Looking at how much time would it take to learn the basics of RPA is an important step. Especially as many people won’t as much spare time as they hoped for when looking at learning new technology.
How many days will it take to learn RPA? The basics of RPA can be intensively learnt within 10 hours (2 hours a day over 5 days), allowing learners to be able to create automated tasks. Advanced RPA mastery will require a lot longer and will require some programming knowledge to be able complete more advanced RPA tasks.
I’ve detailed the 6 steps to help you to learn RPA faster, so it takes less time to learn, below.
1. Learn basic RPA concepts first.
Before trying to use any of the RPA tools available, it’s vitally important the basic concepts of RPA are understood.
Understanding what RPA is, so how the Robotic, Process and Automation parts of RPA work together.
What does Robotic mean? Something that can be programmed to mimic human actions. Consider a washing machine, it can be programmed to mimic the human actions of washing clothes.
What is the process? A sequence of steps to do complete a task, so to wash clothes, the clothes must be pre-washed, washed, rinsed and then dried. Each of these is a step of the process of washing clothes.
What is automation? Taking a manual process and changing it to automatically complete the tasks without user intervention. A washing machine has a set of sequences depending on the type of washing, used to wash.
Delicate clothes are washed at lower temperatures, using less stringent wash cycles to protect the clothing.
The next step after the basics of RPA are mastered, is to understand the business logic. This will be an important concept to appreciate as it will be important in the decision making the RPA tools will need to do. Fortunately, with the RPA tools, this isn’t as complicated as it would be if we were looking at programming logic.
At this stage, you will just need to understand conditions, so if you want to automate how information is taken from the fields in one website and copied over to corresponding fields in another website, the following conditions must exist for this to be able to take place:
1. The source website is available (where information will be copied from);
2. The destination website is available (where information will be copied to).
So if the web page on the web browser isn’t showing the web page of the source website then this condition is not satisfied, likewise, if the destination page is not showing on the other web browser, then this condition too has not been satisfied.
What can be done to see if these conditions have been satisfied?
These conditions can both be checked to see if they have been satisfied by checking each web browser and checking if the source web page is displayed correctly and the destination web page is displayed correctly on the other web browser.
So what happens if the source and/or destination web pages are not displayed correctly?
Well, the address of the web page for the source web browser is navigated to and the address of the web page for the destination web browser is navigated to.
So both web browsers are now showing the correct web pages. Allowing the transaction of copying information from one web page to another website’s web page commences.
This is a simple example to show some of the logic involved in trying to complete a task, including:
- IF source web page is available (where information will be copied from) PROCEED to Step 2
- IF source web page is not available, see if the web browser has been started
- IF web browser has not been started, start the web browser
- ELSE Navigate to the source web page address
- IF destination web page is available (where information will be copied from) PROCEED to Step 3
- IF destination web page is not available, see if the web browser has been started
- IF web browser has not been started, start the web browser
- ELSE Navigate to the destination web page address
- Copy information from source website to the destination’s website corresponding fields.
As you can see there’s a lot of business logic taking place here and it’s important to try to get into the mindset about thinking about the conditions and steps needed to complete tasks, as this will make the automation more robust and reliable when it’s done on an RPA tool.
2. Practice with an RPA tool
Once you have learned the basics of RPA, it’s time to move onto using an RPA tool and putting what you’ve learnt to practice by using the right RPA tool. When I say the right RPA tool, I don’t mean the other RPA tools are not good enough, instead, I mean an RPA tool that’s worth learning because it’s easy to use.
You don’t want to spend time trying to get used to an RPA tool that’s difficult to learn, as you’ll end up more than likely quitting learning about RPA.
Practising how to automate manual processes using an RPA tool makes it much easier and quicker to learn RPA, as without doing this, makes it more difficult to progress and achieve anything worthwhile from RPA.
FREE RPA Tools
It won’t cost you the earth to get your hands on an RPA tool to practice with, as many of the RPA vendors provide trial versions of their products. One of the market-leading RPA tool manufacturers offers a Community Edition, which is FREE to use with no time restrictions.
