Do we have really have a reason to be alarmed? : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

I need no other reason to be alarmed at this problem than the fact that it exists at all. We the public are being asked to digest that the collective wisdom of IT professionals, management professionals and political leaders- worldwide, did not have the competence, skill, management practices, and just plain common sense to avoid this problem in the first place.

Remember the eighties? Were the consultant gods at Andersen, Bain, McKinsey, Deloitte & Touche and Gemini advising their clients on this problem? NO! What they were selling was "re-engineering."

Exactly how far up your butt does your head have to be, as the CEO and CIO of AT&T to approve paying Andersen $87 million over a four year period in the early nineties for re-structuring, while at the same time having no idea that your systems don't know what century it is?

And now, those same organizations say "trust us, we are the professionals, there is no reason to be alarmed..."

You so called "professionals" have demonstrated, on scale I would have never thought possible, a level of utter incompetence that for those of us in the "public" seems impossible. You "professionals" have demonstrated that you have absolutely no ability to see, understand, and manage systems on a macro-level. If you could, there would not be a Y2K problem.

There is little that the "pubic" or any individual can do as a reaction to this problem that would even come close to the level of stupidity demonstrated over the last 40 years by the "professionals".

"The public is the problem!" "The media is the problem!" "Al Gore is the problem!" "Bill Gates is the problem!"

No... your collective incompetence is, and has always been, the problem.

-- for real (, January 29, 1999


hey - nobody's perfcet.

-- a (a@a.a), January 29, 1999.

for real,

You've made a good point, and I don't dispute what you're saying. There is an even more basic reason for this problem, though: man created computer in his own image.

We say, "I graduated in '76", so we have the computer store 1976 as "76". Also, and again not disputing the good point that you made, the Pentagon decided on the the two-digit year format in the 1960's, even though it was advised not to.

When corporate America started using computers a lot in the 1970's, two-digit date routines from the 1960's were incorporated into programs written during the 1970's.

Since then, no one has wanted to rock the boat, especially since it would have required extra money to change something that already seemed to be working just fine.

System complexity is now larger than any one individual or group's ability to understand or alter it. It's a short-sightedness that's almost unavoidable.

We've created a Frankenstein monster...

(I'm not a programmer or manager, by the way.)

-- Kevin (, January 29, 1999.

I'm as freaked about y2k as the next GI, but aren't we overlooking the amazing miracles that all this tech DOES perform and IS performing TODAY and every day so far ? It is really pretty amazing anything works at all, let alone as well as it generally does, let's be honest, and give credite where due. Are your lights on ? Is your monitor displaying ? Is your mouse working ? Is your water drinkable ? Flown anywhere lately ? Used your ATM ? Traffic signals up in your town ? Charged anything on VISA today ? Sure all this might be a sucker punch for an ultimate crash, but we have to be honest, it works amazingly well on a world-wide basis today.

-- Blue Himalalyan (bh@k2.y), January 29, 1999.

Kevin, you don't have to be a programmer or a manager to understand this one. A student of human nature and sociology will do.

-- bill dunn (, January 29, 1999.

Some things to think about ....

Why has if taken so long for the Y2K issue to garner the type of attention it deserves? Do you feel there were delays in addressing the problem, even by people who were fully aware of it?

Y2K is, in truth, a horrendously difficult problem that no sane manager would undertake without a gun to his or her head. Why would or should a CIO or MIS director with a two-to-four year life expectancy at any one organization stand up and say "Give me US$40 million and I'll disrupt our whole information infrastructure, put all of our current operations at risk and, if I'm lucky, do something no one else as ever done and prevent a problem many people think is not real and will not in any case happen for years, and otherwise will contribute nothing to our bottom line?" The strategic solution many such managers have planned upon to address Y2K has been, up to now, retirement.

Another, longer-view reason that it has taken so long is that the care and feeding of existing systems has been such a low-status, low-esteem activity. Even the name, "maintenance," smacks of janitorial or "lube and oil-change" work. Ugh! Who cares about that? All of the status and interest has been reserved for new systems, the latest and greatest "new thing." That's fun. Figuring out what other people did and changing it is not much fun.

Even though up to 80 percent of corporate IS spending goes to maintenance programming expenses, most of the interest, even of cost-sensitive corporate management, is in new technology and systems. (The IT industry has a lot to do with that, of course.)

