It’s a bit rude, but I have a saying: “show me a person consistently working more than than 40 hours a week in IT, and I’ll show you a person who’s probably chosen the wrong career field“.

While I understand that there are occurrences where people are working for companies that are understaffed, and there might be other reasons behind the hours, that doesn’t change the fact that in the last 20ish years in the IT field the majority of people I’ve known who worked like that were just not very good at their jobs. Even more consistently I’ve found that they didn’t understand automation, which is odd considering that’s their job!

I’ll give you an example: in my old position the environment I managed was made up of a group of Citrix Xenapp servers. Critical as this environment was to our bottom line, every server had a backup so we could fail over quickly. Here’s the thing: previously, “quickly” was about 3-4 hours. Now, it’s bad enough that in a critical situation it took 3-4 hours to cut over to the backup server. But, upgrades required a cutover and cutback! Upgrading 30 servers and their backups would take WEEKS. I got in there, tweaked the process a bit, wrote some scripts to do some of the work and got the whole thing down to 15 minutes.

Actually, in all honesty, I could’ve scripted the whole thing to run in 15 SECONDS, but I needed to justify my pay somewhat.

The whole point of IT is to make a company more efficient, to allow it to do more with less staff. In some cases, a single server could replace thousands of employees. Sure, there are downsides to that, but those aren’t part of this discussion. If you can’t automate some of the repetitive tasks you do on a daily basis, or even an infrequent basis, how do you justify working in a field whose purpose is to automate out repetitive tasks for others?

Two plus years ago, I got myself an iPhone. I’ve talked about my leaving that platform, and I’d like to share one of the reasons why. I’d been hearing about this interesting little hack available for Android called Tasker on Lifehacker for some time and was enthralled. I’ll be honest, Tasker was about 90% of the reason I moved to Android. And, why? It automates your phone!

The iPhone gets a lot of static for being just a fanboi platform, but Apple deserves a lot of credit for putting out a paradigm changer. It’s not a PDA, it’s not a phone…it’s a portable computer that allows you to make calls and have ubiquitous Internet access.

But, you’re locked in with it. I’m not just talking about the Apple Store or iTunes, but simple day-to-day tasks. Take something as simple as your browser. You can get plenty of replacement browser apps in the Store, but none can be made your default. If you click a link in your e-mail, it launches Safari. If you click a link in another app, it opens Safari. No matter what you do, you’re stuck with Safari. The only time your browser of choice opens is when you tap the icon for it.

The kind of limited thinking that produces such a half-assed solution just isn’t what went into Android and as a result we get something like Tasker. It’s a tool that allows you to automate your phone to do things you never thought possible. I play around with it a little every day and I still manage to find some new use for it.

Using it couldn’t be easier. You start with a context under which you’d like Tasker to respond. This could be location (using GPS), phone state (plugged in, headset plugged in) or date/time, etc. Once you’ve defined the conditions you’d like it to respond to, you can then define the task it will then take. So much of the basic phone is available to automate, and authors of other software can produce plugins or links to allow you to automate their stuff, too. This all might sound confusing at first, and that’s because despite its simplicity, Tasker brings a LOT of power to the table. Examples work best, I think. Let’s start with a typical 24 hour period. I’ll start with my getting home from work at around 10:30pm (I work the late shift):

– As I get within 1km of my house, Tasker turns on my phone’s wifi. As soon as I connect to wifi, either at my house or any place else, it turns off the mobile network radio to conserve battery. I’ve got wifi, why leave them on? I also have it setup to turn on wifi when close to other folk’s houses where I use their wifi, and the same happens there.

– At 11:00pm, Tasker automatically silences my phone. It mutes all of the volumes, however it’s setup so that if my wife calls or texts, I will get an audible notification.

– Typically I go to bed a little after 11 and plug the phone into the charger before doing so. Tasker responds by first seeing I’m plugged in. It also checks to see if I’m connected to my home wifi. With these two conditions being met, it starts backing up my phone. It launches SMS Backup+ which backs up all of my SMS conversations and call logs to my gMail account. Each entry shows up as an e-mail within a label with can then be accessed however I would normally access gMail. Mount Manager is a utility that allows my to mount CIFS shares to my phone. I haven’t purchased the full version yet, but that comes with a Tasker plugin so I could have it then mount my desktop PC’s drive and backup my entire phone in one shot while I sleep.

– At 8:00am, Tasker reenables the audible notifications.

– When I leave the house, and disconnect from my wifi, Tasker turns the mobile networks back on. When I’ve gone more than 1km away, it turns off the wifi to conserve battery and prevent me being annoyed by the constant “I found a wifi network! I found a wifi network!” notifications.

– Now, I like anime. As a result, I might have some kind of an anime-themed wallpaper on my phone. As those who are familiar with the genre can tell you, oftentimes in anime, women are a bit…scantily clad and their body features are absurdly pronounced. Let’s just say the wallpapers, while not porn, would definitely be considered NSFW. So, as soon as I get within 1km of my work place, Tasker will load a random wallpaper from a folder entitled “SFW”. Phew! That was close! As I finish the work day and leave that radius, it’ll put up a random wallpaper from my entire collection.

And, the process repeats. Now, I might come off as lazy by telling you about the above. But, again, isn’t automation what computing’s all about? Why should I manually do all of those things? I can have a phone that, depending on where I am and what I’m doing, morphs itself into whatever I need at that moment. When I plug in my headphones, it pops up a menu of all of the applications I might want to use them with. Others have setup “where’s my phone” type tasks that allow them to send a text to the phone and it responds with regular GPS coordinates of its location.

Did I mention that I have it setup to tie into my Homeseer-based X-10 so that when I connect to my wifi, if it’s late and past the time when my outside lights are on, the lights will come on as I hit the driveway. How cool is that?

All of this and I still have only scratched the surface of what it can do. Seriously, if you’ve got an Android phone, it’s the best $6 you’ll spend on an app (buy it from the author’s site listed above, though. He gets a bigger cut if you do it that way). If you’re still on an iPhone…sorry, you’ll never be able to do anything this cool. ;-)