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October 2020
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The Machines Are Not Taking Over: How to Conquer Automation Anxiety

Sascha Giese, Head Geek™, SolarWinds

By Sascha Giese, Head Geek at SolarWinds

For even the most sensible among us, the word “automation” still strikes an uncertain, often fearful chord. Conditioned by the kind of rhetoric conveyed in movies like “The Matrix,” “The Terminator,” and “I, Robot,” the fear—even among the most seasoned IT professionals—of our jobs being affected by automation isn’t entirely unjustified. Particularly in the public sector, where budgets are increasingly restricted, this anxiety is understandable. However, there are two guaranteed ways to overcome this anxiety: a change in perspective and a willingness to push yourself out of your comfort zone.

Align Automation to Your Purpose 

In most cases, anxiety around the implementation of automation in organisations originates from fear over being incapable of fulfilling your purpose. For IT operations, automation heralds a day when we won’t need people to run maintenance, manage resources, or troubleshoot issues—when the fundamentals of ops no longer require a human to operate them. Developers may have an advantage over IT ops because they’ve been automating things from day one. But when a machine or an application starts to take over the job they do well, it can be damaging to professional pride and self-worth, no matter how confident you are.

It changes, however, when you look closer at the purpose of both disciplines. A public sector technology professional’s real job isn’t to patch servers or manage clouds. At its core, it involves finding efficient and elegant technical solutions to help the organisation do things better. In this way, one could argue tech pros do their jobs better when they embrace automation: using ticket histories to identify recurring technical issues, devising scripts or workflows to automatically take care of them, and using the extra breathing space to get down to the root of the problem so it never happens again.

For developers, this purpose should be even more obvious. No developer or coder ever went into programming wishing they could spend 80% of their time working through meaningless code changes with no guidance. A developer’s true purpose is to create—to come up with new ideas and turn them into viable products or services beneficial to both end users and the bottom line. Automating the tasks in the way of that, no matter how much time or effort developers have spent learning to do them, can only help accomplish this core drive.

In other words, the best fix for automation anxiety is to get back to basics: for developers and tech pros alike to remember why they do what they do, instead of worrying about not being able to do it anymore. With a refreshed perspective, however, comes some challenges—namely, where to invest their energies in an automated world, and put this technology to the best use for the general public.

Combat Automation Fear by Spending Time With People 

Though it might seem counterintuitive, as automation increasingly makes its way into IT environments, developers and other IT professionals will have to spend more time working directly with other people. For some, that’s potentially a greater source of anxiety than having robots render you redundant. But by doing so, they can better fulfil their professional purpose, and perhaps even find some unexpected sources of personal fulfilment.

For developers, it’s simple: find out what people—including colleagues and the general public—want. As automation takes over the drudgery of maintaining and fixing code, coders have a responsibility to use their newfound time to better understand the needs, objectives, and habits of those who use their creations. Most people would agree talking to other individuals isn’t always easy, but it remains the only clear way to know what’s working and what’s not, and to use this knowledge to develop apps to better serve those people.

The new challenge for tech pros is to communicate better—to tell a more convincing and compelling narrative about the value they can bring to their organisation. To a certain extent, this means translating technical metrics into a language non-technical people can understand, and showcasing the solutions, especially those involving automation management, in the same language. For tech pros, whose language of fluency is technical jargon, speaking to less technical people may prove a challenge. The more they can do this, the more IT leads will find themselves gaining the support of business leaders and being given a seat at the table on matters of future technology direction in the public sector.

It’s understandable to be nervous about increasing automation in organisations. People often assume more automation means fewer jobs for humans, but this is rarely the case. To combat the fear of automated IT, tech pros should remember why they do their job—the public sector relies on dedicated workers making sure public services run effectively 24/7, and IT teams should keep this purpose in mind when approaching new automation strategies. Working in harmony with technology is the surest way to drive the public sector forward and continue to provide the care and support the country needs.

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