A History of Microsoft's Scripting Guys, Part 1

If you're a Windows admin engaged in any kind of scripting, odds are you've been to the TechNet Script Center and met The Scripting Guys. Originally an informal effort within Microsoft, the Scripting Guys have become… well, legends isn't an inaccurate term. But who are they, and where did they come from?

In the Beginning

Greg Stemp is probably the one to point the finger at. Greg originally joined the Windows Server team to be a Group Policy writer, since he knows Group Policy pretty well. Fortunately, he got diverted to being a scripting writer. He set out to learn about scripting from an administrative point of view, and was disappointed at how little information there was out there. There was certainly some simplistic stuff - how to get a computer name, for example - but nothing really useful for an admin. He started realizing that there must be a demand for more information.

Before long, Greg and other team members were working on the Windows Server 2003 Resource Kit, writing - amongst other things - 400-page supplement on scripting. An appendix, really, but containing a lot of scripts and so forth. Unfortunately, that came right when Microsoft put Windows Server 2003 on hold for more than a year to address potential security issues and ultimately ship a better product. Given the delay, the Resource Kit dropped the scripting stuff, not wanting to hold up the ResKit itself. Eventually, that ResKit wound up being cancelled entirely, leaving Greg and company with a lot of material, a feeling that there must be demand for it out there, and not much else. Microsoft Press eventually suggested writing a Windows 2000 Scripting Guide, which they did, but their first try was to take their materials to TechNet.

TechNet, unfortunately, didn't think there'd be any interest in the materials, and turned them down. For a while. A few months later, Greg got an e-mail explaining that TechNet was looking to do some "different things" to engage customers for a month. TechNet offered to post the scripting materials for that month as part of the special event - and was shocked at the 18,000 or so hits they got. Rather than being taken down, the scripting content got an extension. TechNet suggested naming the content area the "Greg Stemp Script Center," but Greg declined. He wanted to use the "Resource Kit Script Center," since that's what most of the materials had already been written for, but the ResKit folks wouldn't permit them to use the name. So Greg suggested "The Scripting Guys" instead. TechNet loved it. The legend was born.

The core Scripting Guys team included Greg, Dean Tsaltas, Bob Wells, and Jean Ross. They were managed, and eventually joined, by Peter Costantini. "Everyone on the team was a teacher at heart," Greg recalls, "and liked to have fun." So much Microsoft documentation is ponderous and heavy, but the Scripting Guys took the opportunity to deliver something more lighthearted and casual. Something that could make people believe they really good do this stuff. 

Meet the Team

Peter came to the team from a software development role within Microsoft. He'd been asked to step in and help the team write some materials on Component Object Model (COM), and ended up becoming a full "Scripting Guy" himself. Bob had been working for Microsoft Consulting Services, and was looking to cut back on the amount of traveling he was doing. "None of us knew anything about scripting," Greg says, "so he showed us how to script, what to script, stuff like that. He really deserves a lot of credit." Peter started as the team's manager, and wound up being, in Greg's words, "promoted or demoted, I'm not sure which it was" to an in-the-trenches Scripting Guy.

Fond Memories

One of the Scripting Guys' biggest accomplishments was in bringing scripting to admins in an understandable, actionable, practical manner. They also let Microsoft see that admins were willing to script - even eager to do so - to automate tasks. The Script Center became, and remains, one of TechNet's most popular destinations. The rise of scripting brought increased interest from within Microsoft, too, resulting in more command-line tools shipping with products. In fact, the Scripting Guys' success is very likely part of what made Windows PowerShell a possibility, because without evidence that Windows admins would embrace scripting and automation, PowerShell might well have never gotten off the ground.

Greg and Dean both recall their first Webcast: "I got this phone call asking me if we could do something called a 'webcast," Greg says. "So I said yes, and then walked over to Dean's office and asked what a webcast was." That first 'cast saw them in a glassed-in broadcast booth, complete with giant radio-style microphones. Subsequent 'casts were over-the-phone, more like the common Webcasts and Webinars we've all attended. In fact, the Scripting Guys became famous for their Webcasts, particularly the Scripting Week series. One of Dean's best memories is of their first Scripting Week webcast, when they attracted enough participants - over 3,000 - to actually crash the Webcast servers. That's when they knew they were really reaching folks.

Both Greg and Dean are justifiably proud of their Scriptomatic tool. "It was kind of a Bob word," Greg says. "He was always saying, we need to get them to the point where they just think of something, run it through their 'scriptomatic,' and bang, they have it. He was speaking metaphorically of course, but he was a smart guy. I took him literally." The now-famous Scriptomatic was born out of a need for a whiz-bang demo to wrap up a scripting talk Greg was asked to give to the Windows Server team. "Nobody cared," Greg recalls, "except Dean." Dean offered to clean up the tool ("it had this black and yellow color scheme, like a bumblebee," Dean said; "it was high-tech!" Greg replied), adding some functionality and making it look more like an app. The Scriptomatic remains one of many admins' best and favorite tools, and is in itself a demonstration of how powerful scripting can be.

On Dr. Scripto

"I had a bizarre notion that I wanted to do comic strips," Greg said. Plus, the Script Center needed a mascot. Someone smart, but not scary. "I wish we could say we conducted focus groups and all other kinds of stuff," Greg admitted, "but he's just a piece of clip art from the Office Clip Art site." Clip art or not, Dr. Scripto has become a favorite of admins everywhere, even recently being featured on his own Web TV channel. Dr. Scripto bobblehead dolls remain a rare, must-have piece of swag for scripting fans worldwide. "I thought the bobbleheads were a joke," Dean said, "but he did it." Greg had a collection of photos that readers had sent in, featuring Dr. Scripto posing with monuments from around the world.

The End of an Era

The IT industry is all about change, and the Scripting Guys are no exception. Bob was based in Atlanta, and the telecommute thing wasn't always ideal, so he set off to pursue other interests. Dean eventually wanted to get back to his developer roots, and moved to Microsoft's WMI team. Greg and Jean, the last two Scripting Guys, jumped on an opportunity to work for the then-under-development Lync Server, and had to leave the Script Center in a bit of a hurry (which is fairly common for Microsoft start-up projects). They're all glad that the Script Center fulfilled its goal of helping admins really get stuff done.

Now the Script Center was Guy-less, and in need of a new custodian.

Watch for Part 2 of A History of Microsoft's Scripting Guys!

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