Author Ed Yourdon:
Y2K Pros Are Terrified

From Allen Comstock
Ed Yourdon is highly respected in mainframe programming circles. He is co-author, along with his daughter, of the new book, "Time Bomb 2000" which is the best layman's introduction to the Y2K crisis to date. Ed Yourdon will tell you that Y2K (year 2000 computer problems) pose a direct threat to the physical well being of every person on the planet whose lives are influenced in any way by computers or electronic circuitry--that's most of us.
Ed's letter below was written February 25,1998, and is his response to a letter sent to him from an apparently clueless member of a usenet rural life newsgroup.
Reading Ed's letter, you're getting a good review of what is now known and accepted as accurate about how the Y2K computer problems are shaping up. Remember all the problems Ed addresses are interconnected and the worst failures will likely happen virtually simultaneously world wide. Virtually everything dependant on computers and software will be paralyzed and rendered disfunctional. Mainframe failures will have the widest impact but virtually every machine, vehicle, or electrical device with any reactive, programmable or controller circuitry is suspect as being subject to potential failure. Desktop PC's that are not fully Y2K compatible are still being sold as are many, many software packages, including programs from Microsoft and other major companies.
To date, there has been no unqualified announcement of a successfully completed Y2K remediation program from any major government entity or from any Fortune 1000 company or from any major market center banks or from any other major financial institutions, anywhere in the world.
There are current Y2K impacts being noticed and most people who have studied the problem believe those impacts will happen more and more frequently up to and through rollover into the year 2000. Main frame computers have been primed for the last forty years to shut down or take other now unfortunate actions when they discover 99 in a date field. Computer science and programming textbooks used to advocate such uses of 99 because the authors expected programs, computers, machines and devices would have much shorter useful lives. Instead, short-sighted, cut corner thinking has caused those legacy programs to be maintained and expanded without attention to the ticking bombs they contain.
Now the Y2K dues our society is about to pay may bankrupt us because of the compounded effects of inertia and unfortunate management practices. The State of New York could experience serious computer problems as early as April 1, 1998, when it enters its 1999 fiscal year. July 1, 1998 is when the majority of States enter their fiscal year '99 and the Federal government fiscal year 1999 follows on October first. No one knows how bad the 99 factor or the fiscal year problems might be.
The warm up for the January 1, 2000 computer meltdown includes much more than the fiscal year problems. There are also what are known as "look ahead" problems where programs cause computers to crash or behave unpredictably over amortization or depreciation or inventory needs or budget projections or any other matter involving data or calculations dealing with dates ending in 00 and beyond.
There are many other isolated problems expected before 2000 but January 1, 2000, while expected to be a catastrophic computer event, will not necessarily be the final failure date. Any residual computer infrastructure remaining intact and functioning in 2000 will face continuing problems throughout that year with known crisis dates including virtually all of January, February 29 (leap year) and March 1, and before and after April 1, July 1, October 1, and year end reporting during December.
At this writing there is still 22 months to prepare for what is being called by very reputable and responsible people "the worst industrial disaster of all time." But the best people in the business say twenty two months is not enough time to prevent the onslaught.
If you aren't making preparation for the harshest long term catastrophic situation you can conceive of which might be survivable, you can expect to be one of the huge numbers of casualties of Y2K. Preparation may not guarantee survival but it is now almost a given that without serious personal preparation the odds are you and your family will experience large scale physical threats and worse in January of the year 2000. There are those who argue that you should worry about societal disruptions even sooner than 2000.
Those political mavens reading this should wonder why political institutions world wide are being so passive in the face of their imminent demise. National governments and politicians do not naturally die without violent resistance. The federal government and politicians are offering only making token public efforts toward facing and working on this crisis which could obviously destroy the US as well as every other government on the planet. And the miniscule government Y2K efforts are even stranger in the face of looming financial market stressors which can only exacerbate the Y2K problems. The two problems compounding together could lead to a total destruction of all existing currencies.
