I spent a lot of time in the past few months thinking about "automation," as a project to take things that take a long time and require a lot of human intervention into things that just do themselves, and I think this is the wrong approach.

While total automation is an admirable, it's difficult, both because it requires more complex software to deal with edge cases, but also because it's hard to iterate into a fully automated solution.

Let's back up for a moment and talk about automation in general.

Computers are great at automating things. When you figure out how exactly to accomplish something digitally (i.e. polling an information source for an update, transforming data, testing a system or tool,) writing a program to perform this function is a great idea: not only does it reduce the workload on actual people (i.e. you.) I think the difference between people who are "good with computers," and people who are "great with computers," is the ability to spot opportunities for these kinds of automations, and potentially implement them..

To my mind the most important reason to automate tasks is to ensure consistency and to make it more likely that tedious tasks get done.

Having said this, rather than develop complete task automations for common functions, the better solution is probably to approach automation on the bottom up: instead of automating a complete process, automate smaller pieces particularly the most repetitive and invariable parts, and then provide a way for people to trigger the (now simplified) task.

The end result, is a system that's more flexible easier to write, and less prone to failure under weird edge cases. Perhaps this is a manifestation of "worse is better" also.


Onward and Upward!