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Interview, April 16, 2002

By Karen Bennett

In 1991, computer programmer and consultant Peter de Jager began a crusade to bring the Year 2000 problem to the awareness of the computer community and the business world at large. In the process, he became a worldwide leader on the subject of Y2K readiness.

The May/June 2002 issue of The Voyageur marks the first of many "Peter de Jager on Building the Future" columns he will contribute. Peter joined the Hudson Bay fan club at a party thrown by Robert Sawyer on March 23 in Mississauga, Ontario. He lives in Brampton.

Do you think there are any lasting benefits as a result of how companies and organizations responded to Y2K?

I wish I could honestly say yes. The sad reality is that we don't learn too well from past mistakes. One of the reasons Y2K was so costly was the lack of systems documentation. We brought that up to date for Y2K remediation, and had perfect inventories of the Organizational Computing asset, but sadly these are already out of date. What we did learn was that when strongly pushed, the IT industry can deliver projects on time with a high degree of quality.

Do you miss the limelight of being a widely-quoted expert on a current crisis?

Nope. I was asked by a reporter in 1999 how I'd like to be remembered after Y2K. My response was that I would rather be forgotten.

Y2K, all appearances to the contrary, was an unpleasant, distasteful task. I had the role of telling people a problem existed when they'd rather ignore it. And then the task of shouting "All clear!" when the doomsday story made much better copy. And then of being the most visible person around when the media, despite the superhuman effort that went into fixing it, declared Y2K a hoax.

What kinds of projects are you working on now?

Several books, one on Change, two on issues relating to the Future, and of course back to giving Keynote presentations on Change, Technology and the Future. I also write monthly columns in CIO Canada, ComputerWorld Canada and the ABA Banking Journal. In addition I have three personal journals: Managing Change & Technology (MC&T), Truth Picks, Event Horizons and now The Voyageur...for a total of 7 columns totalling about 7,000 words and 100,000 readers per month. I also collected some of my writings and published Truth Picks this year. You can find a lot of my work at technobility.com.

How did you become interested in science fiction, and how does that interest influence your work and daily life?

Robert A. Heinlein. Stumbled across his Juveniles when I was young and in a single week had read them all. I've been a rabid reader ever since. Science fiction for me is about consequences and relationships. An SF story is launched by one or more premises; everything that follows is a natural trajectory. The more logical and realistic that trajectory, the better the story. SF taught me that the world operates on cause and effect; it's not random. We have control over what happens to us, the world, and the future.

Does your licence plate still say "Y2K," or has it been replaced with something else?

The term Y2K and the many spinoffs are now firmly entrenched in our culture. It was coined on the Y2K mail list I operated in around March of 1993. A few months later my family got the licence plate for me as a gift. Still have it, and have no plans to change it. I'm proud of what we accomplished against all odds. If you see "Y2K" on the road...give me a honk on the horn.

How did you meet Rob Sawyer?

After reading the Far-Seer series I discovered he lived in Toronto. I enjoyed his work and thought it would be nice to meet him, have a conversation and buy him lunch. This was a long, long time ago—long before Y2K became a "topic." We had a good conversation and became passing acquaintances. Over the years, that's grown into a friendship based upon mutual respect for each other's work.

What motivated you to write a column for this newsletter?

Writing about the future isn't exactly a mainstream activity. While I can do some of this work in computer magazines, I need a more appropriate playground/laboratory to experiment with some ideas.

Writing isn't only a form of communication. It is also a tool for thinking. By putting your thoughts on paper for someone else to read, you're forced to create something new, logical and coherent. This process compels you to think more clearly about what you're doing. The result is often a document which contains more than you had when you started to write it.

Writing is a tool for learning, as much for the writer as for the reader. My hope is that Voyageur readers will offer feedback on what I write and thereby create a community of thought.

Send feedback to Peter de Jager.


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