Losing institutional memory

In a recent exchange on the Oracle Technology Network forums, one of the participants asked “What was the Y2K problem ? Please describe in details.” And a few years ago a younger co-worker told me point-blank that he had “read about Y2K” and concluded the whole thing was a hoax.

These comments disturbed me in two different ways.

As one of the legions of programmers who busted their a** for two years to prevent an Apocalypse on 1 Jan 2000, I find this question coming from a member of the IT profession to be truly frightening. Not in the ignorance of the person posing the question. No, I understand that it has been 16+ years and much of the current IT community was in early adolescence (or earlier) at the time. It came to light that the questioner was only eight years old. What is disturbing at how fast we lose ‘institutional memory’. And we see the results of that almost daily on the various forums. Hardly a week goes by that someone doesn’t present a question about one thing or another, and in looking at their table designs we see two critical mistakes in dealing with dates. First, they fail to use the proper data type, either DATE or TIMESTAMP. Instead, they use either NUMBER or VARCHAR2. And to compound the problem, they repeat the same mistake that caused the Y2K crises: they only use the last two digits of the year.

The second thing I find disturbing about the question is the attitude of the questioner. I can understand millennials not having personal memory of Y2K. But I can’t understand millennials not instinctively looking to their favorite search engine to answer such a question. That is the generation that grew up on ‘search technology’. Not only do they (legitimately) not remember Y2k, but they (legitimately) don’t remember a world without ‘search’. And yet it’s the dinosaurs like me, who many consider ‘too old be be in tech’, who constantly have to remind the millennials that “google is your friend, but only if you actually use it.”

And if, at this point you are scratching your head and saying “what’s he talking about? What was the Y2k issue?” … well, “Google is your friend, but only if you use it”.

Think this is brilliant insight? Or that I’m a curmudgeon who is losing it? Either way, let’s hear what you have to say.


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