Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble: Automation as an Alternative to Toil

Recently my wife made fun of me for using the word “toil” in a discussion about work. I think she thought the term was archaic and my choice to use it was awkward, but it has become part of the lexicon of DevOps. It’s current usage comes from the chapter “Eliminating Toil” of the downloadable book Site Reliability Engineering.   




What is Toil? 


The chapter’s author, Vivek Rau, summarizes it as “Toil is the kind of work tied to running a production service that tends to be manual, repetitive, automatable, tactical, devoid of enduring value, and that scales linearly as a service grows.” He then goes on to break down each of these elements one at a time and describes how to tell the difference between things that are actually toil and things that might be miscategorized as toil.   


How to Recognize Toil 


It’s important to know how to recognize toil so it can be eliminated. The act of taking a repetitive manual task and automating adds value by freeing workers to pursue more strategic activities.  

An example of toil in the DevOps world might be instantiating virtual systems and installing an operating system by hand. But the concept of toil exists is applicable to other kinds of occupations or even things that you do at home. 


  • Toil is washing a dish by hand even though it is dishwasher safe. 
  • Toil is walking to the street to get your mail when you could send one of your kids instead. (Well, not really because kids don’t usually do things automatically, you still have the toilsome task of reminding them to do their chores.)  
  • Toil is adjusting your thermostat twice a day instead of once with a built-in timer. Come to think of it, a thermostat is already partially automating the process of heat regulation…before you had one, you would have to stoke your fire when you got cold. This is a good example of automating a process and then improving on that automation later.  
  • Toil is mixing bread-dough by hand instead of putting the ingredients in your Kitchen Aid mixer while you drink a cup of coffee. 


Why is Eliminating Toil Important? 


Workers engaged in performing toilsome tasks may know things about running a manual process that isn’t documented. They might slow down, change the way they do things, or become inattentive out of boredom. Computers on the other hand are ideally suited at managing routine processes in a reliable and steadily paced fashion.  

Workers with less toil in their jobs have more time to engage in interesting work. This provides more opportunities for personal growth, makes them happier, and reduces turnover rate. Additionally, companies are also likely to get better value out of their investment in workers who will be able to focus on improving the systems they work on rather than maintaining the status quo.  

Systems operated in an environment with a minimal amount of toil are more reliable and less prone to failure. This reduces operational costs for the company and improves the user experience for customers, which contributes to their sense of loyalty.  


Eliminating toil and building automation are just a few pieces of the DevOps puzzle. If you would like help identifying and eradicating toil in your environment or need help with other aspects of IT and DevOps, Contact us at iuvo Technologies today! 

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