The Math on Automation

I wrote a piece on automation and time savings, and of course, Derik Hammer had to point out another post and xkcd cartoon that splashes some reality on automation. I’ve included it below, and certainly there are some good points made in the cartoon. It is incredibly easy to underestimate the amount of time it takes to complete a software project, especially when you include maintenance. Make no mistake about it, scripting little tasks and adding code into SQL Agent jobs is building software.

The decision to undertake automation shouldn’t be strictly made on the math of time savings. There are a number of other gains to consider. The post linked above notes that the fact that interruptions can be minimized through automation can be very valuable. I know many people discount the cost of disruptions, but they can be high, especially for knowledge work. This reason alone might be worth spending time on automation.

I feel that building some automated processes is a great way to actually practice skills you might use elsewhere. Automating tasks is practical, and even if the exact method isn’t a technology you regularly engage in, the mental practice of working through a problem and developing a solution is valuable. Just engaging your brain on a problem can be a good use of some time.

Those people that have followed the ideas in DevOps for years know that one of the main powers of automation is consistency and repeatability. We know that humans are bad at being consistent and reliable, and those are the places we should use computers. Even if the time savings don’t directly add up, I’m sure the chance of you breaking something, forgetting a step, or even neglecting a task are likely work a little bit of automation time in your job.

You don’t want to get caught up cerating a large side project to automate something, but little scripts to save time are definitely valuable.

Steve Jones

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