The other day Tim Bray tweeted a Google+ item entitled Geeks and repetitive tasks along with the comment: “Geeks win, eventually.”

Here’s the chart posted on Google+ by Bruno Oliveira:

A couple of things bothered me about this. First, there’s the adversarial tone. The subtext is a favorite geek quotation:

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

That gem is often attributed to Gandhi. Wikiquote disputes that and finds a close variant in Nicholas Klein’s 1918 speech to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. Either way it’s the story of a persistent underdog overcoming an oppressor.

In geek ideology the oppressors are pointy-haired bosses and clueless users. Geeks believe (correctly) that clueless users can’t imagine, never mind implement, automated improvements to repetitive manual chores. The chart divides the world into geeks and non-geeks, and it portrays software-assisted process improvement as a contest that geeks eventually win. This Manichean worldview is unhelpful.

But the chart also fails to capture the reality of repetition and automation in the realm of information systems. Here’s an alternative world view that I choose to imagine and strive to create:

In this view of the world, tasks that involve data manipulation (as so many modern chores do) are undertaken by teams. There is an infinite supply of manual chores. Everybody tackles them. Ideally there is one member of the team I call the toolsmith. Working shoulder to shoulder with the team, the toolsmith spots an opportunity to automate some piece of the work, writes some code, deploys it, observes how it gets used (or doesn’t get used), assesses its impact (or lack of impact), and then iterates on the code. Meanwhile the toolsmith keeps working alongside the team, chipping away at the never-ending and always-evolving list of manual chores, looking for more opportunities to automate, and exploiting them in an incremental and collaborative way.

Software-assisted automation of repetitive work isn’t an event, it’s a process. And if you see it as a contest with winners and losers you are, in my view, doing it wrong.