Thursday, October 19, 2006

Ruthless Automation

How many people truly use computers to automate repetitive daily tasks? Even if they do, to what extent are they automating these tasks?

I've always been a fan of automating boring and/or repetitive stuff out of my way, but I never conciously made an effort to automate all I could automate. That was until I read Saving Time and Pragmatic Project Automation.

I can think of 4 reasons for automating your tasks:
  1. It forces you to really "understand" a task. What am I exactly doing here? Is there a better way? Is this robust?

  2. It documents a task. Not just a series of steps in your head anymore. The script is the intent, the all encompassing series of steps you need to do combined with the things you need to "touch" to accomplish your tasks.

  3. It saves times. This one is obvious and is the most often presented reason. I would dare say that taking 10 minutes to automate something that would have taken 5 minutes is still worth it. Read on.

  4. It hones your skills. Makes you practice your soft-scripting skills

In light of #4, you can now see automation as an end rather than a means.

Daily automation will expose you to a lot of small problems. "How would I get the third column from that file?" "How would I insert a line after a match in a file?" "How many lines are in that file?" "How many times is the word 'tomato' in that file?" Note here that everything is a file in UNIX, so these examples are more general than they appear.

The more you automate, the better a programmer you become. The better a programmer you are, the easier it is to automate. You can also consider better understanding, better process documentation and time-saving as welcomed side-effects.

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