How The Year 2000 Helped The World Plan For A Global Pandemic

Jul 30, 2020

Here’s a present day story that will lead us to Y2K and back. If the COVID-19 global pandemic has introduced you to a world of working from home, you may find taking long walks to clear your head has become a daily practice. On those walks, I wave at the other strolling parties, smile as I hop off the sidewalk to let others pass, and hang out with my favorite podcasts. Although I may have replaced my commute for walking, I’m happy to dive into the diversified ponderings of my podcast queue. One, in particular, brought to light an event that unknowingly prepared us for COVID-19. 

Year 2000 Was Going To Break Us

I was listening to the podcast, You’re Wrong About hosted by Michael Hobbes and Sarah Marshall, when they dove into the wild disinformation that happened around the approach of the year 2000, Y2K. If you’re too young to remember it, I can promise you that the sky was falling. Essentially, software and code had not been designed for the calendar date to move from 1999 to 2000. Computers would not be able to recognize 00 as 2000, but instead as 1900. Fear mounted that major infrastructure was going to shut off, causing power failure, inability to access funds, and worldwide loss of data. 

Thanks to this global outcry, major companies across the globe got to work on an attempt to patch their code, which was almost entirely in the coding language COBOL. I had to stop mid-walk and Google this fossil. COBOL, or Common Business Oriented Language, is still around today, and is a high-level programming language that was developed in the 1950s and 1960s through a project sponsored by the United States Department of Defense. It came to be used for large scale business, finance, and administrative systems for companies and governments. It was behind Microsoft Office applications, leaving the world to fear that all computing would crash.

Global Outsourcing To The Rescue

The race to fix the two digit problem required replacement of millions of lines of code and more programmers than any one country had on hand to do so. (Don’t ask why it wasn’t done ahead of time.) The world turned to the tech industry for a solution and the solution became the world’s first major example of outsourcing. Global outsourcing showed the world that it could be saved remotely. 

Final Thoughts

There you have it, by paving the way for the world to work together against uncertain doom, Y2K paved the way for outsourcing and remote work in today’s global pandemic. Our commutes have been replaced with waving at neighbors at a safe distance and we've started to realize how productive working remotely can be. Up next? Imagining how the future will unfold thanks to today’s shifts in the now mostly remote workplace. My guess, even more jobs going fully remote ahead and more long walks.