Hello, I’m an Automation Junkie

This is post was originally posted at Slalom Technology.


I’m addicted to automation, across all aspects of life.

Is this a bad thing? I like to be efficient, remove the tedious work from my list and let a robot do it instead. Is this so bad?

A little history…

I’ve been a developer for about 20 years. I started down this exciting career path by writing classic ASP and MS Access apps. Once I wrote my first VBA script in Access, and saw that I could command the power of the computer (my 486 was killer then), I was hooked.

I wrote code for my clients mostly, and wrote code for me to help me automate my mundane boring tasks. I was writing routines to automatically deploy my files before DevOps was a buzzword. I can never come up with cool names like that.

Source: https://xkcd.com/1319/

This comic defines well where I was years ago. Spending potentially more time trying to figure out my scripts than just manually doing the tasks. Then I got a little older, a little wiser, and could effectively estimate my time and stop this silly cycle (for the most part).

But I still automate, a lot…

I do it almost everywhere I can. I thought I’d share my addiction, and see if I can help you realize some things you can do too. If you’re not automating, then you’re missing out! I can quit anytime, but I think you should join me!

A short list of automations

Continuous deployment (CD) & automated builds

One big win for me in writing JavaScript/HTML/CSS is using gulp to automate my CD processes. That lovely little app compiles all that code, cleans it up and ships it off to the server. Pure bliss.

Using VisualStudio.com, I can have my .Net code compile and deploy off to some servers too, pretty awesome.

Pinterest to Twitter

Using IFTTT, whenever I pin to my Recipes to Try board, it tweets it out, tagging my wife, to get her taste buds watering.

Gmail to Wunderlist

If I label an email with ToDo, IFTTT copies into my Wunderlist so I can keep track of my action items.

Outlook to Wunderlist

Can’t forget work emails! Using Microsoft Flow, if I flag an email, it is copied into my Wunderlist. If it’s my boss, it gets special treatment, and reminds me ’cause he’s my bossman :).

GoodReads to Wunderlist

If I mark a book as want to read in GoodReads, it is copied to my To Read list in Wunderlist, so I can keep track of the pile of reading I want to do.

Spotify to Text

If my son adds a song to a playlist in Spotify, I get a text alert. I like to make sure he’s not listening to junk. So far so good.

Blogs to Twitter

Using the @Bos365 twitter handle, any blog post that Microsoft posts about Office 365, across about 20 different blogs, Flow tweets it, sharing with the world.

Time estimate to my wife

As I’m heading to board the train after work, using Apple Workflow on my watch, it sends my wife a note saying I’ll be home by a specific time (current time plus 46 minutes, my average commute home) nicely, like “hey hunny, i’ll be home by 6:17, love ya”.

Bit.ly to Skype

In the “just because I can” category (I can get a URL natively in the bit.ly app), using Flow, I can send a URL to bit.ly and have it return the shortened link to me via Skype for Business, right on my phone.

Auto-retweet

On my twitter handle, and @Bos365, I have Microsoft Flows listening via Buffer for certain hashtags. When I tweet a #rt4, it will auto-retweet that tweet in 4 days.

Tasks in OneNote to Wunderlist

Using TaskClone, anytime I have a checkbox in a OneNote file, that line gets copied to my Wunderlist.

Alexa for Christmas

During the Christmas season, I like to have a lot of lights all over my house and yard. Thanks to Alexa, “Alexa, flick on Christmas” turns on all those lovely lights. And when it’s time for bed, “Alexa, bahumbug” turns it all off.

“Alexa, remind me to …” sends that reminder to? You guessed it, Wunderlist.

I’m still growing in home automation, slowly procuring devices as I can. I do have some other routines like “Alex, turn off the basement” which turns off lights and plugs since my kids can’t seem to figure that out on their own.

Some future goals, underway

  • when we arrive home, turn on some lights
  • when an email comes in that feels negative (using sentiment analysis) notify me to triage the issue
  • automate the Bos365 user group session creation from website to Eventbrite to Meetup to emails

Automation is important

I’m not just a fan, I’m an advocate. Automation is the way to go, embrace it and use it whenever possible. And do it sooner rather than later! This isn’t just my own little fantasy:

Nearly half of all jobs face losses to automation from software robots that complete increasingly complex tasks. ~ Forrester

If this is what’s going on, we should embrace it, use it, ride the wave a little, maybe get in front of it instead of watching it leave. In that same report, by 2020, Forrester shares “Humans will work alongside software robots, and leaders will manage workforces that are part robot and part human.”

Go and automate!

Some of my examples were silly, and trivial, but let’s explore that last one for a moment.

Every month we host a user group session with the Boston Office 365 User Group. To setup this session, spread the word and draw an audience, it takes about 2 hours to:

  • Create an event on our website
  • Create an event on Eventbrite
  • Create an event on Meetup
  • Create a bit.ly tracking link
  • Create tweets
  • Create campaign emails in Mailchimp

Talk about a need for automation! (This is underway, making some good progress and I’ll share what we did once it’s done on my blog.)

This is a quick and dirty example, but I think a clear one to illustrate the point. Think about your job, what do you do daily, weekly, monthly, that could be automated with no cost to the final product? Some things will need your touch, your eyes, your creative juices; but a lot of what we do doesn’t. What if we freed up our annoying tasks that consume our time, and used that time instead for being creative, and finding purpose in our work?

What are the options?

There are many automation platforms out there, but I will list what I use. I use these mainly because they’re FREE!

If This Then That, ifttt.com — a basic automation engine, which covers a basic workflow like “if this happens then do that”. IFTTT is loaded up primarily with consumer services from Alexa to washing machines, with some business connectors too.

Microsoft Flow, flow.microsoft.com — a more complex engine. You can work with hundreds of data connections, in and outside of Microsoft, and perform almost an unlimited amount of actions (in comparison to IFTTT one action). It’s free for all, and if you have an Office 365 license, then it’s even better as you get more options and connections. As an Office 365 fan, I’ve spent a lot of time in here and I have several examples of Flows on my blog for you to check out.

Apple Workflow — Apple’s native workflow engine for the iPhone, it integrates with a lot of the core components and apps of the iPhone. There are many options for the Android landscape as well.

TaskClone.com — Works with OneNote and Evernote, and watches for tasks (check boxes) in those apps, and then copies them into your favorite task management app.

Start today!

My hope is that this may have piqued some interest for you to automate, from small mundane tasks to knocking hours out of your routines. It’s only a matter of time before so many things we do are automated, I’m sure you have some stories of your own. We’re seeing it everywhere from self driving cars to deliveries via drones. Try to ride this wave and help streamline your job, and your life!


This is post was originally posted at Slalom Technology.

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