Ed Wilson Interview — Microsoft PowerShell

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    PowerShell is hot technology for Windows operating systems. I became a PowerShell fan based on features alone, reminding me of why I adopted Unix in the early 1990s when I was a graduate student at Georgia Institute of Technology. Scripting makes management tasks easier. What I did not know until last year is how popular PowerShell is among technology professionals.

    This interview is with PowerShell superstar Ed Wilson, who is The Scripting Guy. Let me comment on how we met. In this blog, I introduced PowerShell examples for SQL Server Data Mining and Analysis Services. My posts on this topic were my translation of C# console applications to PowerShell 2.0, examples which I had not seen anywhere on the Internet. These PowerShell posts have been among the most trafficked from the entire blog:

    I put my code into the Script Repository (on the Microsoft website) which is a handy way to make PowerShell scripts searchable and available to the Microsoft community. As deep as the Script Repository content is, my new material was filling a void. Afterwards, Ed Wilson took the initiative to meet me at a SQL Saturday, but I actually met his wife first who knew a lot about the Scripting Guys website. In May 2011, we are both scheduled to present at the first SQL Rally in Orlando, FL (sponsored by PASS) — Ed will be talking about PowerShell but I will be talking about Enterprise Data Mining.

    On to the interview:

    Ed Wilson is the Microsoft Scripting Guy and a well-known scripting expert. He writes the daily Hey Scripting Guy! blog. He has also spoken at TechEd and at the Microsoft internal TechReady conferences. He is a Microsoft-Certified Trainer who has delivered a popular Windows PowerShell workshop to Microsoft Premier Customers worldwide. He has written 9 books including 6 on Windows scripting that were published by Microsoft Press. He has also contributed to nearly a dozen other books. His Windows PowerShell 2.0 Best Practices book for Microsoft Press was recently published. Ed holds more than 20 industry certifications, including Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) and Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP). Prior to coming to work for Microsoft, he was a senior consultant for a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner where he specialized in Active Directory design and Exchange implementation. In his spare time, he enjoys woodworking, underwater photography, and scuba diving.

    How and when did you start working for Microsoft?

    Microsoft called me up, and interviewed me. After about 6 different interviews, and a trip to their campus in Charlotte, NC, I was offered a job. All that happened about 9 and a half years ago.

    What would you like new people to know about PowerShell?

    Windows PowerShell is the future of Microsoft Scripting and is also a major tool for automation. Windows PowerShell providers and cmdlets are being developed for all of our newest products. IT Pros [Information Technology Professionals] will want to know Windows PowerShell because it makes it easy to manage core products like Active Directory Directory Services, Microsoft Exchange and SQL Server. Developers will want to know about Windows PowerShell because they can develop their own cmdlets and providers to easily enable automation of their products, and power users will want to know Windows PowerShell because it can simplify their daily work environment. Many tasks that are performed on a daily basis can be automated with Windows PowerShell in a simple and straight forward manner.

    What would you like new people to know about the Scripting Guys?

    Well, I am the Scripting Guy – there is only one. I love scripting (Windows PowerShell in particular) and I love to interact with users in the community. That is why I spend time going to conferences like SQL Saturday, SQL Rally, and TechEd, and why I make presentations to user groups, either in person or via Live Meeting. I am often hanging out on social media like Twitter, and Facebook.

    What do you need to know about the Scripting Guys? My whole existence is devoted to figuring out how to do things with Windows PowerShell that real people need to know how to do. I then write a daily blog to show you how accomplish that task. I find out what people are interested in learning by looking at comments posted to the blog, receiving questions via the Scripter [at] Microsoft [dot] Com email alias, reviewing questions posted to the Scripting Guys forum, looking seeing what is tweeted and retweeted on Twitter, and by talking to people. There are two things I am trying to do with the blog, the first is to help people to learn more about using Windows PowerShell, and the second is to actually solve problems. But the Scripting Guys are more than just the blog, I have an entire tech center called the Script Center. It has a library, various learning pages, the Script Repository, the Forum, as well as the blog. There is a TON of content available via the Script Center. One thing to keep in mind, is the Hey Scripting Guy! Blog is published 7 days a week, 365 days a year. That is the equivalent of about 4 books a year.

    What types of roles have you played at Microsoft?

    I was initially hired as a Technical Account Manager (TAM) and I served as a resource for three different companies. I helped one of those companies to design and to deploy their Active Directory Infrastructure, and assisted another company with expanding and stabilizing their network infrastructure. For the third company, I was more of a troubleshooting answer sort of person. I later developed a workshop on VBScript that I delivered for a colleague’s customer that was extremely well received. She told some of her friends about the workshop, and soon I was delivering this VBScript workshop full time. In the process I wrote a book for MSPress on VBScript. Later I wrote a book on WMI for MSPress, and then put together a workshop based on that book as well. The following year I did a book on Windows PowerShell, and created a Windows PowerShell workshop. I sort of kept that up for five years, and in the process I traveled around the world. The last two years I spent more than 300 nights in hotels, and spent less than 50% of my time in the United States. I was beginning to tire of all the travel, when the manager for the Scripting Guys called me up and asked me to be the new Scripting Guy. It is a really fun job – and in my mind is just about the perfect job for me.

    How do you believe your training and education helped you for the professional work you do today?

