What was Y2K and why was it significant?

What was Y2K? Essentially, a bug. The same kind of bug that we see in app update descriptions on the app store all the time. A bug is essentially a mini glitch in a software program. The glitches can be large or small, causing big problems or little problems. Sometimes, they don’t cause any problems at all.

Y2K was one such bug. It was potentially a massive problem that could take down entire industries and nations, albeit an unintentional one. See, when computers first became commercialized, storage space was expensive. Significantly more expensive than it is now. We’re talking a terabyte of data storage was the size of a house kind of expensive. To maximize this pricy storage space, a programming shortcut for date formats was used. Instead of storing dates in a YYYY format, dates were stored in a YY format. E.g., 1998 was stored as 98.

The fear was that once the year rolled over to 2000, computers would recognize the year as 1900 (or any other century) instead of 2000. This could have far-reaching consequences. Anything that depended on a calendar date could be affected. Thus began an international coordinated effort to update all computers that relied on a calendar date, to mitigate the risk presented by the Y2K bug. While it can be said that these efforts played an immense role in mitigating the Y2K threat, others say that the threat presented by the bug was blown largely out of proportion. Whichever it was, let’s just be glad nothing terrible happened.

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