Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Automating Yourself Out of a Job

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope running under East Asian Observatory management. Going to work this morning, I can definitively state that being unemployed was not on my mind, yet that's the situation I find myself facing this evening after going over my end-of-probation report with my boss.

And it's not even as if I did anything bad or poorly, either. If anything, I did too well. The job I was originally hired for, three years ago, was as a Data Quality Assistant, meant to handle simple but time-consuming tasks that my boss didn't have the time for but needed done. I've steadily worked to automate and reduce the amount of time spent manually doing the recurring parts, to the point where I'm not really doing that particular job anymore, or at least for no more than a tiny fraction of my time each week. I've automated it so effectively that there isn't really a need for that position anymore, and with the telescope facing a budget shortfall this year and the only positions left to fill requiring people with skillsets I don't have, it was a simple business decision from the top to cut costs. (Just to be clear, I'm not being replaced or anything; my position simply won't exist after this month due to there being no need for it.)

At this point I'm torn between conflicting thoughts, between pride that I did such a good job automating stuff with no formal computer science education, and the sad realization that that still puts me out of a job. It's such a terrible feeling, too; if I'd been fired for being lazy, or embezzling money or something it'd feel like a justifiable consequence, but being let go for doing your job too well flips around into a sort of cruel irony. This isn't the kind of reward for hard work I was always taught to expect! It feels like a major disincentive to working hard in the future, if that's a potential outcome.

As for what comes next? I don't know. I'm still employed through the end of the month so there'll be a lot of cleaning up code loose ends and passing things on to people. Then after that? We'll see, I guess. I'm still kind of in shock.


  1. Well, on the bright side, it means that you won't be doing a job that can apparently be done by an automated system.

  2. Haha! Nice! This is something to be proud of, Dan! You have come a long way since you first started coding in 2010. Now you can use this extremely job well done to boast for your future jobs.

    All the best, Mr. Berke!


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