Why this is the case is a fascinating story in itself but is beyond the scope of your questions. But the result is that we have accumulated very little science or engineering expertise in intelligently evolving existing systems. We are fixated only on their initial creation as if that is all that matters. Whatever tools and techniques we have derive from that endeavor and they are ill-suited to the more difficult aspects of system evolution. Go to the Web site of most major universities' computer science departments and check the number of undergraduate and graduate courses available in the maintenance or evolution of existing systems. I could find none in a relatively brief search.

Those that know it is really, really big have not been as forthcoming as they might have been. They do not want the alarmist label or are legitimately fearful of the "shoot the messenger" syndrome.

Many people in the trenches fear that eventually they are going to be blamed for this and they are not apt to hasten that day.


"Fixing" the Y2K problem even in the mid-1970s was economically unpleasant. After that, inertia and habit took over. Also, later systems often had to deal with the existing data, even if the hardware and operating software became more modern underneath. Now, 20 years later, the base of software, and more importantly data, has ballooned like a sun going nova.

There are several aspects of Y2K that most people are unaware of, even people supposedly "in the field." They are, unfortunately, vital aspects. Y2K is not about hardware, firmware and operating software (platforms). It is not about application software and even data. It is not even about users, organizations, economies and nations -- it's about all of them together. You cannot change your computer to a Y2K-safe one and think you have fixed the problem. You still have software that runs on it and, more importantly, data you have accumulated that has great value to you that must be part of the fix.

The big issue is the interdependencies between all of these elements vertically within a system, and horizontally between them, if they share data in some way. If you change one thing, say a program, to make it Y2K-safe in and of itself, what is the effect of that change on other connected and interdependent programs, applications, systems, organizations, etc.? You have to know that and if you don't, the thing affected will let you know the hard way -- by not working the way you expect. If you make your systems Y2K-safe, but other systems you're connected to and share data with are not, or are in a different way than yours, how can you avoid contamination and disruption? To be safe, all of these remediation changes in all of these places have to be made in a coordinated manner, not just sequentially through time, but conceptually, logically and physically in content. We have no history of success with this kind of endeavor at anything approaching this scale.

Yet in spite of the Internet and all of the previous data communication infrastructure, as well as the rich data-sharing that goes on within any large organization and the image of high-tech as ultra-modern, our view of our information systems persists in a 1970s time-warp: We see computers or programs or applications or systems as separate entities we can change at will without regard to other things they are connected to. This illusion of independence is rampant in the unexamined assumptions surrounding Y2K remediation planning and execution. It will bite us badly if we do not wake up.

It is easy to rail against the stupidity and incompetence of others. Does technology dumb us down to the extent we will never be able to identify and overcome our weakness in managing it properly? Is there simply a fatal flaw in us? My personal belief is that neither of these have to be so, but ...

See you on the other side ... Can we (this means all of us) learn from hindsight?

-- Debbie Spence (, January 29, 1999.

Sorry, typos in the link.

-- Debbie Spence (, January 29, 1999.

And Blue, absolutely you make an excellent point. When we think of all that technology does do and that we expect it to do and rely on it to do, and how radically it is changing, it is amazing that it works as well as it does!! (I should tone it down... the Windows development team might be listening)

We are at the very beginning of a very long learning curve which is about to go vertical ... not only for us with our preparations but for us as a society learning how to manage the seeming Frankenstein, if we can. I don't think anyone (well, not most of us) want to just chuck it all. Bill's point about human nature is right on the mark.

-- Debbie Spence (, January 29, 1999.

The corporate hierarchical structure is the reason for Y2K problem.

The grunts see a problem; they mention it to the "pointy-haired/horn-haired" boss (a la Dilbert). If it gets any higher than that, it's a miracle. And it will be ignored then, anyway. "It's going to cost money NOW to fix? Fuggedaboudit."

"if it doesn't crash on my watch, no problemo." But now it IS their watch. HAHAHAHA.

-- vbProg (, January 29, 1999.

Programmers who find bugs in their own code have always been viewed with suspicion. "Trying to drum up a little work, eh? Make yourself look like the big hero? Nobody else has been complaining about your code."

What's amusing is to see management so powerless. They can't spend money on anything that doesn't make money. Didn't the government pass a law allowing businesses to deduct the costs of fixing this problem? If not, they should be allowed to depreciate their software. After all, it's going to be worthless.

-- Amy (, January 29, 1999.

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