Manual processes can be better

by Lisa Nicholls Sun, April 03 2011 18:07

Thomas Dolby didn't use any auto-tune on Oceanea.  As you'll find out if you follow the link in the last sentence, however, he does go in and electronically re-tune individual syllables wherever and whenever he feels like it.

Well, of course he does it "electronically".  He's Thomas Dolby, for the love of mike.  How else would he do it?  (Come to think of it how else would anybody re-tune a syllable? I haven't a clue.) 

In the music world, a lot of people think of auto-tune (pitch-correction software) as a way of cheating.  If your voice is not exactly true on a note, you can let the engineers fix it... but it's not the same as having a great voice.

While software developers often have a lot in common with musicians, in this case they often take the opposite view, especially in the enterprise-class software world:

Automating every phase of the process (from class generation, to code review, to build-and-deploy, and beyond) is the goal.  If you haven't automated something, you should be figuring out how to fix that hole in your process.

Automation = time saved = overall productivity.  Sure, it takes time and effort to figure out, build, and get used to an automated process... but if you really care, you'll put in that time and effort, because the result will be better.

I've made that same argument myself, numerous times, in numerous scenarios.  But I think we need to take a note from Thomas Dolby here. 

He's not using a manual process because he doesn't care.  He's using a manual process because he cares that much. He can do better, by hand, than he can do using auto-tune.

And, sometimes, we can do better too.   Sometimes we use a manual method because we think we can do better than the automated tools.

I suppose I should add "... and when that happens, we don't care how long it takes to do better."  Well, okay.

Time saved != productivity, except in the grossest sense.  Productivity, by the way, != excellence.  Productivity is only one component of excellence.

I can hear the obvious objection...

"What you're talking about won't scale, Lisa". 

You know what?  Sometimes, scaling has nothing to do with excellence either.  When that happens, scaling really is something I don't care about.


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