IT industry'“ not to be sneered at

I enjoyed reading a balanced, if rather negative, Brexit article (Herald, March 31) by Phil Bristow.

However, I must comment on his implied side criticism of what proved to be apparently exaggerated warnings back in the late 1990s about the millenium bug. I first heard about the bug at an MI5 security product launch (a very rare event) in about 1995.

The then head of the Government’s Computer and Telecoms Agency had spotted that many old computer programs had been coded with a year date of just two digits (this used less memory storage – an important consideration in the mid twentieth century) instead of a more foolproof 4. Hence, come the year 2000, any program checking the number of years from say 1990 would either crash, or return ‘-90’, instead of the correct answer of ‘10’.

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A great deal of effort was put into checking existing government and other programs. Many COBOL programmers were brought out of retirement. Indeed a colleague of mine did actually do some bug work for British Airways, and went up in one of their aircraft as part of the assignment.

The net result was that very few programs crashed on January 1, 2000. But because nothing went seriously wrong, the tabloids of this world were disappointed, and alas could report no ‘aircraft falling out of the sky’.

But that is no reason to sneer at the far-sighted action on the part of the IT industry to ensure that things carried on smoothly into the 21st century.

Mike Wooldridge



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