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The rise of the automation architect

Use these tips to advance your IT career and establish yourself as an automation architect.
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Most of us have seen it unfold before our very eyes—coming out from the smoke and darkness of automation challenges, there’s a new role evolving—the automation architect.

Automation was a hot topic starting in 2015—open source projects like Ansible were on the rise and becoming more popular. There was a lot of excitement and interest but there was also plenty of skepticism and much trepidation in operation centers. Fast forward to today, and automation is now at the core of technology strategy for most organizations. And the landscape continues to evolve and become more complex.

This Forrester survey about boosting innovation with automation shows that firms prioritize automation initiatives over an array of competing goals. Companies have recognized the importance automation holds for their plans and are seeking to automate all aspects of their business—someone needs to lead this effort for them to be successful.

Now, let’s go back in time and reflect on how automation architecture advanced to what it is today.

[ Download now: A system administrator's guide to IT automation. ]

Starting an automation journey 

In the beginning, operations teams and individuals found automation fun and easy. They learned how to automate some daily and routine tasks even if most didn't have a development background. Easy-to-learn tools like Ansible made it easy for most eager squads. Everyone from systems administrators to infrastructure and database engineers and even our service desk folks learned to automate.

Interest was growing, from the small coffee talks to hallway conversations to the practical demos to convince management. We were provisioning machines, restarting applications, performing patching and maintenance, and the list kept growing. People started to collaborate, form ideas, talk about their cool stuff running on their space and how they can all work together.

But when they began to link small, individual pieces of automation together, teams started to encounter problems. You probably know why.

Facing the challenges

Soon, things became more complex. There were more use cases to cover, and now automation routines and workflows needed to be interlinked. We began to see the challenges, and even worse, some individuals became victims of their own success by getting ever more significant requirements from management.

Here are some of the issues you may face with automation:

  • Competing priorities and goals
  • Lack of standards, policies, and governance
  • Bottlenecks due to segmented work culture
  • Absence of some required skills
  • Implementation security concerns
  • Lack of consideration for reusability, scalability, and control

Many operations teams turn these challenges into opportunities. When first presented with some of these challenges, people feel confused and start to lose direction due to the lack of ownership and accountability. However, these challenges present an opportunity to take a leadership position to build successful automation practices, no matter how complicated the environments and tasks may get.

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How the automation architect saves the day

The road to a holistic automation approach needs a driver who can navigate essential competencies for success as outlined in this Forrester research about infrastructure automation maturity.

These competencies include:

  • Strategy
  • Process
  • Prioritization
  • People
  • Structure
  • Operations

We need an automation architect to lead the organization on a journey, so it knows which direction it should be going—and how to get there successfully. The automation architect's role is to address the challenges I mentioned above to help everyone get the full value of automation.

Some of the crucial tasks required to steer the organization effectively include the following, as discussed in Red Hat's Automation Architect's Handbook:

  • Understand the current state of automation and set goals
    This process gives the architect a good view of what existing tools and capabilities may be useful—and what else is required. It's imperative that you set achievable goals and identify priorities, which align to keep everyone on track and moving in the right direction—even if there are setbacks and detours. This effort also allows everyone to focus on the essential tasks ahead with the goals in mind..

  • Promote unity and collaboration
    There will be continuing gaps, differing opinions, and conflicting working styles. The automation architect should bring everyone together by focusing and aligning the efforts to the business objectives and priorities. These efforts should translate into well-defined requirements that everyone can refer to and discuss openly. Use an open, collaborative approach and tools that encourage the team to work together. Incorporate activities to break down segmented groups and celebrate collective and inclusive success.

  • Improve automation assets and capabilities
    Once you map out an automation inventory, centralize the resources in a core repository so that everyone can start working collectively on these resources. Setting standards, proper review, and version control focusing on security and best practices provides a reliable method across teams. The team can now start working on capability gaps based on these tools and workflows using learning styles that are effective based on your team structure. There are now many free resources available to learn across various tools.

  • Shift everyone to advance the automation mindset and culture
    Building automation advocates and champions is key to creating a holistic approach and bringing a shared understanding of how automation works and benefits teams. The automation architect should find creative ways to build trust, enthusiasm, and interest in automation. This approach can range from brown bag sessions, success dashboards, and demos, to a code-a-thon challenge that brings fun to the table.

  • Scale automation solutions with proper governance and management
    A good framework allows automation to scale and grow within teams without sacrificing security and best practices. The automation architect must establish governance adhering to the organization's policies, making people accountable through a solution with controls and robust auditing, while giving everyone the chance to succeed and innovate within properly managed and identified risks.

The established automation architect

It's inspiring to see the rise of new roles such as automation architects in this fast-paced era of evolving complex technologies. It's a great opportunity for sysadmins, source matter experts (SMEs), site reliability engineers (SREs), and engineers to make the most of their time across operations and automation journeys. It encourages them to level up and widen their horizons by going outside of their constrained fields of expertise through the power of automation. They become strategically positioned to understand and analyze the existing organizational challenges and pains. Then they can show how they address these issues by aligning solutions with business goals—collaborating with others and using the best approach and tools for successful end-to-end automation.

To move forward in this role, you need to continuously grow and educate yourself so that you can understand automation problems better and approach them with the right solutions.

[ A free guide from Red Hat: The automation architect's handbook. ] 

Check out these related articles on Enable Sysadmin

Topics:   Automation   Career  
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Joseph Tejal

Joseph is a Technical Account Manager at Red Hat based in Wellington, New Zealand. He currently supports and works with local government agencies and financial services institutions. More about me

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