Our latest contest for the presidency of Schmidlap National Bank for a day posed the question, "Why weren't we ready for the problems that the year 2000 would cause in a world where most computer programs only left two spaces for the date?"
Some of our respondents were bankers letting off steam about the "computer geeks" who were smart enough to make the machines but too stupid to see the problems they might cause.
More valuable were responses from readers who said technology has changed so fast that management could not foresee all the implications. Elizabeth Hance, executive vice president of Magyar Savings Bank in New Brunswick, N.J., wrote:
"This stuff was all perceived as being 'new.' After all, weren't we taking advantage of the 'latest' technology? Who knew, or could know, that the software programs being promoted and touted as the latest upgrades were masking older programs with embedded two-digit date codes? Remember, most banker are not 'techies'-they believed they were modernizing their operations, not building a time bomb."
More specific was the explanation of Levita L. Scull, a computer programmer in Little Rock.
"The biggest reason why the world was so unprepared for the turn of the century is many of the people who were in charge of important stuff like that were born closer to the last turn of the century than the next one. The technology wizards knew they would be retired by the turn of the century and neglected to tell the rest of the world to be aware.
"Before I became a programmer/analyst in 1985, I didn't give a second thought about the technological impact of Y2K. The first software application that I wrote was a foreclosure/claims system for a mortgage company. The more experienced programmers chastised me for including an eight-digit date in my programs. They told me that my code would take up too much disk space. Their immediate concern was not Y2K, but that all of the software applications processed using a minimal amount of space. Mainframes were expensive and no one could afford to waste the precious disk space."
In this vein, I was aghast when an operations guru told me recently, "We don't realize how expensive disk space used to be. In our bank, storage space that would have cost $650,000 20 years ago now costs us 10 cents!"
Our winning entry came from Kent Schrader, vice president of National Bank of Fredericksburg, Va., who dated his response "T minus 613 days."
"Per your invitation to submit theories about the Y2K problem, I, a banker, am responding with three reasons that I believe are responsible for this state of affairs.
"The first and most obvious reason is that when ... software and hardware designs were being made in the early 1980s, people just didn't think that far ahead. It would have been like our worrying about the year 2018 today! Sometimes this month's appointments, earnings, and bills consume our attention.
"The second reason is that computer operating systems, software, and hardware have evolved with an eye toward backward compatibility. This means that new upgrades have had to retain certain aspects of prior versions so that users will not be left with worthless equipment each time an upgrade occurs (this happens often even as it is). Accordingly, the date problem has not been fixed even though the capability to do so has existed for some time.
"The third reason is that the explosion of computer usage and familiarity has only occurred in the past few years. This technology is new for millions of people, and there are still relatively few who are truly knowledgeable about it. Changing computers to be Y2K-compliant is such a massive and potentially expensive undertaking that without widespread awareness, willingness to make the change is only now occurring as the pressing of the deadline has forced the awareness of the dangers to become more acute."