Automate yourself out of a job

Originally written on June 4, 2015

Recently somebody at work came to me with a scenario:

"Daniel, at least once a week I have to take screenshots of hundreds of movies and upload them to a proprietary server. I also have to take these screenshots and make thumbnails that are 150 pixels wide. Do you know of any way to automate this?"

It was baffling to me that this process had been manual for so long. I responded with "Sure, let me look into that for you," and had rudimentary script working around ten minutes later. This script, when run, could process in less than a minute what had normally taken him almost two hours. Let that sink in for a bit. Two hours per week spent on a project. Eight hours a month. 96 hours a year. 2.2 work weeks a year saved with less than 100 lines of bash scripting. The benefits might not be felt immediately, but two weeks saved is nothing to sneeze at, in my opinion. With a bit more work, I'd automated this process further, allowing him to simply drop files into a folder, cutting me out of the equation completely.

In 1969, a computer no more powerful than a graphing calculator took three men 356,000km into space and plopped them down on the moon. Even more amazing than these men making it to the moon with that technology is the converse: millions of workers manually running processes using computers 100 times more powerful than the Apollo 11 that could easily be automated! The sheer number of man-hours wasted per work week either because nobody has questioned the status quo, or nobody has been properly trained is astounding (and more than a little scary).

If you're reading this and find yourself thinking, "I'm sure insert job here that I do could be automated," do it! It's a lot easier than you think. With today's technology, the answers are a Google search away. And if you're scared of actually automating yourself out of a job, don't be! Can you imagine how good your resume would look? "I completely automated this job at my previous place of employment, saving untold man-hours and a considerable cost savings."