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Freeish Time: Automation For Good

Time for the latest and greatest to come out of Freeish Time! Just to refresh your memory, “Freeish Time” is the opportunity for our Cubes to focus on their passion projects outside of their work commitments. They have an entire week to identify a problem, build and create a solution, then present it to the rest of the team during our Friday Happy Half Hour meeting.

Innovation

Automation

This has become an integral part of 3 Sided Cube. The encouragement and time to work purely on whatever their heart desires, all while getting a little reprieve from the normal hustle and bustle from the normal workload is a welcomed treat. Whether they opt to go the “innovation” or “education” route, that invaluable time to focus purely on whatever it is that intrigues them is pretty rad.

The sky’s the limit when it comes to Freeish Time. We got to sit down with Sam, our BRILLIANT Backend Developer to chat about his latest foray into Freeish Time…

What inspired your innovation time?

My first year at Cube is rapidly coming to an end and during that time I have been exposed to an impressive number of wonderful and diverse products. 

Once built, most products never need a developer again until updates are requested (or the dreaded bugs are found), but a few require developer input from time to time. This input can range from importing data to exporting statistics.

When building products that require regular manual input, developers are signing a contract that says “I am happy to manually do this for as long as this product shall live”. As time passes, however, and the environment in which that contract seems fair changes, that contract that was once welcome may need shredding.

It is important for the development team to keep an eye on all of these manual tasks and make sure that they only ever consume a reasonable amount of any one developer’s time.

Being developers we are awarded the luxury of being able to automate these tasks, the tricky part is identifying which of those tasks we should automate. The reality is, automating a task does not always go the way you had hoped, the below comic is more accurate than developers would like to admit!

Talk us through what you did 

So as I was handed my share of the manual tasks I kept a mental note of how much time I was spending doing each per week or per month. This, combined with the occasional “bloody hell, I need to do that now” formed the basis of my automation hit list. 

Cube allows developers to have regular innovation time to spend on something that would benefit the developers and Cube in some way, whether that be learning a new skill or building a prototype.

When my innovation time came, I reached for my list and I picked which manual tasks it was time to get rid of.

The first lucky task was the one I’d most like to see the back of. Undoubtedly, this task demanded most of my time at one hour every single week and needed to be done at a specific time of day meaning it was most likely to clash with other work. Further, the complexity of this automation was pretty low so it would require little to no maintenance moving forward – this made it a perfect victim!

The second task was to retrieve appointment statistics from the American Red Cross Blood Donor app which actually took little of my time, and only needed running as and when it was required. This was less about saving myself time and more about highlighting and making available to everyone the impact our products have on making the world a better place. This automation took those stats on a regular basis and posted them to our internal Slack channel and made them viewable via an existing web dashboard.

What were the key learnings?

The most essential learnings that I took away from this, was just the sheer amount of time I was going to be saving in the week. My day-to-day workload will definitely reflect what I was able to implement during Freeish Time!

Were there any challenges?

The biggest challenge was actually finding the time to do it! But that’s exactly why I was so determined to use my innovation week for this purpose. Because these little tasks often take a little time here and there but can actually add up to not having spare time to get rid of them.

So this time is so vital for finding innovative solutions for speedbumps often get overlooked.

How can you use this within your role at 3 Sided Cube?

I already do use this in my role at Cube! It has been really cool how instantaneous the fruits of my labour have been integrated into my role. Just the practicality of having the automation has been invaluable but also has been fun to share the Red Cross statistics and the impact of them with my colleagues.

As always, it is so rad to sit down with a fellow Cube and pick their brilliant brain! See you the next time one of us is innovatin’ 

Published on November 25, 2020, last updated on November 25, 2020

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