Automation and ADHD

Hi All,

I’m a Devops person and I think my ADHD is what drove me in to my field and what helped me succeed in it.

I ended up getting in to IT because I struggled to get any schoolwork that wasn’t vitally interesting or due in 2 hours done, unfortunately I was getting away with that by getting good grades. After 2 years in regular high school and 2 years of PSEO getting an associates degree using that method, my brain/body couldn’t take it anymore.

At my first IT internship I was disciplined for making mistakes on paperwork, not filling out certain forms or fields on user accounts or phone extensions, not following the entire procedure when configuring servers by hand, and the usual batch of Brain-work-related-complaints.

It was clear to me, at that point, that if I didn’t figure out a way to make the machines do what I couldn’t do for me, I was probably going to get fired. So what’s a Brain to do?

  • Locate a tool that allowed me to take the spreadsheet we had new customers fill out and have the server process it into phone extensions automatically

  • Write a script that automatically performed most of the server configuration tasks so I couldn’t miss any

  • Write a script that automatically created user accounts from a .csv version of the form that we had customers fill out

  • Learn how to use excel so well that I almost never had to work on forms like port requests by hand

At the time I had no idea that skillset was useful, but when I left that job I ended up automating so many similar things that I accidentally unemployed 2 data analysts and 5 salespeople and then unemployed myself by making a self service page for user support.

At my current job I was originally hired to do some fairly basic network admin tasks, but ended up finding my way into a formal Devops role because I was able to automate so much of my original position that level 1 support personnel can do most of what used to be my job with scripts that I wrote.

So, while I wouldn’t say that my ADHD is necessarily a “Gift”, a positive thing that I got from my ADHD was a good understanding of what tasks are time consuming and easy to make mistakes on, and a deep hyperfocus-y interest in never having to do those ever again.

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I’m a developer and I genuinely like that when I make syntax errors I get error messages. Such a helpful thing

I’m also a big fan of Excel, but mostly for personal things rather than work

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My first tech job involved (mis)using Excel as a web design consultant. We would fly around the country, meeting with corporate customers to help them make web design decisions by working through large spreadsheets full of questions. We would send the completed spreadsheets to a graphic artist and a web designer who would build the pages, and then we’d go around and around in an approval/revision process with the customer.

The meetings would each last around 4-6 hours. There’s no way I could sit through that without constantly losing track of what was happening, so I learned VBA and wrote an application inside Excel that presents a menu-driven UI which walk the user through the process, showing the results at each step visually in an auto-generated web page. Showing the customers their web pages right away sped the process up tremendously: the length of each design meeting was reduced by half.

With that success, I learned to program in C# and a few other languages, and I rebuilt the web page builder as a proper stand-alone desktop app. My employer moved me into a full-time development position. I have since made a career of quietly automating most of my own job, giving me the free time to do whatever work interests me most. I love it.

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One of the things that I always do is develop process that “empowers” the customer to do many of the tasks that they would call me for all by them selves. I never formalise any of this because doing so would endanger my own employment. But the customers usually love what I do because it makes their workflow faster not having to wait for response and support from me. It gives me plenty of spare time and allows me to spend my time servicing the customers that don’t want to pick up the tasks ( these are the smart ones in my opinion because there internal processes work properly and leveraging the support contracts they have allows them to do whatever it is they do) and the customers that have problems that actually need specialist support.

My management see glowing reports from customers because each customer is getting what they think they want. Either through faster resolution of requests and over servicing for customers that have contracts that properly fit into their operations.

What I get from it all is time and reputation. I figure that when I have everything running properly I use about 60 percent of my work week actually doing my job 10 - 15 percent of my time delivering above and beyond services that the customers see as a win for them thinking that they are getting huge amounts of extra value. Which they are because the things I do for them in that time often fall outside of what they are paying for. And the remaining time is mine.

I have never had a customer not extend support contracts that I run. I never breach KPI’s I think in the last 10 years I have had 2 or 3 times where I have had minor breaches but they have never been directly related to my team but usually upstream supply issues or providers.

All this takes lots of work to establish. I will go and work in the customers environment to see what they actually want/need on the ground most times contracts are written by disconnected management or accountants and are not fit for purpose. I have a deep understanding of failure rates and modes and likely triggers for these. I can either work with customers to modify they way they operate or set work arounds so any impact is removed or minimised. And whatever I do I make sure anything I do falls within contracts particularly reporting requirements. It’s still a duck it waddles like a duck but the quack is a little different.

One example I had a very large customer with about 10 locations to be serviced. The deal was if they had a fault I would attended site configure the assets and they would do any change out or hands on trouble shooting under my direction but I was not permitted to actually touch any customer assets. For the first 3 months I was visiting every single site a minimum of twice a week. And if I was at another one of the sites when they logged the ticket it would get cued. They could have an asset down for a couple of days for a problem that may take 10 mins to sort out.

So I worked with the guys at each location and we worked out a way to set up a handful of phantom assets at each so they all of a sudden has stock on hand to just swap out faulty equipment. I supplied each site with a laptop that I could access remotely to configure equipment. For us it cost about $4k in refurbished computers for the customer they had to pay the annual support for the phantom assets and the way we set it up it was probably less than $1k a year which is a invisible line item in the value of the overall contract. Over the 5 years it was probably between 10-15 K between us. But what I got out of it was I was now visiting each site maybe twice a month and one visit was probably for a cup of coffee and a chat. They now had an average turn around time of 30 - 60 mins from when the ticket was raised down from a few hrs to a couple of days and for issues that needed a site visit I had so much time available to me I would be at the door in less than an hour. And I extended the telephone support hours by about 2.5 hours a day. And I had an agreement that I would never bill them for a no fault found call in case they swapped out equipment that tested ok when it came back for service.

For the next 4.5 years of that contract I literally worked 3 days a week on it and spent the remainder of my time drinking coffee and reading the news. And not one person from either management team ever questioned what was done. For 2 years I worked school hours only I would roll in about 9:30 and was out the door at 2:30 sure I would sometimes have to pull up on the freeway and remotely configure something but In reality before I made a couple of small changes I would have been either onsite or at my desk anyway.

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