How Computer Jocks Kept Y2K At Bay

Curtis Rendon says the computer “bug” that his work helped to kill could have taken out computer systems that contained the Social Security and health information of millions.

By Laura RiceApril 29, 2019 7:13 am,

Do you remember the panic over Y2K? Before the year 2000, technology experts warned that because of the way old computers handled dates, the modern world would effectively come to a stop as we entered the new millennium. Curtis Rendon, a self-described “computer jock” working in Austin was among those warning about the risks.

“That’s something I would have vicious arguments with my coworkers about,” Rendon says.

He says that in order to save space in memory, older computers used two digits to indicate the year in a date, rather than four digits.

“Once you got to the millennium, and you turned over, 99 became 0,” Rendon says.

A major problem for those trying to avoid a Y2K meltdown was the age of the computers affected: many mainframes from the 1960s or ’70s were still in use, but it was difficult for programmers to access to them to fix the dates. And those computers held data for government agencies, insurance companies and other large institutions.

“If we could get the code onto any kind of reasonably modern machine, then we could use one of these tools to search and look for keywords – look for the word, day, and date and month,” Rendon says. “Our continuing nightmare was that we’d miss something.”

He says people now joke about Y2K as a problem that didn’t really exist. But he says programmers solved the problem before it could take down pivotal computer systems.

“That’s frustrating, because me, personally, I think we should have gotten congratulations, and at least bought a beer for that,” Rendon says.


Written by Shelly Brisbin.