De-lousers prepare to cash in

Millennium meltdown: The Easter pay packet fiasco will pale against what is in store for the year 2000. Charles Arthur reports
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To Simon Slavin, the millennium bug is not a problem at all. It's an opportunity - to make money. Aged 32, Mr Slavin has been a freelance computer programmer and consultant for 15 years, charging (and getting) between pounds 300 and pounds 400 per day. In the past year, a fifth of his income has come from "millennium bug" work, carried out at the request of companies which want to know how many of their computer systems will be affected by the change in date, and how badly.

"What I bring to them is experience both of computers and big companies. Big companies are usually the only ones that can afford me. I can walk into a seven-storey building and know that I'll find two mainframes in a basement, a couple of smaller computers somewhere else, and lots of people using PCs running the Excel spreadsheet. I know which commercial programs have been upgraded to cater for the year 2000 and which haven't. That's the sort of things these companies don't tend to know." A growing number of firms have been waking up to the need to meet the year 2000 deadline - which, as consultants often point out, "isn't going to be moved, no matter how many meetings you have about it."

Having seen some of the problems at first hand, Mr Slavin thinks that some of the fears being generated about the "millennium bug" are overstated. "Aircraft and safety-critical systems aren't going to be a problem. Somebody's going to have taken responsibility long ago. Perhaps one in a hundred of one per cent will fail."

Mr Slavin will be quite happy to continue providing consultancy to companies - though he warns that his rates might have to go up as the final date draws closer. "You always charge extra for firefighting." Indeed, as far as computer programmers and consultants are concerned, the end of the century could be the biggest fire sale in history.