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My Career Advice: Make Yourself Redundant (ousbey.com)
136 points by Roedou on Dec 20, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 29 comments

> "A VBA macro could do this", I said. It took me about as long to write the program as it would to have just calculated the royalties - it saved no time. However, next quarter it saved weeks of time. And the quarter after. Even the external consultant didn't mind that she wasn't needed for this process; we used the same budget to hire her to do more interesting work instead. And the time it freed up for me? I began producing my own shows. It wasn't a huge station, but there I was, still 22 and producing national radio programs with tens of thousands of listeners - all because I saw an opportunity to write a VBA script.

Inspiring advice and anecdote. The problem is that few organizations have the capacity to pivot like that...that is, the people whose work you've made redundant or easier don't get moved to different duties...because of poor management or initiative on the individual's part. If only more organizations and bureaucracies were able to see created-efficiencies as a way to re-allocate resources, rather than cut costs.

At the radio station where that anecdote was taken from, we were losing money - I could have found myself cut out as an expense.

Yes, it comes down to 'enlightened management' - but it's also economic sensible; if someone is able to save money in one place, they'll probably be able to do the same for other parts of the business, and so are worth keeping around.

I have heard exactly opposite argument. When I automated a process which used to consume hours, vp said this is good but I will prefer to buy a product because inhouse automation creates dependency on individuals. He was right because after hearing this I left within a months.

Years later they are still using my dirty scripts :)

It took me about as long to write the program as it would to have just calculated the royalties - it saved no time.

That's key. The more difficult situation is when it takes more time to write the script than it does to do the darn thing. In that situation when people are strapped for cash and resources, guess which they'll choose if they don't have vision and backbone to endure the short-term pain. In day-to-day operations, people would rather not endure the short-term pain because everything needs to be done yesterday, especially in poorly managed organizations. Of course, the gems will eventually leave the poorly managed organizations too.

In other words, upgrade your job in place. I like this angle much better than the you’re in the business of unemploying people from a recent blogpost.† Also, the up or out‡ approach from certain companies suddenly made sense to me.


† the http://www.kalzumeus.com/2011/10/28/dont-call-yourself-a-pro...http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Up_or_out#Up_or_Out

The angle may be more palatable but that doesn't change what's happening. Professional programmers are increasing efficiency and reducing menial tasks on a much larger scale than what's described in this article. It may not put people out of a job in every case but it is removing the need for a job that was previously needed.

Another big issue is, the programmers are getting nearly none of that wealth they create through these efficiencies. If I save the company $2m/yr that's the same as making them that money. I've made the company $2m/yr richer than they were. But I'll be lucky if I get a $100k bonus. Executives, in contrast, will capture a lot of that newly created wealth.

On a smaller scale, at my first proper dev job I saved the company around £20k/year with a few little hacks. Two days later I was fired for arriving at 9.30am and they withheld my pay for that month too (all 4 days of it!).

A bit misleading...

The OP is not actually advocating making "yourself" redundant, but rather make your role (and/or subsequent functions) redundant. There are many functions in business processes today that be made redundant with technology. Typically companies hire business process experts (i.e. "consultants") to do this...but that's another story.

So maybe the OP is just suggesting to become a consultant?

OP here; thanks for commenting. (This was my first personal post that I've submitted to HN.)

In fact, I became a consultant - but for niches other than business process. Maybe what I'm advocating is that people should think about their role in the way that a consultant might.

"Maybe what I'm advocating is that people should think about their role in the way that a consultant might."

This is such excellent advice that I wish it was present in the post. I've been advocating this kind of thought (with much more awkward phrasing) to my friends and family for a while now.

As a full time consultant, I suppose I agree.

But as I think about it, wouldn't it make sense to boil it down a little? "What I advocate is that people think."

From the article: investing a little to upgrade a computer or a piece of equipment saves time for a lot of people. It was obvious, right?

The trick is that he was thinking about ways to improve it. I don't really want to argue the pros and cons of Adam Smith and the "invsibile hand" here. I'm just a believer in people's capability to innovate, to think.

And if you have people who are obviously not doing this, before getting rid of them (which is important, if you end up with no alternative) -- try to think about what they bring to the company. It might surprise you where they've made improvements.

Thanks, it's now in the post.

edit and throw that line into the top of the article, that is a killer quote

Thanks for the support. Edited!

I've met people who I thought worked very hard, people whom others relied on. I've been giving them the words, "If you're irreplaceable, you're unpromotable."

The author's examples are from relatively entry to mid-tier positions, but I still think what he says holds true all the way up to the CEO level.

I've even come to think that a lot of the highest level executive activities (e.g. corporate development, strategy, etc) can be significantly improved in terms of the time required to execute.

Higher level problems are generally more abstract and certainly more politically charged, but I believe if one carries a "hacker" mentality to work every day you'll find ways to radically improve performance.

Thanks - it's good to know that this is still a technique to keep in mind. To second your opinion, my current boss (company founder) read the post today; his comment was also that "this doesn't stop".

I have always advised engineers that being the only person who understood, or could maintain, a piece of the system meant that you were stuck there. And while you might feel that was job security, in reality it limits your career.

I whole heartedly endorse the idea of figuring out ways to make your job redundant so that you can move on to other more interesting things.

This kind of philosophy only works with competent management. If you (for whatever reason) can't rely on management to play an enlightened role, do not apply this approach... instead you need to (possibly leave and) find a competent manager/team first.

The thing for me isn't that you'll necessarily climb the ranks as a result of this - but that any job you can automate away is a bloody boring job to do. Even if you don't automatically take on new responsibilities as a result, your job now has less boring bits in, so it's still a win.

It's also a refreshing way to think about jobs and keep t6hem new.Personally when I take a new job I like to think about how long it will take for me to get the organisation in a position that they won't need me any more. It gives me a degree of control I enjoy, it leaves me with a grateful employer and some achievements on my CV that the next employer will like. "Why did you leave?" I had done my job.

I'm desparately trying to remember who it was who wrote the article about how - when employing someone new - you should explicitly work with them on the assumption that they won't be around for ever - so what do they want to achieve while they are there and what do you want them to achieve. It muight have been Joel, but I can't find it. Anyone?

For an example of someone doing this all the way at the top of the corporate hierarchy, look to Ricardo Semler. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ricardo_Semler

I don't understand this example. It seems like Semler was just given a company when he was 21. Not quite sure how that's applicable. Nothing wrong with it and he sounds like a swell guy, just not sure if it really applies to most readers of HN.

I was so confused when I thought you wrote "doing this all the way to the top", and linking to Semler who inherited a Harvard MBA and a CEO job from his father.

At face value, to "make myself redundant" seems to contradict what Seth Godin advocates in his book: "Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?" [http://www.amazon.com/Linchpin-Are-Indispensable-Seth-Godin/...]

Although I think they'd both agree on the goal of always looking to do interesting work, contributing to projects like a human being instead of doing cookie-cutter work, etc.. I can't help but think they'd also have some profound differences of opinion on how to get there.

An important proviso is that this should only be done if you've got visibility & receive credit for the improvement. If not then management just sees another obsolete post ready for cost cutting.

I suppose it's great advice, though it does highlight the sad state of affairs at the moment.

It is a game of musical chairs, and you need be sure to be in a seat every time the music stops. Make yourself or others redundant, and you make the company happy. For a while, until the next round.

Centralized technology is making jobs redundant at an incredible pace.

I totally agree. At every job I have worked at, whenever I make tools to eliminate my position, so that previously time consuming work is done automatically, enlightened bosses recognize that this is the best thing ever and make sure I stay happy in interesting work where I can do it again.

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