IT Automation | The only thing that can stop us

Most companies have a hard time automating their infrastructure. Some of them have already given up. Others haven’t even started yet. In order to be successful we have to understand the deeper reasons for that.

In his great book “Infrastructure as Code” Kief Morris has introduced the term Automation Fear Spiral. Typically automation is not a straight line. Often times people do undocumented ad hoc changes without updating and re running their infrastructure code. I have experienced that hundreds of times with different kinds of toolsets. Fear is induced by the feeling that our infrastructure code does not reflect the real world. Often times this leads to additional ad hoc changes that make things even worse. Quicker than thought we find ourselves in a downward spiral of fears.

Breaking the Automation Fear Spiral is essential for success. Suppressing the fear will get us nowhere and make things even worse. The only way out of it is through it.

“Infrastructure as Code” is a must read for everyone doing IT Automation. While Kief deals with it on a mostly technical level let’s take another view on it that goes one level deeper.

When I started with IT Automation at the University we didn’t even know we were doing “Infrastructure as Code”. That term didn’t exist back then. We completely automated entire compute clusters that provided compute power for the analysis of data from the ATLAS experiment. No one would have thought of doing changes by hand. Even though not everything with our automation went right it was completely out of scope to blame someone else for failures that happened. Searching for the basic principles of what makes the entire universe go comes with failures by its very nature. Everyone knew that this is what makes us learn and grow as humans. There was no alternative to Automation. Without it physicists would probably searching for the higgs boson with some magnifizying glasses.

A few years later when I started a job with a small IT company that was a completely different world to me. Every time something went wrong the business owner would blame someone of not doing their job properly. Phrases like “I would have done…”, “Why didn’t you…”, “We can not do…”, “I expect you to…”, “We have always done it this way…” was something we heard on a daily basis. Shouting at others seemed to be the most natural kind of communication. Everyone was fearful of doing something wrong. Even the smallest step forward needed permission. But everything in life comes at a price. Not hard to guess what the consequenses will be for that company.

Probably these two examples are on both ends of the spectrum and most people are in a workplace that is somewhere in between. But what we can learn from it is that we have to be conscious about our own fears and the fears we impose onto others. The only thing that can stop us from being successful is fear.