Y2K, the Bad: Fear, hype and the blame game

Tech-wise, Millennium Eve was so quiet, some started to wonder -- did IT overspend on Y2K?

Editor's note: This is part II of our series, "Y2K: The good, the bad, and the crazy." If you missed it, see Part I, "Y2K, the Good." And check out "Y2K, the Crazy" as well. Also, share your stories of how you spent Millennium Eve. Working? Partying? Or a little of both?

The Y2K bug may have been IT's moment in the sun, but it also cast a long shadow in its wake.

The years and months leading up to the year 2000 were a hard slog for virtually everyone in IT, from project managers to programmers. Then, after IT definitively slayed the Y2K beast, IT executives were greeted not by cheers but with suspicious questions.

Was the Y2K threat overblown? Had the managers that controlled the purse strings been hoodwinked into paying for far more tech upgrades than were necessary? No good deed, as they say, goes unpunished. Welcome to the dark side of Y2K.

Fear ruled the day

Even as they were working to prevent a potential Y2K catastrophe, techies had another disaster in mind -- a career catastrophe. Many IT organizations were given the funds they had requested to do the job right, but they were was also on the hot seat to deliver what was for many organizations the single biggest IT project they had ever undertaken.

"People were scared for their jobs and their reputations," says Dick Hudson, who was CIO at oil drilling company Global Marine Inc. at the time.

Staffers feared that if they were fired for failing to remedy Y2K problems, the stigma would prevent them from ever getting a job in IT again. "Then there was the fear that someone like Computerworld would report it, and it would be on the front page," Hudson says.

It wasn't an unfounded concern -- in the months leading up to the new millennium, the technology, business and even mainstream media covered the Y2K bug with an intensity normally reserved for the latest celebrity sex scandal.

"We had this fear of not completing on time," says Michael Israel, former chief operating officer for IT services provider AMC Computer Corp., who oversaw the Y2K remediation work at client Continuum Health Partners and its affiliated hospitals in and around New York City.

"We had to touch basically every system at Continuum Health," Israel says. His team was replacing hardware while it was working on Y2K remediation efforts on the software running on those systems. Tight budgets and tight project schedules kept everyone on edge. "It was a very crazy project," says Israel, now senior vice president of information services at Six Flags Theme Parks Inc.

Nothing else got done

Unless IT was working on a mission-critical project, not much else got done while the Y2K remediation efforts were under way. "We dedicated the last three quarters of 1999 to preparing for Y2K, and reserved the first quarter of 2000 for fixing any issues that came up. Every nonessential project was put aside," says Benny Lasiter, a senior data management analyst who worked on Y2K testing for a real-time trading floor application at Texaco Natural Gas, a division of Texaco U.S., which is now part of Chevron Products Co.

At Ace Hardware Corp., as in many other organizations, new and strategic IT projects were shelved while Y2K remediation work progressed. At Ace, those other projects were held up for two years. "We had to divert resources to do this," says Paul Ingevaldson, who was senior vice president of technology for Ace's global operations at the time.

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