Automating Her Own Job
“I spend probably 1-2 hours per week on my job for which I am getting a full time wage” .
The anonymous person (whom we’ll call Eve) making this post to The Workplace website explains that she was hired as a programmer to support a legacy system. Her job is to take a batch of requirements, stored as data in spreadsheets, and write SQL scripts to configure the system based on the requirements. It’s a complicated process, and the analysts creating the spreadsheets “spend a fair bit of time verifying” Eve’s work to ensure that the SQL scripts are correct “because the process is so tedious that it’s easy to make a mistake” . Although it’s boring work, it is a full-time job with a good salary, and it allows Eve to work from home and take care of her son.
It took Eve about a year to figure out all the complications and write software that can remove errors from the spreadsheet and produce the SQL scripts. She can now do in 10 minutes what took the previous employee a month to do. When Eve gets a new set of spreadsheets, she quickly produces the scripts. Every week, she tells her employer that she’s completed another part of the job and asks the analysts to verify the SQL scripts. She inserts “a few bugs here and there to make it look like it’s been generated by a human” . The company has never indicated any dissatisfaction with her job performance.
Michael J. Quinn formerly served as Dean of the College of Science and Engineering at Seattle University and as a computer science professor at Oregon State University and the University of New Hampshire.