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Automate? Will I lose my job?

In my speaking and writing I always encourage people to automate what they can and document what you can't. If something can't be automated (or isn't worth automating) writing a bullet list of the steps to accomplish the task makes the task less error-prone and easier for others on the team to do it.

I get replies like, "What if I automate myself out of a job?" or "but if I document what I do, anyone can do it and I won't be needed!"

Sysadmin, please! Neither could be further from the truth.

First of all, there's always more IT work to be done. Automating your job is more likely to get you new assignment. Being the person that automated something makes you a hot property and other projects will come to you.

Secondly, if I have 10 people working for me and I'm told that due to downsizing I have to pick 1 person to let go, I'm not going to pick the person that writes good documentation and automation. The (thankfully few) times I've had to lay off people I did anything I could to save the people that are "force multipliers": they create tools that let team members do more with less. A wiki full of accurate, up-to-date, "how to" bullet lists is just as much of a "tool" as a script that automates a task. If you don't know how to program, learn. If you don't want to learn, learn to write "how to" bullet lists.

The C programming language let one programmer could be as productive as 100 assembly-language programmers. Did this mean that 99% of all programmers were fired? No, it meant that more programmers were hired than ever before: the profession was opened to more people and the pent up demand for software was released.

There's another way to think about it: This is totally different than the auto industry where the introduction of robots resulted in layoffs. In IT, you are the robot!

P.S. I count 21 different tutorials at Usenix LISA that teach how to automate and 2 tutorials related to documentation. That's just the tutorials... there are 4 other tracks in the program!

Usenix LISA 2011 is Dec 4-9 in Boston. You can register any time, but you get a discount if you register by Nov 14. I look forward to seeing you there!

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Checklists


I have dreams of one day sitting in a hammock with a margarita in one hand and a kindle in the other while my computers do all the work for me.

My reasoning is that if I don't automate and document, I'll get stuck with doing the same old tasks forever. The only way I get to do new and cool stuff is to automate the old.

oddrune: Absolutely!

Not to forget: When you automate things, you'll have less problem due to typos, commands you forgot to type, ... (well at least in theory)


Absolutely! I've fat-fingered enough command lines to know how true that is!