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Why Hire Smart People And Make Them Do Dumb Things?

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Today’s world is full of smart people repeatedly doing dumb things.

I’m not talking about operators who leave permissions open or developers who create infinite loops. Those are dumb things, to be sure, but they’re preventable with a bit of care.

No, I’m talking about smart operators, developers, and even SREs doing things that machines can do with a little oversight from experienced humans. Many of these tasks are the same across every IT setup across the globe, and as such smart people are repeating the same things over and over.

It’s not a glamorous life

Nobody thinks about getting into IT because they want to be ground down by doing routine, repetitive, boring tasks. You get into it because you want to make things, because you want to make a difference in the world, or at least make a difference to the company you work for.

But the reality is that the life of an IT person is very often taken up by those routine, repetitive boring things. Maybe it’s provisioning your umpteenth virtual server so developers can do their job. Maybe it’s creating yet another database so you can build your new service. Maybe it’s diving into the minutiae of dozens or hundreds of IP addresses to ensure that a network has been configured properly so end users can access your service.

Whatever the task is, no matter how new or enthusiastic you are, there’s still a little part of you thinking, “Is this really the best use of my time?”

No.

It’s not.

What would a better world look like?

In a better world, IT people wouldn’t have to be doing these kinds of tasks. Instead, many, or even most of these tasks can be carried out by intelligent automation, managed services, or some combination of both.

For example, DevOps personnel are used to using tools such as Ansible scripts or Helm charts for deploying infrastructure or software, which is certainly an improvement over previous years, when Infrastructure as Code didn’t exist, and every software program and framework had its own installation procedure. Nobody would argue that we’re worse off now than we were when a database install took half a day — if you were lucky.

But even today’s options aren’t perfect. Helm charts, for example, are templates. You can still wind up with pages of parameters for every deployment.

Some of the automation to solve this problem already exists, to lesser and greater degrees. For infrastructure, AIOps is in its infancy, but growing. For software development, the open source Encore project makes it possible to instantiate a complete backend application with a command or two, or to add not just database support but the database itself by simply importing a package.  Google and The Linux Foundation have announced Project Nephio, targeted at using Kubernetes to automate deployment of not just applications but also infrastructure. Many similar tools exist, and there are multiple organizations offering managed services to fill in any gaps and take the pressure off staff.

What happens when you remove the dumb tasks?

“But that’s my job!” I hear you objecting.  “Are you trying to put me out of work?”

No, of course I’m not trying to put you out of work.  I’m just trying to give you the chance to change the work that you’re doing and spend your time doing things that are more creative and fun. In other words, if you weren’t spending all that time on tasks a computer or partner can do more efficiently, you would be freed up to provide more value that they cannot.

Think about it: how many times have you thought, “I know there’s a better way to do this, but I don’t have time to figure it out,” or “I really wish I didn’t have to deal with this technical debt so I could concentrate on new code,” or even “Why are we even doing this? If only we could do this other thing, our users would have a much better experience.”

By removing tasks that are repetitive and of low value, you and your people get freed up to provide skills and talent that are uniquely yours. For example, instead of babysitting application installs, you might spend time working on new features that only someone in your industry would know will make your end user’s experience more positive.

What I want is for you to say, “I worked myself out of the tedious part of my job.”

Eliminating the dumb tasks is good for business

For executives, the need to solve the problem of IT busy work is more urgent than they may realize. One reason is obvious: you want your people to be as productive as possible.  But it’s much more than that.

A Haystack study found that a whopping 83% of developers are suffering from burnout due to increased workloads. And what do burned out developers do?

They quit.

The Great Resignation is hitting developers (and the people who employ them) particularly hard because the pandemic raised the need for developers so high that their workloads led to burnout, which led to resignations, which led to increased workloads for those left behind, which led to more burnout, which led to … you get the idea.  As of January 2022 StackOverflow reported that 75% of developers were either actively looking for a new job or open to considering new opportunities.

So whether you’re a developer, operator, SRE, or business decision maker, and whether you use intelligent automation or managed services or some combination of the two, it’s time to stop making smart people do dumb things. They’ll be happier and more productive, and so will you.


Author: Nick Chase, Director of Technical and Marketing Content, Mirantis
Bio: Nick Chase is Director of Technical and Marketing Content for Mirantis and founder of Mirantis Press. He is a former software developer, Oracle instructor, and author of hundreds of tutorials and more than a dozen books on various programming topics, including Understanding OPNFV, the OpenStack Architecture GuidePython for Mere Mortals, and Machine Learning for Mere Mortals.
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