(TIME) — “The Y2K crisis didn’t happen precisely because people started preparing for it over a decade in advance.”
20 years later, the Y2K bug seems like a joke—because those behind the scenes took it seriously.
After a sigh of relief in the first few days of January 2000, Y2K morphed into a punch line. What would have happened if nobody prepared?
The term Y2K had become shorthand for a problem stemming from the clash of the upcoming Year 2000 and the two-digit year format utilized by early coders to minimize use of computer memory, then an expensive commodity. If computers interpreted the “00” in 2000 as 1900, this could mean headaches ranging from wildly erroneous mortgage calculations to, some speculated, large-scale blackouts and infrastructure damage.
It was an issue that everyone was talking about 20 years ago, but few truly understood. “The vast majority of people have absolutely no clue how computers work. So when someone comes along and says look we have a problem…[involving] a two-digit year rather than a four-digit year, their eyes start to glaze over,” says Peter de Jeger, host of the podcast “Y2K: An Autobiography.”