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The Hidden Automation Tax No One Talks About

Automation. In the Information Technology (IT) arena we have heard over and over it can make our lives as administrators and operators easier. Our mundane daily tasks can be automated to give us more time to do ‘real’ work, whatever that may be. There are more tools than we can shake a stick at to use, and even more conference and meetups dedicated to automating everything. The Internet and social media are both full of tales of automation, and many graciously share their content and scripts on GitHub, but it is still easy to get frustrated with automation.

It looks glamorous. Pick a tool, pick a workflow and off you go. Automate the mundane and relish in the free time you have gotten back. Before you know it, you have more than enough time to work on all that ‘real’ work you wanted to. Have a cup of coffee or your beverage of choice, sit back, relax, and let the automation tool go to work for you. It is simple, right?

Not necessarily. What you may not realize (or what you may have already come to realize on your automation journey) is how many painstaking hours those scripts and workflows took for those brave automation gurus to create. You may be watching everyone around you automate this and this, and get more and more frustrated about what you have accomplished so far. You may even give up and complete your task manually, because you just want it finished already.

Whatever you may see or read on the Internet, the fact of the matter is that automation takes time and effort. Many tools require some sort of scripting or coding underneath them to make them do what you want them to. When getting started with automation, it is easy to become frustrated quickly. The hidden automation tax no one talks about? Our energy and our sanity. I have been there, and so have many others.

If you are getting started with automation in your IT environment and have hit the point of frustration, don’t worry, I have some tips for you on how to make things better for yourself.

Pick the Right Automation Tool For the Job

There are a million and one automation tools out there, and picking the right one for yourself is the first step. What may be the right tool for others may not be the right too for you. Take your time and do your research. If you do not no where to start, remember, Google is your friend. Simply search for “automating technology x” or “technology x automation”. You will undoubtedly begin to sift through the tools out there. Pick one that seems the most interesting, in dive into it from there. If you decide after further research it is not the right tool, there is no harm in that.

Learn Your Automation Tool of Choice

After you pick a tool, learn about it. What other dependencies does it have? What other things will you need to know? For example, if you have picked Ansible, you will need to research YAML and how it is constructed. If you pick vRealize Automation, you will need to brush up on your JavaScript. This can be the hardest part for those of us who do not code on a regular basis, and there is no shame in needing to take time to brush up on coding skills (you can lean more about why I like codeacademy for this here).

Pick The Right Task To Automate

I have always felt your first automation task should be something simple you do on a regular basis. If you know how the task works in and out, it will be easier to automate. There is no need to boil the ocean on your first attempt. Keep it simple, learn the tool, get it right, and relish in your success. No matter how simple this initial task was, your first successful foray into automation should be relished and celebrated.

Breaks From Automation Are Allowed

So you have picked your simple task, but nothing is going the way you planned it. You have spent countless hours or even days on it and things still are not working quite right. Take a break. Complete the task manually if you are in a time crunch and it needs to be done. There is no hard and fast rule that says you must start automating things OR ELSE.

General Notes On Learning Something New

Each and every one of us has a specific way we like to learn things. The trick is to find what works for you. Some may learn best by reading, watching YouTube, or by stumbling through it themselves. Some learn best solo, and some learn best in groups. If you are stuck on something, sometimes switching up the learning method will help get you over the goal line. For example, if you usually watch YouTube videos to learn something (and there are plenty of YouTube videos about automating your IT environment), you may want to try something a little more hands on, or reading some blogs to make things click for you. You can find out more about different methods of learning in my book IT Architect Series: The Journey.

Automating your IT environment can be a daunting task for anyone, regardless of their experience or skillset. Picking the right tools, the right task, and taking it slow can help it be easier to swallow. It can also be frustrating when things are not working right, or not working at all. The key is to be kind and patient with yourself, and take your time automating. The problem you are trying to solve will be there waiting for you, even if you need to step away from it for a while.