ailon's DevBlog: Development related stuff in my life

Don’t Automate Technical Administrivia in a Startup

8/12/2011 2:22:50 PM

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Photo by Chris Stickley

Yesterday I’ve spent 6 hours semi-automating a technical administrivia task on AdDuplex.

Up until now I did log archiving and truncating manually, along with some other things. I did it once in 2 weeks at first, then once a week and lately 2 times a week. Each time it took about 10 minutes of attention (netto). It actually takes about half an hour but most of that time I can do other things while different processes are in progress.

Whenever I told that I did this manually to a corporate alpha-geek developer or admin they frowned. As a self-respecting developer you are supposed to automate these things. I always responded like “it’s on my to-do list but with a relatively low priority”, but I always felt like I’m hiding my laziness under this “low priority” mask.

Some time ago I’ve read a book by Rob Walling titled “Start Small, Stay Small: A Developer's Guide to Launching a Startup”. Here is a brilliant quote from it:

Every hour spent writing code is wasted time if that code could be replaced by a human being doing the same task until your product proves itself

This brings perfect sense to what I’ve been masquerading as “low priority” task. And I disregarded this advice yesterday.

I’ve spent 6 hours working on something that took me 20 minutes a week to do manually. This means that my “investment” will only payoff in 4+ months and there’s no guarantee that in 2-3 months I won’t rewrite some parts of the system in a way that will render this automation code obsolete.

I’ve effectively borrowed time from my own business and didn’t add any value to users in the process. I could’ve worked on something that is useful, but I behaved like a disgusted “self-respecting” developer, not like a businessman. And now I’m writing this down, so I don’t behave the same way again.

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