While a lot of people are making elaborate plans to ring in New Year's Day 2000, Jamie Meyer explains with a look of quiet acceptance that he won't be among them.
An information technology manager for Wireless One in Fort Myers, Fla., Meyer will be on call to deal with any potential Y2K computer gremlins. How long has he known not to make plans for the holiday? "Since I got into the computer industry," he said with a smile, after a Microsoft software conference this week at Tampa Convention Center.
Often referred to as a bug or glitch, Y2K is also a party pooper. Years ago, even before The Artist Formerly Known as Prince was singing, "Tonight we're gonna party like it's 1999," software programmers decided to abbreviate the four digits of a year to two digits to save memory.
The result: A non-Y2K-compliant computer can read 99 as 1999, but 00 could be either 2000 or 1900. Many companies have gone contingency-plan crazy, making sure they have all their bases covered in the case of an unforeseen computer problem. And that means a lot of people who would otherwise be at the beach for the holidays or at a night club for a New Year's Eve party will be at their desks or at home waiting for a phone call.
Even some celebrants will be on a short electronic leash.
"Everybody and their brother is going to have a beeper," said Sheryl Brownhill, Y2K manager for Raymond James and Associates, the St. Petersburg-based brokerage service. She says it is too early to tell how many people will be on call, but the company will set up a "command center" to deal with concerns and make sure transactions go smoothly.
While most companies may be taking necessary precautions, others are overreacting, says Dale Vecchio, a research director for GartnerGroup, a market research company in Stamford, Conn. "I've tried to talk them out of it," he said, referring to the plans of several high-tech companies to have all their employees in the office or on call.
"You will have three people working on a problem and 15 looking over your shoulder asking when it's going to be finished."
Vecchio says it is not just high-tech employees that are losing their holiday season. Companies that provide customer service are bracing for an onslaught of calls from customers wondering if they are being affected by Y2K problems. "I've talked to a vendor who is expecting a million calls a day," Vecchio said.
Sykes Enterprises Inc., the Tampa-based operator of call centers, is one such company. Spokesman Andrew Swenson said some high-tech clients are asking Sykes to have more employees on duty to field calls. "I can think of two clients that are asking us to staff 25 to 50 percent more," he said.
Some banks will remain open New Year's Day to ease customers' fears. Florida's Huntington Bank, which plans to have as many as 28 banking centers in supermarkets across the state by the new year, will have employees in the centers to sooth customers.
"To be there on those days is especially important," said Julie Hammer, the bank's vice president in charge of in-store banking. "It's a really good opportunity to make sure our customers know we are serious about serving their needs."
In the computer industry, some companies don't need a policy to make sure their employees are on call.
Jamie Harper, dressed in a white Microsoft T-shirt at the Tampa Convention Center, said he has not been ordered to work during the holidays. Nonetheless, he said, "I'm not planning any long vacations -- put it that way."
Still, not everyone has let the bug bring them down. John Simmons leaves the conference dressed in a black suit. Asked if he will have to work during the New Year's holiday, the owner of Business Computer Resources in Pinellas County shakes his head. "Not me," he said. "I'm in management."