Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Why PowerShell is a Big Deal (In my own feeble words)

If you've followed my blog for a while (my apologies, of course) you're probably wondering just what the **** I'm aiming for.  That's a fair question, because, to be honest: I really don't know.  It's a venting machine for me, I suppose.

For a long time I ranted on about Autodesk products and AutoCAD customization, then it turned into Autodesk product installation and licensing management, and networks, and then I had an unplanned career change dropped on me from nowhere. I had to make a shift into the "mainstream" IT world and learn Microsoft tools and things entirely different than I was accustomed to. Since then, my professional and personal life has been a blender, tossed into a woodchipper and fed into a meat grinder.  Messy, yes.  A disaster?  That depends on how you define the word.  Blah blah blah, yes, I'm aiming for a point here somewhere, please be patient?  Your call is important to us...

I started playing with program code back in 1986, while working as a drafter in the Marine Engineering field.  That's fancy terminology for designing things that go on ships.  In my case: U.S. Navy ships.  Big. Heavy. Gray.  Smelling like oil. And usually parked in some rather unappealing locations in the worst kinds of weather.  We would go aboard, sketch up stuff, go back to our hotel, eat and drink (okay, mostly drink) and then return to the office and formalize a set of design drawings to accomplish a "retrofit" of something.  A "retrofit" is basically replacing something to improve some aspect of the ship (performance, capability, living conditions, etc.)

After CAD took hold among the DoD world, it took much longer for the mainframe and workstation era to pass and open the door to the PC world, than it did in other industries (i.e. AEC).  It wasn't until around 1987 that the Naval Shipyards would even "allow" the use of AutoCAD for any official drawing contracts.  At first it was only allowed for title sheets, materials lists and anything "non detail design".  Eventually, they gave in and began replacing all the old DEC, Sun and IBM crap with shiny new IBM-PC boxes and much cheaper software.  In all, it saved them enough on budget to buy a small country (they probably did just that).

I got my first taste of "real" programming in 1987 from reading a book on AutoCAD R10 and learning AutoLISP and a little ADS later on. AutoLISP was it.  Even while going to college for my IS degree, and soaking up C/C++, and all that, I couldn't ignore the flexibility and dynamic personality of LISP.  At the time, it was like trying to remain focused on a mail delivery truck while I kept my eyes on the '67 Camaro SS parked on the side.  Not much competition in my mind.  But alas, marketing won and LISP began a slow decline from the 1990's into the mid 2000's.  Microsoft's unstoppable licensing machine eventually mowed down the momentum behind anything besides Visual-This and That.  I can't pick at the technological appeal either, so I'm just whining I suppose.

Soon after the mid 1980's I picked up BAT and KiXtart on the PC side, and Bash/Korn and Perl on the UNIX side (mostly at school).  Then I ran into the database world and began mashing AutoLISP with AutoCAD CAO and ObjectDBX, which dropped me into a rat hole called Visual Basic.  It was fun and lasted me through the mid 1990's very nicely.

Long story short:  I gradually became jaded by every new programming language coming out.  It seemed like yet another attempt to get the junkies hooked on a newer drug and keep the marketing departments employed.  Tech conferences kept shoving one new language or toolset after another and spending tons on spiffy ads and graphics.

I thought PowerShell was just that.

I was dead wrong.

For years, my colleagues would roll their eyes at me, when I'd start pontificating about "Microsoft should __", following my third cup of coffee.  As if anyone in Redmond gives a shit about some annoying guy named Dave out in the redneck state of Virginia.  My usual rants involved the lack of cohesion and consistency among the various command tools.  Things like NETSTAT, NET this-or-that, IPCONFIG, NTDSUTIL, DSGET/whatever, DIR, and then CMD and BAT scripting weirdness.  I kept saying "they need to clean this shit up!" and then I would fade off into a muffled blubbering of incoherent words and slurping coffee (cold and stale, usually).

Even after I jumped on the Monad open preview bandwagon, I didn't get it.

I read articles and still didn't get it.

I bought books and still didn't get it.

I went to Microsoft TechEd 2011 and 2012 and didn't get it. (I did get a few t-shirts though)

Then I read a few blog posts by Jeffrey Hick, Jeffrey Snover, and Don Jones and a few others.  And then after studying for some MCITP/MCSA exams, it hit me like a train:  THIS is what I was begging for.  Granted: It hasn't reached the goal line yet, but damn if it hasn't made it a long way down the field.  In fact, from my poking and inspecting, I would dare to say it's in the Red Zone and there's still plenty of time on the clock. (sorry to all non-Football fans, I feel you - but I couldn't think of a better analogy this late at night).

I've been dragging ASP, BATch, VBscript and COM around like a two-year old child with a dead pet on the other end of a worn leash.  Thinking it was still alive and wanting to go play outside.  Now I know what that smell was.

I'm in.  My focus from here on out will be to deprecate my use of anything besides PowerShell and ASP.NET.  If your eyes are rolling in pity right now, I apologize.  I'm really late to the party, so I have a lot of drinking to catch up on.

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