By 2000 military command and control will be non-existent and it seems likely most hi-tech weapons systems will be non-functional. Two weeks ago the Y2K honcho for the US Department of Defense resigned and his resignation was immediately followed by the resignations of his two top assistants, leaving no one with the ability to rapidly step into this critical national defense command position. No one wants to command a sinking ship.
******* Last week it was announced publicly that Y2K defective embedded circuitry programming has been found in the United States nuclear missile launch systems. Face it, Y2K is serious stuff. *******
And all the while governments world-wide are maintaining a public posture of being essentially indifferent to this threat that has been recognized among programmers for over twenty years. In fact, European leaders insist European Financial Union concerns, a fully arbitrary matter, must be in place by 1999, even at the expense of delaying Y2K programming which has no deadline flexibility.
We are privileged to have lived in the best of times. Soon things are going to get much worse but there will be fewer of us alive to remember. Computers that have been inadequately programmed to be unable to accurately recognize and calculate with four digit years and years ending in 99 or 00 are about to disrupt the world as we know it.
Allen Comstock
ps. Copy this message to all those in your circle of influence. Everyone deserves a chance to have advance warning of what is a guaranteed fast approaching massively destructive event. It's time to scream "FIRE" in the burning theater.
------------------Forwarded Material------------------
The following letter was written by Ed Yourdon to a member of the Homestead list and I thought some of you might be interested. Remember some of the people he mentions in his letter are the top dogs in the industries he is referring to so their opinion should not be brushed off as "fear mongers." Some of them are: Arthur Levitt, Edward Yardeni, Alan Greenspan, Stephen Horn, and, why, hell, Ed Yourdon is himself a significantly significant computer industry figure.
Begin Letter:
Greetings from Montreal... Thanks for your mail...
Here's something your homestead group might want to consider:
There are approx 9,000 electric utility plants in the U.S., including 108 nuclear plants, and at the present time (Feb 25, 1998), NONE of them are Y2K compliant. None. Zero. Zip. Nada. Last survey that I saw indicated that one-third had not started any Y2K effort at all, one third were seriously behind schedule, and one-third were on-schedule. This is not an exaggeration; NONE of the nuclear plants are compliant, and the Nuclear Regulatory Agency (NRC) is currently drafting a letter to the plant operators to warn them of their vulnerability and liability. The Chairman of the SEC, Arthur Levitt, has drafted a letter to the non-nuclear agencies, also warning them of their Y2K exposure; this will probably go out in the next week or two. Most likely scenario: 20-30% of the utility plants will suffer at least sporadic Y2K problems on 1/1/2000, primarily with their embedded systems, including intermittent blackouts; and it's not at all beyond the realm of possibility that portions of the nation's power grid will be brought down for several hours, days, or weeks. Don't take my word for it; take a look at the web sites of two Y2K-oriented utility experts, Roleigh Martin( and Rick Cowles ( Both of them think the situation will be MUCH worse than what I've suggested.
If you're a computer professional, you may be aware of the statistics for project success, whether's it's utility plants or any other kind of software project: even if you completely eliminate project failures caused by budget problems, the data that we have from the last 30 years of software projects tells us that 15% of all projects are late, and 25% are cancelled before completion. The projects that are late turn out to be late by approx 7.6 months; for large projects (1+ million lines of code), the behind-schedule projects are late by an average of 13.8 months, and for VERY large projects (10+ million lines of code), the behind-schedule projects are late by an average of 25 months. This is not an exaggeration; I can give you citations of books and references if you care to see the details. And it doesn't take a rocket scientist to conclude that this does not bode well for Y2K projects.
So much for utilities (and note that I haven't commented on water supply, oil, gas, and sewage). When it comes to banks, consider these statistics: there are approx 11,000 banks in this country. Even taking into account the holding companies that own several small banks, and the banks that outsource their IT development to service bureaus, you have to assume that there are at least 5,000 separate enterprise-level banking software systems that need to be fixed. The numbers from one large banking institution are instructive: Bank of America currently has an army of 1,000 programmers working on 250 million lines of code, and as of late Jan 1998, they reported they were 1/3 of the way done.
