Sharpening the Saw: How We Reduced Client Onboarding to the Push of a Button

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This post is part of our Summer Intern Blog Series! Each of our most recent class of interns wrote a blog post on their biggest accomplishments and lessons of the summer. This installment comes from Sophia.  Sophia studied Psychology and Economics at Northwestern University and is currently pursuing a Masters in Computer Science. Born and raised here in New York, she has many strong and occasionally abrasive opinions on what constitutes a truly good slice of pizza.

My middle school used to give us agenda books at the beginning of each year. They were spiral-bound with shifting images on the cover, each month marked with an anecdote containing some colloquial piece of wisdom. The idea, I imagine, was to get us excited to keep track of our schedules.

By now, I’ve forgotten all of those anecdotes except for one that’s stuck with me over the years. It tells the story of a boy cutting planks to build a fence. The saw blade dulled, but the boy was on a pressed schedule and didn’t want to use the time or energy to stop and sharpen it, so he powered through even though the work grew more laborious and the cuts less consistent.

By the time the fence was built, the boy was exhausted. The whole job had taken far longer than it would have if he had taken the time to tend to his tools. The moral of the story was simple: it is worth the effort to sharpen the saw.


What did my internship project have to do with saw-sharpening?


My project this summer was a bit less manual than fence-building, but there are parallels nonetheless. I was hired onto the Implementation Consulting (IC) team and tasked with automating the setup process for a specialized UI. The process as it existed was lengthy and cumbersome. Various settings needed to be applied, permissions needed to be granted, users needed to be created, and information needed to be logged in order to properly activate the account for the specialized UI. All of this required a dozen or so steps and the involvement of both the Account Managers and the ICs, as each team needed to perform certain steps that the other team could not. Often it would take two days (and sometimes more) from when a deal was closed with the client to when they would be fully set up to use the system.

I immediately thought of the story from my planner all those years ago upon receiving my project. I pictured my assignment this summer as an example of the proverbial “saw-sharpening”: it involved taking the time and effort to improve an inefficient system, rather than continuing to do something unnecessarily challenging. Doing a lot of work now would ensure that the process would be far simpler and more consistent in the future.

I wanted to dive in. I was vaguely familiar with Python but had never written scripts over an API, nor had I ever integrated any of my programs with mail servers or outside applications, both of which would be necessary to build the tool I envisioned. When I first started trying to write the code, I felt I was moving slowly through a seemingly insurmountable task. I wondered whether ten weeks would be enough to produce something polished and functional, given how long it was taking me to write a script for one working API call.

So instead of charging ahead, I stepped back. I spent a week studying and practicing writing scripts over APIs, discussing the project with various AppNexians who had done similar work, and gaining a comprehensive understanding of the systems in place. By the time I came back to writing code, I was able to make huge strides quickly: not only was I able to automate the entire process, but I also had spare time to build a polished web application that allows the entire setup to be completed by one person, eliminating the process of work being passed back and forth between the ICs and the Account Managers.


Hard work today pays off tomorrow


By the time the ten weeks were drawing to a close, I had reduced the dozen steps and 2+ days of setup down to the push of a button:

In the end, it was not just the project that fit the saw-sharpening analogy, but also my process of seeing it through. By taking the time to develop my skills, I was able to build a far more comprehensive and presentable tool than I ever thought I would have the time to produce. Perhaps the preachy agenda books were onto something after all.

Filed under AppNexus Updates, Intern Blog.

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