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Don't blame it on Y2K

© Douglas E. Welch 1999

April 16, 1999

You have all heard about it. Some are scared to death of it. Most of it is hype but all of us, as technology workers will have to face the Year 2000 problem whether we want to or not. The trouble is, most of the problems that occur between now and several months after January 2000 will have absolutely no relation to the Y2K problem. I am already seeing it happen and it will only get worse as we approach the end of 1999. Every hard disk crash, every corrupt file, every misplaced document, every burp, snort, crash, hang and beep of computers will be blamed on Y2K.

It's all in a name. The American public loves having a name to attach to a given threat or problem. You only have to look at our reaction to "El Nino" last year. Once we had a name to attach to a particularly wet year, every single crisis was blamed on it. While there was certainly major damage caused by the rains, I personally had experienced much more rain-related damage in other non-El Nino years. It seems that having something to blame makes us feel better when faced with our inability to control it.
Y2K is exhibiting much the same news coverage and panic that El Nino generated but with far more wide-ranging results. Instead of just the West Coast seeing doom in every rain cloud,, the entire world sees doom in every PC. Unfortunately, as technology workers we will all carry at least some of that burden, as well. The burden of extra work correcting the problems and the burden of blame for creating the problems in the first place.

It's all your fault
Human beings can paint stereotypes with a wide brush, especially during times of crisis. It is only a small leap from blaming computers for Y2K problems to blaming technology workers in general. Already we are seeing reports of stupid programmers, irresponsible IT professionals and uncaring technology people. I can see the focus moving from dislike of computers to dislike of those that work with them. The only way to combat these stereotypes is to meet them full on. We all need to show that while there are reasons to test and prepare, the hype of Y2K far outweighs the actual danger.

Preventing Panic
An important new role is being thrust on technology workers this year, that of preventers of public panic. Such doom, gloom and misinformation is being broadcast that the average computer user, ignorant of the realities of the Y2K problems, is beginning to wonder if it is the end of the world. It is up to us to help dispel rumors, help users and companies develop intelligent contingency plans and otherwise let them know that everything is going to be alright.
There are many people out there who have no compunction with using Y2K as a way to fleece the sheep. In some cases I have been asked to provide some sort of magic bullet to solve a companies Y2K fears. When I explain that there is no such magic bullet, some people, in their fear, feel that I am unwilling to provide a solution, not just unable. We need to be very careful around situations such as this. Any sense of exploitation on your part could be seen as a threat or extortion. While the absurdity of this situation is apparent, fear often clouds peopleís judgement. Watch your clients
for signs of Y2K fear and work to alleviate them as much as possible. Doing so could prevent everything from losing a client to losing your business.
We need be vigilant for situations where Y2K is being blamed without merit. By confronting those situations and explaining them we can help to lower the level of fear and hype. Computer users need to be shown how many of the warnings about Y2K are being generated by those most likely to benefit from a panic.

Never before have we technology professionals found ourselves in such an important public role. We all must realize that our words and actions carry more weight than ever before and we should be careful of speaking flippantly. While, many of the dangers of Y2K may be half-truths, the fears involved are very real to computer users. We cannot treat them lightly or dismiss them out of hand. Fear is caused by ignorance and ignorance can easily be cured. Like all computer problems we need to educate. We need to take on the mantle of responsibility and lead people wisely through the end of this century and into the next.

As the months pass you will want to continue to monitor the Y2K fears of your customers, clients and users and seek to alleviate them as much as possible. We must fight the hype battle on a person by person basis. Failure to do so could severely damage the technology industry that we all depend upon for our livelihood.

Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on Douglas' web page at:

He can reached via email at

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