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New Horizons

Thoughts from a Y2K Programmer

Thomas Cole

I work with computer systems for a major financial firm. During the past two years, I have been involved with the programming effort to address the Y2K issue for a large group of my company's systems. Having been in programming for sixteen years, I didn't think that any computer task would be too difficult to deal with. Y2K came pretty close, though.

The complexity with Y2K was that changes were required in all parts of our systems. We contracted with another company to make the necessary modifications to our software programs, but the task of testing those modifications was ours. This required us to create test data that had dates not only in the 1900s, but also in the 2000s. The sheer volume of changes made, and the need to validate them all, led to over a year of constantly repeated testing, analyzing why something went wrong, fixing the program, and then retesting. I would spend the normal working hours managing my group, and then come home and do further testing on my own.

We had a deadline of June 1998 to get all of our software changes made and into our production system. If it had not been for a tremendous team effort from the members of my group, we would never have made it. As our company stands now, our software is in a solid position as we approach January 2000. We will continue to test throughout 1999.

So, my company is in good shape as we move forward. But what about other companies? Should we care? As long as my company has completed its efforts, what do the others matter? A marketing expert might think that our solid position would give us an edge up on the competition. With Y2K, however, no company is an island. We receive and send electronic files to dozens of companies each day. These "external interfaces" are just as key to accurate data processing as are our internal record—keeping systems.

The competitive leaders of industry naturally want their companies to show well compared to their challengers. The Y2K problem is potentially so destructive to so many, however, that competition needs to take a backseat to cooperation. Wall Street firms, by testing their systems in coordination with others, have set an excellent example of being part of the world, not separate from it.

There are parallels between how my company handled this problem and how Christians should be addressing it. Naturally, it was imperative for my company to commit considerable resources to prepare for this event. As Christians, we would also be wise to make reasonable preparations for events that may occur. It is beyond the scope of this article to go into detail on what those preparations should be. A thoughtful review of articles in the mass media will give the reader a good idea of the industries that may be impacted, and how that could affect an individual or family. From there, certain conclusions can be drawn, depending on one's personal risk tolerance.

I noted earlier that my company is not an island. As a company can't stand alone in this issue, neither can we as Christians. At this point, the parallel becomes less clear. While a company needs to work with others as a matter of expedience, Christians are called to work with others as a command from God.

While Y2K is the topic of the day, consider what the impact of any disaster would be (perhaps a severe economic downturn or a major natural disaster). Where would we as Christians be? If the rubber really did meet the road, and we needed to be in "survival mode," where would Christians stand in relationship to others?

Already there are Y2K Web sites where those interested in working together in the community on the problem can coordinate efforts. On the other side, there are "survivalist camps" being set up by both Christian and secular groups, where people will go off on their own to some remote place with rations to keep themselves fed and warm through the duration of a crisis, should it manifest itself.

In so many situations in life, we have the choice of either taking action or just being complacent and doing nothing. Often complacency wins out. But here is a situation where inaction just may not be an option! We may have to take some kind of action. The question is, which one? Our opportunities are great, and no time is better than the present to share our faith in action as well as in words.

Mr. Cole is a member of Gwynedd Valley OPC in Gwynedd, Pa. Reprinted from New Horizons, March 1999.

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