    I have so many industry certifications, it is hard for me to remember them all – I think they number somewhere around 25 or 30. I have the Microsoft MCSE, MCDBA, MCSD, MCT certifications along with a whole host of other minor Certifications. From the so called third party certifications I have certifications for hardware, security, software, and teaching (trainer). In addition, I have a degree in Journalism, and a degree in Computer Science (among other things). Because I write about computers, the college degrees sort of lend themselves in that direction. Because I am a Microsoft employee, the Microsoft Certifications are a natural fit. If I did not have my Microsoft MCSE, I would have never been hired as a consultant many years ago – and I would not have been able to teach MCSE training classes if I did not have both the MCSE and the MCT certification. Because I was teaching MCSE certification classes, my interviews with Microsoft were very simple because all of the answers to the questions were fresh on my mind – My training and education completely changed my life by opening up doors that would not have been available otherwise.

    What positive responses have you heard from people when you present on PowerShell?

    They are amazed at the power of Windows PowerShell. One of the best responses came when I was teaching a class at the Microsoft office in Denver. A person stuck his head in the classroom and thanked me for changing his life – literally. Before he took my Windows PowerShell class, he was being called out to deal with emergencies at work at least 3 – 4 times a week. The phone would ring at all times of the night for other problems as well. It was to the point that his wife was threatening to take the kids and leave him, because she could not handle the constant disruptions. They could not go out to eat, or even to a movie without his being disturbed. After he learned Windows PowerShell, he was able to write scripts to automate many of the things that was causing the emergencies, and he got his life back. Prior to learning Windows PowerShell he was working 70 – 80 hours a week, and seldom had a day off. Now he works 40 hours a week, and he has rediscovered the joys of family life. I almost choked up when he told his tale, and the students in the class were like so impressed.

    What do you enjoy about the people you work with at Microsoft?

    Microsoft hires extremely smart people, and most are so enthusiastic about technology. It is a lot of fun to sit and to talk to a bunch of “geeks” all of whom are way smart, and who immediately “get it.” The passion is contagious, and experience is very fulfilling.

    What encouragement do you have for students considering studying computer science?

    Learn the fundamentals. Realize that the computer industry completely changes every four to five years, and therefore things you start studying as a Freshman, will be completely obsolete before you even graduate from college. However, fundamentals such as protocols, security principles, and to some extent language concepts last for much longer. Of course, programing languages change every single year, but the basic concepts of the languages remain the same. I mean, like an array is an array is an array – and all languages have the concept of an array – and in most languages it is called an array. If you know and understand about arrays, how you actually construct one is secondary – that is what I am talking about. As an example, the book I wrote about Network Monitoring and Analysis more than a decade ago, still sales, and is even used as a text book in some universities. However, the book I wrote on Active Directory Design for Windows 2000 has not sold a copy in years and years :)

    Oh, I would also say, make sure you enjoy computers – do not forget that in addition to being useful, and powerful, and essential, they are also just way fun to play with! Don’t let your studies get in the way of having fun. For some reason, people in the computer industry work all the time, and are always learning and experimenting. Everyone I know has some sort of lab setup at home, and they do all this because it is fun, and they enjoy it. One never hears of an Accountant setting up a dummy company at home so he or she can practice running end of the month reports, or play with balance sheets – but everyone I know has a “dummy” Active Directory set up at home, so they can practice creating users via script, or play with implementing IPSec- just fundamental difference between occupations that is unlikely to change for the foreseeable future.

    Beyond the technical, are there any personal passions or interests you want to share?

    I really enjoy scuba diving, and I often include pictures I took in my Hey Scripting Guy! blog. I have been unable to dive recently, however, due to ear problems and so I have been spending more time in my woodworking shop. I really enjoy making things out of wood, and am getting pretty good at using hand tools. Beyond that I am a passionate reader. I try to balance what I read with one technical, one non-fiction, and one fiction book in rotation. I particular enjoy the old fashioned detective novels – they are just fun to read.

    What would you like to share about any future plans for either presenting PowerShell or the content for Scripting Guys?

    I cannot share anything about the future of Windows PowerShell beyond the fact that it is central to our [Microsoft’s] management strategy. Look information about the 2011 Scripting Games which kick off on April 4, 2011 – they will be awesome.

    Thanks for sharing your technology passion.

    MarkTab Commentary:

    • Ed Wilson’s photo reminds me of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle books (Sherlock Holmes). People talk about “debugging” being a feature in programs like Visual Studio, but I believe that YOU are the best debugger. Learning how to debug is detective science, and PowerShell has several layers of this type of work. At one level, people debug scripts. At another level, people use PowerShell to debug production or development systems.
    • I applaud Ed’s choice to mention reading and certifications as important for professional computer science work. Certifications are a way to test knowledge, but reading is essential for people who want to stay current with latest technology. Like many people, I like to learn from recorded video or live presentations too, which both give me an impression about what people are like. If you have a chance to see Ed Wilson present, you should take it. However, reading (along with interactive experimentation) provides the main way I learn about new data mining technology and applications.
    • Ed Wilson also writes heavily, several books, and an active blog. Scanning recent posts, I see a lot of interesting topics, such as how to use PowerShell to download content from the Internet. For senior professionals, the writing and the speaking become important activities to both contribute to the technical community, and to allow your own skills to be known among active professionals.
    • Ed talked about having a home lab, and I like to describe my setup as a home network (of different devices all connected through TCP/IP). My own network changes as I upgrade operating systems, add and modify and remove and replace devices. People who make networks might think of new innovative uses, and for example, PowerShell could be used to collect device information from a network.
    • I liked the story about the guy in Denver, Colorado, that PowerShell helped him to “rediscover the joys of family life”.
    • Ed enjoys what he does: “it is a really fun job”. If you are considering a career in computer science, it’s important to study people who enjoy the field and enjoy applying technology. I believe this world and life can be enjoyable in an absolute (more than just relative) sense, and I hope people can find that type of enjoyment no matter what their core skills and abilities are.
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