CW@50: A look back at Y2K in cartoons

One of the biggest events we've covered in our first 50 years was IT's response to the infamous 'Year 2000 bug.' Here's a wry look at the hysteria from the pen of Computerworld's editorial cartoonist, John Klossner.

1999: Y2K could be blamed for just about anything
Everybody's favorite scapegoat

In Computerworld’s first 50 years covering the tech industry, it’s possible that no single IT topic got as much attention as the so-called “Y2K crisis.”

In the second half of the 1990s, IT organizations spent billions patching systems and replacing hardware and software that had been designed to support only a two-digit year format. Because of the unprecedented scope of the work required to address the problem, what became known in industry shorthand as “Y2K remediation” projects turned out to be the biggest challenges many IT leaders faced in their careers.

The world knew the problem by many names — Year 2000 Bug, the Millennium Bug and simply Y2K — and just about everyone had heard dire predictions that business operations would spiral into a state of total paralysis as the clock struck midnight on Dec. 31, 1999.

And then it was over.

As Robert L. Mitchell wrote in “Y2K: The good, the bad and the crazy," a Computerworld feature looking back at the Y2K phenomenon 10 years after the fact), the world held its breath on New Year’s Eve 1999 — and nothing happened. Jan. 1, 2000, came in just like any other day. There were no major failures to report anywhere.

In the aftermath, or non-aftermath, Mitchell reports that some pundits said all the preparation had been overkill. Others maintained that only the hard work of IT pros kept the information systems of the world on track.

Whatever side you take in that debate, there’s no argument that Y2K had a big impact on the psyche of IT professionals and the world at large. The Millennium Bug became a convenient scapegoat for everyone from CIOs to little kids with messy bedrooms. And it certainly provided a wealth of material for our editorial cartoonist, John Klossner.

We hope you enjoy this wry look back at the way we obsessed over, sought to profit from or tried to ignore the looming specter of Y2K.

1996: Scavenging consultants hungrily eye Y2K cash cow
1996: A cash cow

As the re-engineering trend ran its course, IT consultants recognized Y2K projects as the next big money-making opportunity.

1997: The IRS finally admits it has a Y2K problem
1997: The IRS is late to the party

Some were incredulous that the IRS didn't acknowledge that Y2K might be a problem until the big day was less than 36 months away.

1997: Pentagon officials see Y2K as a far-off problem
1997: No imminent threat

Defense Department officials seemed to take a unique approach in assessing the immediacy of the Y2K threat.

1997: Y2K
1997: Doomsday approaches

As the Y2K problem seeped into the popular consciousness, people contemplated the prospect of life without modern conveniences.

1998: Y2K remediation work includes preparing for lawsuits
1998: Mounting a legal defense

If the dire predictions came true, lawsuits would be sure to follow.

1998 07 13 y2k consultant liability sfw
1998: Who's liable?

IT consultants realized that Y2K's golden eggs could turn to goose eggs if companies had the nerve to hold them liable for their work.

1998: Y2K hysteria creeps into our love lives
1998: Everyone's thinking about it

As press coverage of the Y2K problem began to mount, some people might have started thinking about it a bit too much.

1999: Corporate assurances didn't reassure everyday people
1999: Nothing to see here

Consumers might have been less than reassured by companies' overly earnest reassurances that they were Y2K-compliant.

2000: IT's next challenge is the
2000: Get ready for the next crisis

Though IT shops all over the world had rung in New Year's Day 2000 with a big sigh of relief, some detail-oriented techies might have recognized that four-digit year formats would one day present a problem.

2000: Man on scale blames weight gain on non-Y2K-compliant food
2000: Still everyone's favorite scapegoat

Even in the 21st century, we can still find a way to blame our problems on Y2K.

Self-portrait of cartoonist John Klossner
Meet our cartoonist

John Klossner has been drawing editorial cartoons for Computerworld since 1996. His cartoons and drawings have also appeared in a wide variety of other print and electronic publications, including The New Yorker, Barron's, Federal Computer Week and The Wall Street Journal.

John's work can also be seen on his website, at www.jklossner.com.