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What do non-programmers need to automate?

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Hello all, I write programming books for kids and complete beginners. They're available under a Creative Commons license and you can read them online at

For my next book, I wanted to teach programming to office workers, students, administrators, and other people who aren't software developers but use a computer every day. If they just had some programming knowledge, they would be able to automate repetitive boring tasks.

This seemed like a good place to ask for ideas as to what kinds of things they would automate a computer to do (web scraping, renaming/deleting/moving files, keyboard & mouse macros, simple text processing, etc.) I have a list of a few ideas here:

But can anyone make additional suggestions?

This book will also be freely available under a Creative Commons license, and I'm hoping to have it done by summer.

I can't think of anything right off hand but I'll try to remember to ask my wife when she gets home. She's not exactly an ordinary user but she's the defacto non-IT tech guru in her office so everybody comes to her with their questions.

On a side note your game development books look like they'd be a perfect starting point for my 15 year old son.

Hi Al.

Maybe the task of watching for certain events and notifying the user (e.g. emailing user if disk drive is almost full, sending an sms if activity is seen in the webcam).

Non-technical people use automation a lot where I work:
1. Webscraping on a schedule, i.e. every day, check this page or this download link and download/harvest the information.  Good for financial updates.
2. Webscraping when things change.  Same as above, but slightly more complicated because it has to see when things change.
3. Firing off an application/process when a file appears in a folder (or you get a specified e-mail).
4. Automating a tedious process in a program that consists of a series of reproducible steps.

Basically, putting all of that together can help to create a rudimentary workflow with a minimum of developer work/intervention.  Developers can also create more complicated components and the non-tech use those component interfaces to do something that an automation system wouldn't be able to accomplish.

A good recommendation could be to browse through our Coding Snacks section of the forum to see what kinds of things people actually ask for,. Don't forget to look through the 3 subsections, too.

With about 7-8 years worth of requests there, you'll get a pretty good idea of what kinds of things people want and need, and could do themselves, if they only knew how.


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