The Y2K problem

This letter to the editor of the Montreal Gazette appeared  in an edited form in the 1998-5-30 edition with the title “”Programmers can do in millenium bug”

The millenium bug has received a great deal of editorial comment. Hapless users of elevators, automobiles, banks, governments and all the other products, institutions, and services that use computers are happy that serious efforts are now being made to correct software bugs, introduced years and decades ago, which will in twenty short months begin to compromise the operation of countless computers. As the Washington Post editorial “Cashing in on Y2K” (Gazette 11 May 1998) points out, many entrepreneurs, consultants, marketers, and charlatans of all kinds stand to benefit from the bug. However, only programmers will be able to find and fix the bug itself.

As a former programmer who worked for a well-known Montreal aerospace firm in the early 1970’s, I vividly recall a sign which some wag had posted over the doorway of a large hall where many programmers had their desks. The sign had a hand-drawn picture of an insect, with the caption “This is a program bug. Look after it well. Your job depends on it.”

A savvy programmer of the day, perhaps speculating that programmer salaries would double or triple due to skyrocketing demand for their services as the millenium looms, as in fact is happening, might be tempted to downplay the consequences and emphasize the memory savings resulting from programming in this easily-avoidable “bug”.

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