A young man smiles at the camera in an office. The wall behind him has the Personio logo on it.
Ashley Deane. Image: Personio

Why critical thinking is key when working in automation

21 Jun 2022

As part of the people workflow automation team at Personio, Ashley Deane has to keep up with the ever-changing tools available while managing customer expectations.

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Ashley Deane is a senior software engineer at Personio in Dublin, having been with the company for nearly two years. He is currently working on custom workflows as part of the HR tech company’s people workflow automation offering.

This entails developing integrations between different systems. And with new automation tools coming onto the market all the time, Dean told SiliconRepublic.com that the role can be both challenging and exciting.

‘The best thing about working in automation is that there is no standardised process to follow’

If there is such a thing, can you describe a typical day in the job?

A typical day for me starts with a stand-up, whereby I connect with the team and we sync on activities, next steps, roles and responsibilities. This helps give us a clear direction for the day.

For the rest of the day, I spend my time working across lots of small, but really important, integrations. For example, I am currently working on user-configurable workflows, to give users the power to create their own automation flows and ensuring that these are the best they can be for Personio customers.

What types of automation projects do you work on?

During my time at Personio, I have been working on people workflow automation. My role on this project is to help develop seamless integrations between lots of different systems – making sure that the system is flexible enough to be customised by users to suit their needs, while also ensuring it is easy to use for HR teams.

People workflow automation is innovative and unique, so I’ve loved being a part of building it from the ground up. This new product is groundbreaking because it enables seamless connectivity across the whole business.

By eliminating friction and allowing previously tedious HR admin processes such as hiring, onboarding and absence reporting to run automatically, we help drive productivity for businesses. Playing a role in unlocking business potential through my automation work is the part of the job that I love most.

What skills do you use on a daily basis?

I would say that being able to think critically is the most important skill you need to possess in my role, since every day I have to explore and solve new problems that people have never encountered before.

It’s not a case of googling a solution – when presented with a challenge, I have to think out of the box to find the answer. It makes the role really rewarding when you get to the bottom of a new problem and means I feel very invested in what I do.

What are the hardest parts of working in automation?

Managing customers’ expectations is definitely the most challenging aspect of my role. The automation processes we have developed here at Personio are groundbreaking and unique, but we do have to remind customers that we are just at the beginning of building out the product and the category, so not every integration is possible from the start.

But having customers who are excited about and invested in watching the Personio product develop is part of the fun and appeal, as we’re always working hard to deliver the best product for our customers.

Do you have any productivity tips that help you through the day?

My bullet journal is my lifesaver and I encourage everyone to use one. It enables me to keep track of my daily, weekly and long-term goals even when I’m busy.

I’m also a huge advocate of blocking out time in your day for clear focus time, without any distractions. This enables me to have set time where I can focus on a particular project, which I find massively spurs my productivity.

What skills and tools are you using to communicate daily with your colleagues?

The Personio engineering teams are split across the Dublin and Munich offices, meaning we work across borders. As you’d expect, this makes effective communication crucial to success. We use Slack for instant messaging and Zoom for meetings and calls.

When it comes to socialising, we also use these platforms to chat, catch up with colleagues or have a virtual tea or coffee.

By ensuring we continue to communicate and socialise whilst working remotely, alongside meeting in the office in person on office days, this allows us to maintain great communication on both a personal and professional level.

How has this role changed as the automation sector has grown and evolved?

The automation sector is growing at a rapid pace, with new tools and services being introduced and new integrations being made possible all the time.

Personio’s recent acquisition of Back, a Germany-based company focused on automating processes, is a great example of how companies are keeping pace with new skills, technologies and advancements in this area. My role is constantly evolving to match these changes, which is really exciting to be a part of!

What do you enjoy most about working in automation?

The best thing about working in automation is that there is no standardised process to follow, and therefore no two days or two tasks are ever the same. Every day there is a new challenge to tackle.

With so many different systems to integrate, all with a multitude of moving parts, working in automation can be complex. But it’s solving these challenges which is what makes my role so exciting and what keeps me engaged every day.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in automation?

Working in automation requires an ability to look at the bigger picture, while also focusing on small details.

Lots of automation projects have long timescales, so it’s important to be invested in the journey and committed to seeing it through from start to finish.

Overall, it’s a fantastic industry to work in, where every day you feel like you’re a step closer to developing something groundbreaking.

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