My Ultimate Goal: Automate IT

My first real job was manually sorting printed superannuation statements. I had to go through about a dozen boxes, each with about 2000 pieces of paper, and separate them into piles: single-page statements, and multi-page statements.

Why? Because the program that printed the statements just printed them all at once, so you ended up with the single-page statements mixed in with the multi-page statements. The mailout company needed to know whether a packing run was to have single-pages folded into envelopes, or 2 pages, or 3. Otherwise, someone might get 2 pages; 1 page of their financial info, and 1 page of someone else’s. Bad news for a financial company.

So they gave the job to a 16 year old wanting 2 weeks of holiday work. Go figure.

Mind numbingly tedious? Hell yeah. Also: paper cuts.

Industrial Robots

Fast forward a few years, and I wanted to do Computer Systems Engineering, because that meant I could build robots and program them to do stuff.

Stuff like solving a Rubik’s cube in under 12 seconds (with Lego), or assembling cars, or stacking pancakes. What boldly geeky 18 year old wouldn’t want to do that?

I learned how to write the software that runs the ticket barriers in train stations (no, I didn’t work on Myki). I also learned a lot about magnetic hysteresis and calculus in three dimensions, which I’ve mostly forgotten.

Then I got a job in IT, and still haven’t built a robot. Yet.

Why is IT So Awful?

I’ve written before about my thoughts on how and why IT sucks for business. Watching those videos has crystallised why it annoys me so much.

We’ve been automating factories for decades. All that work going on here used to be done entirely by humans.

We’ve been systematising production for centuries. Adam Smith wrote about division of labour back in 1776!

And yet every large company I’ve worked for in the past 10 years has been universally awful in the way they use IT.

Car companies re-tool their automated factories to produce a new car model every year. Some companies still have critical business applications running on Windows NT 4.

That pancake manufacturer has a robot that stacks pancakes automatically for them, but some companies are still manually typing in commands to their routers over telnet.

The humans in IT are making mistakes, breaking production equipment, and producing an endless supply of hand-crafted, unsupportable, poor-quality products. IT projects have a failure rate of well over 50%, and people just shrug their shoulders and say “Ah well, what can you do?

The only reason it hasn’t been done yet? You’re not trying hard enough.

My Ultimate Goal

Now I’ve finally got a clear, concise way of explaining what I want to do for IT. The next time someone isn’t grokking what I mean, I can just say:

This. This is what I want to do.

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