Making Williams College Y2K compatible

Doomsayers, apocalypse predictors and the computer-savvy instilled a sense of dread in even the most rational minds with the advent of the new millennium. Computer glitches ranging from fatal nuclear catastrophes to minor ATM mishaps were deemed inescapable. Bunkers were built in the mountains, canned goods and other non-perishable were stockpiled, and Poland Spring expected a surge in sales. Many New Yorkers avoided midtown for days because of threats of terrorism.

How strange then, that with all the media hype and coverage concerning the possibilities of Y2K, there was little coverage of what actually happened. Clearly, problems with Williams College’s selfreg are not as exciting to read about as suicide bombers attaching themselves to the ball in Times Square, but how did Williams’s team of computer geniuses manage to subvert potential disasters?

Williams’ Office for Information Technology (OIT) had to treat the Y2K situation seriously. In fact, OIT had been concerned about Y2K problems for many years.

According to Mark Berman, Director of Networks and Systems, “By 1996, most issues had been dealt with. Remember that in 1996 we admitted the first year students that would graduate in the year 2000. As we got to the final weeks of 1999, our concerns were not so much computers and software at Williams, but software supporting electrical power systems and other utilities in the region and around the world. Although we didn’t really expect a problem, we felt that we needed to plan for the worst case. We installed a new, non-interruptible power supply for the Jesup computer room with a backup generator (we needed this anyway) to allow us to function in the case of utility failure.”

So Williams was prepared for the worst. As computer specialists the nation over were preparing to stem any crises that might occur, Berman prepared for system maintenance of his own. But, he said, the only glitches he was aware of involved reporting problems in administrative software, specifically the reporting problem in the number of students using selfreg. This minor incident was fixed a mere 36 hours after the ball dropped in Times Square.

Some Williams students believe that the College did indeed experience unreported Y2K difficulties. For example, many students returned to campus only to find that their Internet connections were not working. However, Berman asserts that these problems were entirely independent of Y2K.

So, we owe a big thanks to the team that worked hard to make sure that our campus was up and running when we returned. We should feel comfortable knowing that, although nothing happened, we were prepared for the worst. Now the real question is, are we supposed to celebrate the millennium again next New Year’s Eve, as 2001 is the actual start of the millennium, or can we put this whole millennium hype behind us for good?