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Lessons learned from Y2K still in use 20 years later

Alliant Energy Employees in Cedar Rapids monitor computer systems on Dec. 31, 1999. (MARY...
Alliant Energy Employees in Cedar Rapids monitor computer systems on Dec. 31, 1999. (MARY GREEN/KCRG)(KCRG)
Published: Jan. 1, 2020 at 10:43 PM CST
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Twenty years ago, people across the world woke up to realize their computers were safe.

There was a fear that a glitch in computers would cause worldwide problems when the computers’ clocks hit midnight on Jan. 1, 2000.

“People were really nervous about utilities. People were nervous that computer systems were just going to fail because they wouldn’t know what time it was, and all of computing is based on time,” said Aaron Warner, CEO of ProCircular, a Coralville cybersecurity firm.

At the time, Warner was working as the chief information officer for Integrated DNA Technologies, a life sciences company also based in Coralville.

He said companies around the world spent years and millions of dollars testing equipment and preparing for Y2K, efforts that ramped up in the final months before the turn of the millennium.

“We had a pretty good idea that things were going to keep running, but we weren’t 100% sure,” Warner said.

But nothing serious happened, and after that night, Y2K became a bit of a joke.

Warner said Y2K worries weren’t completely unfounded.

“There was real risk, for sure, but it was a little bit overhyped, and sometimes you can only see that in retrospect,” he said.

But he said people in the technology realm still use many of the lessons they learned from Y2K today, like the importance of preparation.

“It’s always better to be a little bit let down than to be surprised and caught unprepared,” Warner said. “It also highlighted that you need to do risk analysis and look at what the likelihood versus the impact would be in any situation, whether it's something like Y2K or if it’s cybersecurity.”

Warner said he and other members of the Integrated DNA Technologies staff stayed late on New Year’s Eve that year, “waiting for the world to end. And it did not end, as it turned out.”

“The lights were still on, and our phones still worked, and the computers were still sitting there, humming,” he said.

But that didn’t diminish their relief when everything except the year stayed the same.

“At about 12:15, though, I’m not going to lie, there may have been some champagne involved,” Warner said.