Y2K: have you hugged an IT worker today?

Nothing happened on Jan. 1. Thank you.

Looking back on the ferment caused by Y2K, it is clear that Charles Dickens is a better prognosticator than some modern day observers. Back in 1859, Mr. Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities summed up Y2K pretty well: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…”

Foolishness and incredulity we certainly had. Nervous citizens purchased propane and Spam, built bunkers and learned hand-to-hand combat. One budding Toronto survivalist, interviewed by the Toronto Star on Dec. 29 as she shopped for a propane camp stove, speculated on what could happen: “If for some reason there’s no more food, then I’ll have to hunt for it, won’t I?” Then there’s the Ontario guy who was ready to lead a group of 50 into his subterranean shelter. He has spent 18 years burying 42 school buses, and the last days of December found him busily stocking the warren with Y2K supplies.

Fortunately, we also had an “epoch of belief” of sorts. National polls conducted by Environics in November found only 24 per cent of Canadians “very” or “somewhat” concerned about date-related computer crashes.

Those worries led many to buy a box of candles and some extra canned food and bottled water. This was a reasonable reaction, advocated by both the Red Cross and the Canadian Military, among others. My own preparations amounted to fresh batteries for the Playskool flashlight my daughter Katarina got from Santa. In case of widespread disaster, I could choose to dial a green or red filter over the flashlight’s bulb, depending on my mood at the time.

Fortunately, I never had to make that choice, and for that I thank all the IT people in Canada. You worked long hours and dealt with a lot of stress. You put up with skeptical management and anxious users.

Many of you also made a lot of money doing it, but it got done and that’s what matters.

As of press time (Jan. 5) there have been no major Y2K-related problems. Considering the thousands of business-critical, date-dependent calculations that occur in Canada every day, that is an impressive achievement. Glitches will probably pop up in the coming weeks, but making it this far unscathed is cause for celebration.

Dickens also said it was the age of wisdom. That refers to the CEOs, presidents and boards of directors which funded all this work, but it also applies to those retailers which were smart enough to make it clear, well before Jan. 1, that they would not accept returns on Y2K-related merchandise.

And that brings us to the worst of times. After the sweat, the stress, and the expenditure of billions comes legions of chuckle-heads who point to the absence of disasters as evidence vendors and IT workers exaggerated the scope of the problem just to make money.

For Y2K workers, the job was to ensure nothing failed, and now they are under fire because nothing failed. If only the naysayers could be fixed as easily as code.