More statistics from another large bank: Chase Manhattan was quoted in an article in the NY Times last October as saying they have interfaces with 2,950 external entities. Naturally, we can be highly confident that all 2,950 will be Y2K compliant with no problems, right? ... nevertheless, it's interesting that Edward Yardeni, chief economist of Deutsche Morgan Grenfell, predicts that between 5% and 20% of the small banks in the U.S. will fail because of Y2K problems. That's the good news; the bad news is that Europe is approx one year behind us and is dangerously distracted by their Eurocurrency projects, Latin American is sound asleep, and Asia is preoccupied with its current financial crises.
If you're a computer-literate person, here's an interesting statistic: 70% of the Japanese banking systems are inhouse, customized systems, while in the U.S., 70% of the banking systems are packages. Conclusion: maybe the international banking system will survive, but when Alan Greenspan says Y2K could be a serious problem (as he did today, in his testimony to the Senate) you'd better pay attention. From my perspective, this is not a theorectical, academic issue: this affects my retirement savings and it's not something I feel like risking.
Bottom line: the banking system, as we currently know it, is in serious danger of collapsing.
The other component of the "iron triangle" of critical infrastructure services is telecommunications. Each of the "big three" of ATT, MCI, and Sprint is dealing with a Y2K portfolio of 300-400 million lines of code; there are interesting rumblings from all three that indicate all is not rosy with their Y2K efforts. Even if they make it, there are now hundreds of small, independent, deregulated carriers that can wreak havoc on the overall telecommunications "grid". An example of this occurred two days ago with a problem caused by a random firm called Illuminet; see the attached news release below. Even assuming we get dial tone on 1/1/2000 in the U.S. and England, you can reasonably expect that several third-world countries are going to be cut off from telecommunications for several weeks or months because of Y2K problems.
Meanwhile, within the typical corporate environment, consider yet another statistic: 90% of the PBX switchboards installed before 1996 are NON-compliant. Small-medium enterprises (SME's) are generally oblivious to this problem, and are not at all interested in upgrading their equipment. If you look at this on a global basis (as I'm currently doing with one of my consulting clients, who has 100+ MAJOR offices on 7 continents), the problem is horrific.
Then there's the government. The smart-ass character who critiqued my email to your list-serve member seemed amused by my oblique reference to Clinton's executive order; I suspect he had never heard of it before, which isn't surprising considering how little media attention it got. For what it's worth, the Executive Order was quietly published on Feb 4th and began with the words "Minimizing the Y2K problem will require a major technological and managerial effort, and it is critical that the United States Government do its part in addressing this challenge." But it turns out that the "Y2K Conversion Council" that Clinton has created with the Executive Order is just another bureaucratic committee, and won't have much impact on the outcome.
Your homestead group may not care about such things, but it's worth noting that 16 of the 26 major federal agencies are predicting that they'll finish their Y2K testing in Nov or Dec 1999; that's enough to make any veteran software professional break out in howls of laughter. Congressman Stephen Horn (R-CA, and a former university president) predicts that 14 of the 26 agencies won't finish even their mission-critical systems on time.
IRS appears to be doomed; perhaps that's why the CIO, Arthur Gross, resigned last month. FAA has gotten lots of press recently about their Y2K problems (and the top Y2K person in that agency has resigned, too) -- but that's the GOOD news about the Dept of Transportation, which is currently estimated to finish its Y2K work in 2019; the bad news is that 95% of the exports from this country go by sea, and the maritime industry only held its first Y2K conference this week (in NYC; I attended it), and doesn't have a clue about Y2K. HHS (Health & Human Services) has basically shot itself in the foot by firing its outsourcing-contractors and bringing its partially completed software projects inhouse without Y2K compliance; as a result, Medicare and Medicaid are seriously threatened. Etc, etc, etc. I can't claim that my crystal ball is perfect, but I will tell you that my own personal Y2K plans include a very simple assumption: the government of the U.S., as we currently know it, will fall on 1/1/2000. Period.
