Re: Motivation of software professionals

Lew Pitcher <>
Thu, 11 Feb 2010 20:07:23 -0500
On February 11, 2010 19:15, in comp.lang.c, wrote:

Lew wrote :

The point of my example wasn't that Y2K should have been handled earlier,
but that the presence of the bug was not due to developer fault but
management decision, a point you ignored.

At the time (70's etc) hard drive space was VERY expensive. All sorts
of tricks were being used to save that one bit of storage. Remember
COBOL's packed decimal?

Packed decimal (the COBOL COMP-3 datatype) wasn't a "COBOL" thing; it was an
IBM S370 "mainframe" thing. IBM's 370 instructionset included a large
number of operations on "packed decimal" values, including data conversions
to and from fixedpoint binary, and math operations. IBM's COBOL took
advantage of these facilities with the (non-ANSI) COMP-3 datatype.

As for Y2K, there was no "space advantage" in using COMP-3, nor was there an
overriding datatype-reason to store dates in COMP-3. While "space
requirements" are often given as the reason for the Y2K truncated dates,
the truncation usually boiled down to three different reasons:
1) "That's what the last guy did" (maintaining existing code and design
2) "We'll stop using this before it becomes an issue" (code longevity), and
3) "We will probably rewrite this before it becomes an issue"
   (designer/programmer "laziness").

Space requirements /may/ have been the initial motivation for truncated
dates, but that motivation ceased being an issue in the 1970's, with
cheap(er) high(er) density data storage.

FWIW: I spent 30+ years designing, writing, and maintaining S370 Assembler
and COBOL programs for a financial institution. I have some experience in
both causing and fixing the "Y2K bug".

So the decision to drop the century from the date was not only based on
management but on hard economics.

Which, I will grant, is not a technical decision, though the solution

And at the time Y2K was created it was not a bug.

I agree.

It was a money saving feature. Probably worth many millions.

I disagree. It was a money-neutral feature (as far as it was a feature) that
would have (and ultimately did) cost millions to change.

Alone, it didn't save much (there's enough wasted space at the end of each
of those billions of mainframe records (alignment issues, don't you know)
to easily have accommodated two more digits (one 8-bit byte) in each
critical date recorded).

The cost would have been in time and manpower (identifying, coding, testing,
& conversion) to expand those date fields after the fact. And, that's
exactly where the Y2K costs wound up. /That's/ the expense that management
didn't want in the 70's and 80's (and got with interest in the 90's).

Lew Pitcher
Master Codewright & JOAT-in-training | Registered Linux User #112576
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