Make Your Job Obsolete

A long time ago, I read a book by Chad Fowler titled The Passionate Programmer: Creating a Remarkable Career in Software Development. This is a great book that I’d recommend to anybody getting started in software development. It’s full of great tips and ideas like trying to be the worst on your team (surround yourself by greatness), the importance of practice, and striving to be a little better every single day.

One of the concepts that really resonated with me is making it a goal to make whatever position you’re currently in obsolete. With a larger software company, it’s easy to get your hands into a lot of different projects. It’s also easy to become the person with specialized knowledge on specific topics. There’s a feeling of security that comes along with that–they can’t get rid of me; nobody else knows this–but it also makes it harder for you to move forward. I fell into this trap myself a few years ago. There was nobody on the bench to replace me so that I could move on to new and different challenges, and it took some time to get myself out of that position.

Keeping the goal of obsoleting your job in mind day-to-day helps you accomplish two major things: your tasks get easier and you stay available for whatever’s next. And, one of the amazing things about being a software developer is that you have the power to do this through software! The key is identifying processes that can be automated and then mustering up the motivation to follow through and execute.

So what processes can/should be automated? This will be different for everybody and largely depends on your typical tasks. Here are some examples I’ve encountered:

  • Anything that involves cutting and pasting
  • Things that are run on an interval (e.g., daily/hourly/weekly reports)
  • Complex data entry tasks (i.e., create an application to simplify the process)
  • Abused spreadsheets (spreadsheets that are modified and emailed each day can be replaced with web portals with databases that have entry and reporting)
  • Utility-type or out-of-application SQL scripts

Your imagination is the limit. Dream it, create it, and share it. If you do a great job, your managers and co-workers will thank you!

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