I just noticed your sig file says you're from Georgia. Well, here's what's going on in GA: about a month ago, the Governor woke up and announced that the state would have to spend approx $130 million to "combat" the Y2K bug, most of which would be spent to hire approx 400 programmers. By itself, a proposal from the governor doesn't mean diddly-squat, but it's amazing to see that the GA legislature actually approved the funding proposal within a matter of weeks; by contrast, states like Texas (where my daughter recently addressed the Appropriations committee of the state legislature on the global economic impact of Y2K) cannot easily do so, because they operate on a constitutionally-mandated balanced budget, which doesn't allow deficit spending.
Anyway, GA apparently has approval to spend $130 million, which means that it has approval to hire 400 programmers. But the governor doesn't want to hire them himself -- the appropriation has to trickle down two or three levels to the various departments that will actually decide how much they need, and how many programmers they need. How long will that take? Three months? Six months? Whenever it happens, the state IT departments will go out into the marketplace to try to hire 400 people at civil-service salaries. In today's marketplace, how many do you think they'll be able to hire? How about: ZERO. The "great sucking sound" that Ross Perot warned of in his last Presidential campaign turns out to be the sound of programmers being sucked out of the public-sector government agencies, into the private sector, where competitive salaries can be paid, and salaries are rising at the rate of 2-5% per month. And even if they could hire 400 programmers 3-6 months from now, it's too late. IT'S TOO LATE!
Of course, maybe God will smile on Georgia, and maybe the critical state agencies in your state will get their Y2K work done in time; meanwhile, there are 49 other states, several of whom (ND, MT, WY, AK and several others) appear not to have even begun doing any Y2K work. The chances that even a reasonable majority of them will finish is pretty small, in my humble opinion. And then there are the counties, and the cities....
I could go on at great length, because there's a lot more detail that we Y2K "warriors" know about and are dealing with, but I think you see the point: those of us who are living with the problem on a day-to-day basis are terrified. You indicated that some of your listserv members have 20 years of computing experience. Wow. Big deal. I've got 34 years of experience in the field, and I've got a public reputation that (if nothing else) suggests that I probably should not be dismissed as an alarmist quack; see my web site at for more details. Yes, I've written a Y2K book which will sell more copies if Y2K is a problem-- but I've also written 24 other software-engineering computer books, starting in 1967, that are doing quite well, and generating much higher royalties than a mass-market, low-priced, heavily-discounted Y2K book. I could make at least as much money, if not more money, during the next two years by focusing my efforts on OO technology, Java, and the Internet; but in my opinion, the Y2K problem will make any discussion of OO and the Internet roughly akin to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
Frankly, I couldn't care less whether your computer veterans agree or disagree with my views on Y2K; my daughter and I wrote our "Time Bomb 2000" book to articulate personal Y2K contingency plans for our family, our friends, and other personal acquaintances. If Y2K does turn out to be as bad as I think it will be, nobody is going to care abut the opinions of software professionals on 1/1/2000 (other than possibly lynching them for having created the problem in the first place!); instead, everyone is going to be concentrating on how to get food, shelter, clothing, and the basic necessities of life. Y2K threatens all of this, except in the backwards economies that have never depended on automation or socio-economic interactions with other automated societies. Rural China will probably be okay; but in my humble opinion, New York, Chicago, Atlanta and a dozen other cities are going to resemble Beirut in January 2000. That's why I've moved out of NYC to rural New Mexico a couple months ago.
You're welcome to post these remarks on your listserv if you think it would serve some constructive purpose; I'll leave that up to you. But in general, I assume that your listserv group has come to the conclusion that Y2K is not a problem, and that you'd rather not hear any opinions of the sort that I've expressed above. That's fine with me; as Spock says on Star Trek: "live well and prosper." I wish you well, and hope that we'll all be able to compare notes about the Y2K situation in a calm rational fashion on 1/2/2000.
But in the meantime, I've got work to do. There are only 674 days left.
Ed Yourdon
Are you aware of the Year 2000 problem? We all need to be.

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