Wednesday, April 01, 2009


All the talk in the news the last few days about Conficker, and particularly today's "nothing much happened" reports, have involved a lot of comparisons to Y2K. In particular, I've heard a lot of comments hearkening back to those we heard in early 2001 about how Y2K was overblown, much ado about nothing, since there was so much panicked talk about what could go wrong and then almost nothing did. It made me grit my teeth then, but I didn't have a blog to use to grump about it, and I do now.

For years, we talked about how bad Y2K could be if everyone didn't do the huge amount of work required to fix it largely because pointing that out was the only way we could get the funding and approval to do that work, without it being shoved aside in favor of whatever the hot new priority was that our CEOs and Commissioners had heard of at their last meeting. As a result, we in IT not only had to do all our usual work plus all the work of actually finding and fixing Y2K problems, we also had to do a third layer of all the extra bureaucracy that piled on us from well-meaning managerial types requiring elaborate mechanisms to verify and coordinate the work itself being done. That last part meant we also had to prepare complex "what if everything goes wrong" plans that were mostly based on dealing with the possibility that someone else didn't do their part.

So the big day came and nothing much happened. It's only natural and understandable why John Q. Public would say "so what was the big deal about?" And it kind of reminds people of the "I have a rock that protects against invisible tigers" thing -- the better a job you do at foiling or preventing disasters ranging from industrial catastrophes to terrorist attacks, the less everyone knows that you did anything, and that can also lead to people claiming credit for preventing things that probably never would have happened in the first place.

I understand that part, but it doesn't take a lot of thought to realize, particularly if people are pointing it out to you, that nothing happened because of all the effort made to make sure nothing happened. Seems obvious, but there were people who, in all sincerity, criticized the IT staffers of the world for wasting all that time on fixing Y2K problems instead of doing things that added value, like implementing new systems. Really. So after we spent years beating ourselves about the head with extra work, and particularly stultifying and unrewarding work, and an additional layer of the most agonizingly pointless bureaucracy ever, at the moment we hated our jobs the most in our entire career, that's precisely when people started in on the largest and worst amount of pissing on what we'd done that anyone ever did.

Conficker isn't really the same situation -- well, maybe it is for the people who work on antivirus software, and the people who maintain it... okay, maybe it is the same thing on a much smaller scale. But it's the comparisons to Y2K I'm seeing that annoy me because they're just reviving the same sense, some of them, that Y2K was much ado about nothing rather than a genuine catastrophe prevented by hard work.

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