We all know the headline that will read “automation is taking away jobs”. What we have to see beyond the headline is that it’s a good thing. It doesn’t take long to realize the benefits you can gain if you take a few moments each day and track the repetitive and relatively mundane tasks we do.
Automation is much more than just the mundane and repetitive stuff. The goal of automation is about increasing the flow (and value) of your work. What makes automation successful are five very key features:
- Consistency of outcome – ensuring the results are repeatable and expected
- Cost reduction – more automation means less manual process
- Availability – automated tasks can be run anytime and anywhere
- Productivity – more time to focus on higher-level tasks and processes
Start with the Small Stuff
Picking the “low hanging fruit” is always a great place to start. Reducing the little nagging 5-10 minute tasks that are done repetitively. These can be simple scriptable things that convert from a manual click-by-click to a shell script, PowerShell script, API query in a batch process, and other smallish tasks.
Even running the process manually with a script is one step closer to automation. Once you get the hang of identifying the steps it gets easier every time. The cost reduction comes naturally as you get rid of time wasting processes and move towards higher valued tasks that can be taken on (and automated too!).
Automation for Career Innovation
Bill Gates is famously quoted as saying “I will always choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it”. The reason Bill, and others, love the supposedly lazy employee is because that laziness is really an unwillingness to spend wasteful time on tasks.
The more time you spend automating yourself out of a job, the more jobs that will open up for you. I know that this is the case because I have made a career out of automating away my day-to-day which produced very positive results. We often call this technical debt reduction. Technical debt is just like real debt because we end up doing nothing but paying interest if we aren’t careful about things.
Documentation Through Automation
The whole Infrastructure-as-Code movement is wrapped around speed of work and consistency of outcome. It also opened up huge opportunities for people who can now add things like Terraform, Ansible, Puppet, Turbonomic, and others to their resume. These are now hiring manager’s top talents in IT operations.
You can’t automate what you don’t understand. This is one of the greatest parts of making the jump to an automation-first mindset. As you automate things you have to unpack exactly what it is that you do to be able to script it out. This prompts you to write things down as codified processes and there is no better way to document something than with code and some well-placed comments.
Pair programming is a popular way to increase coding skills for developers. It works the same for operations teams. As you write your codified automation process out in code you will also share it with colleagues and peers. You may find that others on the team have more skills than you realized. This increases the collaborative work and the bond you will enjoy with your team.
If you’re the only one on the team doing these processes, then you are relieving yourself of the responsibility to own everything by automating it. Once it’s automated you can unload the task on some software or even a newcomer to the team so that you are not saddled with all the responsibility. This is especially important after hours and on weekends!
Innovation Every Day
Take the time to reduce technical debt and set your goals of something you want to do that you aren’t getting a chance to do now because you are spending that time doing repetitive processes. This prepares you to approach every day that way. Changing roles internally or change jobs externally is much smoother and has higher potential when you can come into any process looking at ways to advance and automate it instead of learning it by rote and just doing it manually.
More and more of my own interactions with peers in the community are around introducing new tools and products in order to automate things for the better. Your management and leadership teams are going to need you to do this one way or another. It’s much more empowering when you are the one leading the charge.
As a final word, I encourage you to reach out for any help you need on getting started with your automation journey. You can reach me on Twitter (@DiscoPosse) and I am happy to help with whatever I can do to help you advance your career through automation. It’s a wonderful world on the other side!