in a way that’s mindful of these issues — and we shouldn’t pretend that never happens.

Disclosure: Angus Kidman travelled to TechEd Australia as a guest of Microsoft.


  • Agreed. The whole Y2K thing was a perfect example of people actually putting in a concerted international effort to solve a major problem. The fact that nothing major happened should be celebrated as a success, rather than thought of as an “over dramatisation” of the problem, as most people think.

  • I was involved in y2k remediation work including SCADA PLCs, fire alarm systems, Access databases and PC BIOS issues. It was overhyped by the media, but it was a also lot of very complicated work. With no thanks afterwards.

  • Also say that Microsoft’s very poor date handling by allowing only two digit years in their software at the time was particularly unhelpful so they were part of the problem.

  • I don’t think that is the prevailing attitude. There was a certain hysteria surrounding Y2K eve (people buying baked beans and going into their bunkers) and the graphic is just a joke about how the world didn’t end.

    I’m not in the IT industry but I know that Y2K didn’t happen because people worked on the problem for years. I’m pretty sure most people are aware of that. Hell it was big news for years! Everything had stickers on it.

    I think this is just being super sensitive about your own personal interests.

    I do the exact same thing about the law, health and nutrition, and exercise physiology.

    HOWEVER, if there is empirical evidence that shows that a disturbingly large amount of the people do have the wrong impression of Y2K then that would immediately reverse my position and I’m completely open to that happening.

  • That’s not how I read the slide.. To me it looks like a note on a timeline at 2000 commenting that the disasters mentioned in the article predicted did not occur and life moved on
    (it doesn’t elaborate on why the disasters didn’t occur, but it was probably tongue in cheek)

    Anyway, the conspiracy theories were well and truly in existence before 2000! It’s not a post-2000 phenomenon..

  • And I suppose the astronauts really went to the moon too!

    That was a joke comment. we all know that the astronauts left a reflector on the moon. And in that well known documentary, “The Big Bang Theory”, we saw the protagonists fire a laser at the moon, and measure the reflected signal. Luckily, they set the laser to stun, so that the moon did not blow up.

  • The same bold action needs to be taken with regard to carbon reduction and climate change.
    Governments and industry need to be persuaded to take action very quickly in spite of denialists who do not believe it.

  • I agree, the slide to me comes across as “Y2K – absolutely nothing happened, no-one did anything, it was all lies and we moved on unaffected”

    What the slide should probably of said was “’00’ – Overcome the Y2K bug. Life goes on.”

  • I don’t think they were saying that it was a hoax, just that the imminent disaster claimed by many did not eventuate.

    If something this insignificant makes your blood boil, maybe you ought to take the advice occasionally put on her about meditation. Or get a valium prescription. Or find something actually important to get angry about.

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