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Software Development

Automating Things

January 3, 2024
Dawid Boksa

In software development, automation (letting computers do the work) can be helpful. But it’s important to know what should be automated and what shouldn’t. Let’s talk about this in simple terms and understand why quickly fixing problems can sometimes be better than trying to stop them from happening.

Automating Simple Tasks

It’s a great idea to let computers handle the tedious, repetitive tasks in software development. This can include things like checking that your code is written in the right format or running post-deploy database migrations. When we automate these jobs, we make fewer mistakes and save time for more interesting work.

Why automating manual tasks helps:

  • Fewer mistakes: Computers do these jobs the same way every time, which ensures increased accuracy.
  • Saves time: Since the people making the software need to spend less time on repetitive manual tasks, they get more time to solve bigger problems.

In the Elixir ecosystem, several tasks can be efficiently automated to streamline the development process. Here are some examples:

  • Formatting and Code Analysis: Elixir’s built-in formatter automatically formats your code according to the community style guide, ensuring consistency. For static analysis, Credo runs quality checks, ensuring best practices and catching potential issues.
  • Deployment: Tools like built-in Elixir Releases can automate the process of packaging your Elixir application for release.
  • Running tasks: Using packages like Quantum, you can schedule tasks to run at specific times, automating workflows like data cleanup, sending regular emails, etc.
  • Generating documentation: Elixir allows you to write tests within your documentation using Doctests, automating the process of both documenting your functions and testing them.

Be Careful with Decision-Making

While it’s good to automate simple tasks, trying to make computers make complex decisions isn’t always a good idea. Decisions in software can be tricky and often need a human to think them through.

Some decisions need understanding and judgment that computers don’t have. For example, consider a feature in an app that recommends movies to users. Automating suggestions based on genres and user ratings is straightforward. However, deciding which new film to feature on the homepage during a significant cultural event might require understanding the event, keeping up to date with current trends, and user sentiments.

People can change their decisions based on new information, but computers might be unable to do this easily.

Getting Good at Fixing Problems Fast

Instead of just trying to stop problems before they happen, it’s often better to get good at finding and fixing them quickly when they do happen. This means being ready for problems and knowing what to do when they show up.

Make sure you can spot problems quickly and know how to fix them. This includes having good ways to watch for issues and straightforward steps to follow when fixing them. Sometimes, pretend there’s a problem to practice fixing it. This helps you get ready for real problems.

Making Strong Processes

When building software, it’s important to make processes that can handle mistakes well.

If you have to do a task again, it won’t cause new problems. This is important if something goes wrong and you need to start over. Design tasks so you can try them again without messing things up. This means being careful about how the software keeps track of what it’s doing.

Wrapping Up

Using automation well in software development is about finding the right balance. Let computers handle the easy stuff, but keep people in charge of the big decisions. Also, be ready to fix problems quickly rather than trying to stop every single one. By doing these things, we can make reliable software that works well.

FAQ: Automating

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