Other RPA tool manufacturers offer their tools with a trial period albeit with limited functionality but enough functionality to use the RPA tool and learn from using it.
3. RPA what you know already
I always advise to those learning how to use RPA tools to practise on what you already know, that is, use RPA to automate tasks you can already do in an application, instead of having to spend time having to learn how to use a new application as well as learning how to use the RPA tool. This will just delay the time taken to learn about RPA.
I used RPA to create a contact list in a spreadsheet from the emails I received every week from different job agencies, by checking my emails and if certain conditions exist, copy the email address to my spreadsheet.
Check to see if my email program has been started, if it has then go to step 2, otherwise start my email program
- Check to see if my spreadsheet program has been started, if it has been started, go to step 2
- Otherwise, start my spreadsheet program.
- Click Send/Receive on my email program
- Check to see if there any new emails for this week (business logic added with a start date to end date)
- Double click on new email, wait for Window Title to appear (Window Title is the name given to the windows in Microsoft Windows, so when you open an email in Microsoft Outlook, a window appears with a title in it.
Red arrow points to Windows Title
- Right-click on the email address of the sender
- Select ‘Copy’
- Switch to the spreadsheet
- Paste into next available cell (some business logic here with a counter increases by one every time Step 5 is started)
- Switch back to email, close the current email window
- Repeat from Step 5 until no more emails
As I know how to use both the email application and the spreadsheet applications to a basic level, both these applications would be prime candidates to practice my RPA skills with.
4. Keep practising RPA
As with any learning experience, it’s vitally important to keep practising, as not only will this cement the knowledge acquired for longer retention but more importantly it gives you the confidence to try RPA in more and complex situations.
I use RPA is so many different ways with the different applications I’m capable of using from video editing, photo editing to word processing, spreadsheets and presentation tools. All the while, practising RPA with these applications keeps on building my skills in automation.
5. Get help from RPA forums
To make sure the learning time taken isn’t disrupted by problems where you may have difficulty understanding how to do some activity with the RPA tool, help is on hand from the forums.
There are many forums out there for RPA tools and these are designed primarily to help people get help about any problems they may be facing in their quest to learn about a particular RPA tool.
I frequently use these forums when I run into issues and first try to find out whether someone has already posted similar issues to what I’m experiencing and help did they get, as the help they got may be sufficient to resolve the issue I’m facing.
I always look at the answers given by the RPA tool manufacturer’s employees, as they are best positioned to give out highly accurate information.
The majority of the time, the help they got is good enough to resolve the issue I had been facing but in those instances, where I was experiencing something that hadn’t appeared on the forums before, I would pose a question on the forum about the issue I was experiencing and what would be the recommended course of action.
Generally, it wouldn’t take too long before someone tried to help me with my issue and because the forum I used, the other people on the forum were very friendly and helpful.
This is important as you don’t want your learning experience impeded by someone who’s unhelpful, who acts like a know it all, all patronising and condescending. These people will not give you anything meaningful, they just like the sound of themselves talking through their typing.
6. Join the RPA crowd
I surrounded myself with other people who were involved in RPA and this allowed me to pick up invaluable information by finding local meetups where RPA professionals would meet regularly.
The help I received from these RPA professionals helped increase my understanding and reduced the time I’d take to work something out.
I remember being stuck with a particular function of the RPA tool I was using, looking back it was pretty straightforward to figure out, but I just couldn’t see it then.
So with a fresh pair of eyes from an RPA professional I got talking to at one of the RPA meet up events I went to in my local area, they told me what I had been missing and bingo, I was able to solve the problem and move on.
Meetups are a great way to immerse yourself into the world of RPA, just join a meetup event for the particular RPA tool you’ve chosen to use.
In conclusion, the time taken to learn about RPA is wholly influenced by how learning about RPA is approached, those who have a plan on how they will learn will ultimately learn more easily and quickly, avoiding wasting time.
It’s important you have a plan on how to approach learning about RPA, as I found having a plan makes it easier and quicker to learn. Otherwise, you could end wasting time and dithering instead of focusing what needs to be done to get to a reasonable aptitude with RPA.