5

I've read couple automated themselves out of a job 1 2 3 posts, and I wonder to myself how this is done.

I can understand automating something to save 99% of the time, but I can't imagine setting up a system that can self-regulate and self-correct for future changes. If I had to process data, what happens if I need to process an extra column? What if the computer died? What if the user dragged a .LNK shortcut into the program? etc.

I guess I come from a programming background, so I naturally go through all the failure scenarios and consider whether the system can handle it.

I have done huge amounts of automation before, and the output is very significant (1 untrained person monitoring a system that works at the rate of 10 trained staff), but I still need that one person sitting there to either reboot the computer due to memory leaks, or the internet is slower than usual, or just stop it and someone else runs a query to confirm the results for the last 4 hours of processing. For me to code that final 1% will take an astronomical amount of time, so I usually stop and let a human take over.

Do people preemptively think they are automating themselves out of a job? Or do these "automate yourself out of a job" scenarios really exist?

closed as off-topic by Stephan Branczyk, Chris E, Jan Doggen, Chris G, jimm101 Oct 4 '16 at 15:49

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  • 1
    You can automate some people out of a job—but mostly only low-skill workers. If you are skilled enough to automate things that description doesn't apply to you. – Wildcard Oct 4 '16 at 5:41
  • If someone is working 1% you don't think they would combine jobs? – paparazzo Oct 4 '16 at 6:14
  • Of course that happens, but that's not really my problem. It still needs that 1%, or it'll break down in couple days. – Nelson Oct 4 '16 at 6:15
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because you should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. Chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page. See blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/01/real-questions-have-answers – Stephan Branczyk Oct 4 '16 at 8:54
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    You already said it yourself in the question, "1 untrained person monitoring a system that works at the rate of 10 trained staff". There you go. 10 trained staff are automated out of a job. – Trotski94 Oct 4 '16 at 9:53
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In any organisation I've worked in, you can perfectly well automate yourself out of a role, but you're not going to be able to automate yourself out of a job. If you manage to automate 99% of your current role, I can almost certainly find somebody else to do that last 1% - but the last thing I'm then going to do is to get rid of the person who just saved my company money. Instead what I'll do is:

  • Find the next bit of my process that needs automating and ask you to do that.
  • If you manage to automate that as well, give you a nice pay rise, a new "Automation Lead" title, somebody to work on your team and another couple of automation projects.
  • If you keep doing well at automating things, you'll have another nice pay rise, a new "Head of Automation Strategy" title and lots of people on your team.

Details may vary according to the exact specifics of the organisation, but the general principle here is the same - if you're doing stuff which is saving the organisation money, it's very unlikely that you're going to be out of a job.

  • What if the company is small, like 15 people? My best bet would be documenting all that you have done, getting a really nice recommendation letter from your boss, and then look for work in a bigger company. – daraos Oct 4 '16 at 8:46
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    Outgrowing a small company is a not uncommon problem, and one which is more general than this scenario. You've pretty much hit on the solution. – Philip Kendall Oct 4 '16 at 9:04
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    If only there were more people like you in the business world @PhilipKendall – Richard U Oct 4 '16 at 12:52
8

It's more normal for someone to automate other people out of their jobs rather than themselves. But all it takes is the knowledge of how to do it and the scenario exists.

You automate yourself out of a job by making the job no longer economical for a person to do full time. I'm old I have seen whole rooms full of people be automated out of their jobs and replaced with a piece of machinery and a technician. But they didn't automate themselves out of course. So I'll give another sort of example.

I had a job collecting and processing safety data. I would go around each day collecting the data from different divisions for an hour each morning. Then spend the rest of the day processing it manually because this was how it was always done. And send out several reports.

I made an excel workbook to make my processing easier, to the point where I just needed to do data entry into the sheet, so now I was working only about half a day, just collecting the data from the divisions and printing out the reports and playing solitaire. Then I shared the excel sheet and the divisions did the data entry. So now I had almost nothing to do anymore. My role was taken over by an excel workbook.

Once that was proven to be a viable and efficient solution, I was no longer a viable and efficient solution for that task. The role itself became unnecessary and I went on the job hunt.

Another real life example is my language does not have a spell check in Microsoft Office, so translation projects needed a lot of proof reading which would take up a huge amount of my time. I made a custom dictionary for MS Office, gave it auto-creation of the diacritic marks and some grammar abilities, auto-capitalisation of the usual things, some other specialised stuff which only applies to Polynesian languages, and an easy and intuitive way to enter the diacritics. After this proof reading time went down by well over 90% and now translators (or anyone else) can proofread their own stuff. So then I was out of a proof reading job. Luckily I was the boss so I didn't sack myself.

The salient point is that the role no longer exists as a highly paid specialist role.

  • Didn't you ask for anything else to do in the company, like Philip says in his answer? – cst1992 Oct 4 '16 at 13:39
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    @cst1992 there was nothing else for me, I'm not an excel guru or automation expert, I just understood that specialist role perfectly and applied an excel solution that my predecessors didn't have the knowledge to do because they didn't know much about excel. An excel expert would have done it much quicker and probably much better, but they wouldn't understand the role. – Kilisi Oct 4 '16 at 13:45
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    My experience automating work is you may not be able to hire someone from the outside with the expertise and then go and automate something. The expert isn't going to spend hours figuring out the role because it's not worth his time, so he won't be able to automate it correctly. – Nelson Oct 4 '16 at 15:24
  • @Nelson totally agree, in my first example it was weeks to do and tweak, in the second it was the culmination of several years work just compiling the dictionary. You couldn't go out and buy one, it didn't exist. You can't get an expert in off the street to do that. – Kilisi Oct 4 '16 at 19:18
0

It is not necessarily automation, I guess you can call it "downsourcing"; breaking your job into easier to manage chunks, then delegating. It all depends on creating a system where information flows without your interaction, where people are empowered, informed and educated to take decisions. Of course, this "system" can also have varying degrees of automation. What you are doing (in this case) is to automate a decision hierarchy to act in stead of a person, this may or may not entail programming. The end result is the same, though - you are making yourself unnecessary.

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You can automate yourself out of a task. You shouldn't have any risk of automating yourself out of a job worth spending your time on... Or out of a career.

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