Are we still bugged by the millennium bug?

Twenty years ago, governments across the world were warning the public to prepare for the ‘millennium bug’ and there was a growing level of panic. The Japanese government warned people to prepare by stocking up on two to three days’ supply of food and water and to keep records of financial transaction and receipts. 

The US claimed to be ahead of other countries and had been ‘addressing the Y2K issue’ for about ten years, setting aside a federal budget of more than US$7.5 billion to fix the bug. The Federal Reserve though had estimated that each US household would withdraw an average of US$500 in the days leading up to 1 January 2000. But there was a risk that the public could panic at the last minute and withdrawn much more from their bank accounts…

Stories circulated in the media that planes would potentially ‘drop out of the sky’ and this wasn’t helped by announcements, such as one from the Israeli government to say that Ben Gurion airport would be shut on New Year’s Eve with no take-offs or landings that day or on 1 January. 

In the UK, an eight-page pull-out – provided by the Government-backed Action 2000 - was placed in British newspapers, which provided advice about how to prepare household technology including answer phones and fax machines. It also dispelled myths, confirming that equipment such as lawn mowers and hedge trimmers wouldn’t be affected… 

The issue which was causing all the worry wasn’t a bug as such, but the limitations of the clocks inside computers and whether when it saw 00 the computer would understand it as 1900 and not 2000. 

As it transpired, there were very few bug-related incidents, apart from instances such as bus ticket validation machines in Australia failing and the official timekeeper in the US, the Naval Observatory, reporting the date as 19100 on its website. 

People tend now to remember the ‘millennium bug’ as a ‘fuss about nothing’ and an ‘over-hyped’ event. But it might simply have been that the planning ahead saved any catastrophes. 

“We achieved our aim,” said Gwynneth Flower, who was Managing Director of Action 2000 at the time. “With hindsight it is easy to say there was not a problem. Now we take all our vital services and their interdependencies for granted. British Telecom has said some of its exchanges would have crashed. It only takes a tiny fault and the whole lot comes crashing down."

Ian Jepp, our Managing Director at Lake Solutions, remembers doing a  huge amount of over-time during that Christmas and New Year period and says what he has particularly taken away from that time is that you ‘can’t underestimate how long code which has been written will still be around for’.

He adds: “It really brought it home to me about creating high quality code at all times, as I still see code developed today with the mentality of ‘this will do for now’.  While people tend to think that the millennium bug was something which simply didn’t happen, there was a huge amount of work going on 24/7 to prevent it.”

For us here at Lake Solutions, creating quality code is vital, as that quick fix may still be running on a system somewhere for many years to come yet!

If you want to know more about how Lake Solutions can help your organisation build content and code which lasts, give us a call. 

Article Details

Ian Jepp
04 December 2019