There is no better example of automation than in the remake of “Charlie and Chocolate Factory.” In the movie, Charlie’s father, Mr. Bucket, loses his job at the toothpaste factory where he put caps on tubes. Because of the increase of demand for chocolate due to the contest, the toothpaste factory makes more money and decides to modernize… and Mr. Bucket loses his job. Later, the same factory rehires him, with better pay, to repair the machine that replaced him.
Sure, it’s a movie. It’s not real. However, this happens all the time in information technology, albeit without the intervening firing.
I saw this first hand in the late ‘90s with Content Management Systems (CMS). My first job was as a Web Master, because I knew Perl and Unix. (Thank you, University of Texas Economics Department!) I could FTP files and understood URL rewriting in httpd.conf. Neat! Of course, once products like Vignette StoryServer and other CMS tools became common, I was no longer needed. But unlike Mr. Bucket, I didn’t lose my job; I just got a raise. How did that happen?
Simply put, the web became more complicated. Static pages were no longer enough; we needed data-driven web applications, so my title changed from Web Master to Web Developer, and I used Active Server Pages to build complex data-driven web applications.
Soon after that, I became a Build Master. The number of web applications became unsustainable for my company, and we needed a way to automate the build and release of the applications. As a proto-DevOps engineer, I created my own build and release system around 2000 called PackMan, short for Package Manager. Soon, CruiseControl was released as open source as a Continuous Integration server and was followed by AntHill Pro. There was no need for me as a Whatever Master. Thus, I got another raise. What?!
The complexity of the web applications increased exponentially as they started talking to each other – some via the database, others via CORBA. My job was to now manage all those moving parts as a newly minted Release Manager. I maintained the necessary Java Application Server configurations for all the applications to work together. This was complex, arduous, high-risk and strategically critical for the company. I got paid so much money to do that.
We’ve certainly seen this pattern with other positions in IT. Just look at how System Administrators have become Site Reliability Engineers (or just simply Developers) with the advent of Puppet and Chef. We are also starting to see database administrators (DBAs) automate their database schema updates and become Data Architects and Data Scientists. They get big fat raises, as well.
But, there’s a catch: if you want a raise, you MUST be a part of the change. Present to management a plan to automate your current tasks and describe the new, exciting, more strategic tasks you will now perform is how you get the raise.
My automation algorithm has not changed since 1997: The first time I asked to perform a task, I just do it; the second time, I automate it. There has never been an end to the amount of work we will be tasked with. It never ends. With Cloud, DevOps, and microservices, we need to be more strategically valuable to our employer. Automation is the key to that.