If you’re in the EUC space, you may possibly have noticed that recently, a true pillar of the community decided to retire from active service. The pillar I am referring to is none other than the legendary greybeard known as Carl Webster – the news of his retirement was posted here.
I first interacted with Webster (as he prefers to be known) when I was a young thruster and sysadmin back in about 2001, on the now-sadly-defunct NT System Admin mailing list – but he’d already been in I.T. for at least two decades prior to that! It may come as a great surprise to youngsters versed in Slack, Discord and all sorts of other collaborative tools that an entity such as a mailing list existed. Essentially, you posted an email to the list, and it would appear in the inboxes of six thousand or so systems administrators and consultants all over the world, who would then offer help and advice – sometimes harsh – on the problem you were mailing about. Believe it or not, the SysAdmin mailing list lasted until 2016, before it was finally superseded by more modern tooling.
Webster was one of many great minds on that list server, along such luminaries as Brian Desmond, Andrew S Baker, Michael B Smith, Susan Bradley, Rod Trent and many others that I have interacted with down the years and that have all been a fantastic asset to learning. Webster was always the go-to expert around Active Directory and Citrix issues, and the fact that such mailing lists persisted long after better technologies sprang up to replace them is testament to the breadth of expertise that was contained within them. Like many of the peers mentioned above, Webster also maintained a personal website of technical articles and guides that was invaluable as a reference, something that he’d later encourage me to do as well.
I recall round about 2007-ish being an ambitious early thirties type, running around trying to learn as much as I could about everything in IT. I was into virtualization, storage, networks, monitoring, security, applications, databases, email, directory services…if it was under my remit, I wanted to become an expert in every part of it. This kind of approach was unsustainable, I now know – but it was Webster who encouraged me to focus myself better, to become an expert in the areas I enjoyed, to develop a proper specialization. I was torn between security and end-user computing as to what to pick for my “specialism” – I have to say I’m pretty glad I went for the latter. Like Webster said, you need to understand each of the components, but nobody can be an expert in everything (not even Jarian).
So I have to thank Webster for that good advice, and it was that advice which led me to breaking away from my systems admin roles and into more of the consultant/engineering arena. But even so, he was always around to provide guidance – I recall in one of my first consulting roles, I had a feeling that the incumbent service provider were, shall we say, giving bad advice to the end client. However, given that they were such a large and well-respected company, I didn’t feel comfortable going in there and telling them they were doing things wrong. After an email conversation with Webster, though, who told me I was absolutely right, I suddenly found I had the confidence to go in there and back my argument up – and back it up I did. Being able to source guidance from industry veterans is always invaluable, and so it proved.
As I moved further on in my career, it was about 2012 that I found myself in roles that involved a lot of travel and time away from home, and I was in conversation with Webster (on some level – I forget the medium) and bemoaning the fact that I was spending way too much time in hotel bars. As anyone familiar with him will know, Webster has famously touched nothing but ginger beer for a very long time – probably since I was in nappies – so he was quick to encourage me to a more useful use of my time in hotel rooms by encouraging me to blog. This struck a chord with me – when I was younger I always wanted to be an author (an ambition I am hoping to devote more time to in the near future), and writing was something that came naturally to me. So it was at his behest that I started blogging in 2012 – spending six years writing primarily about AppSense (Ivanti) technologies, and then switching to this website five years ago in 2018, where there is now a more general EUC focus. Certainly that’s two avenues of my life I have to thank him for steering me down – blogging, and then, as progression of that, presenting, has certainly made a lot of difference to me personally, by raising my profile and bringing in much more work.
Naturally it’s always good to try and give back, and I’ve always done my best to help Webster with the testing of the scripts that everyone who works with Citrix will certainly remember him for, as well as respond to his emails on other issues. The scripts have, for me and many others, become a pre-requisite for running prior to beginning Citrix discovery work – easily getting a full breakdown of a client’s infrastructure is absolutely invaluable. What is even more amusing is that occasionally I have employed consultants to do Citrix health-checks for me, and they have simply sent me the output of one of Webster’s scripts with a few notes added on the end! But considering the amount of time and effort that he has put in down the years to maintain these scripts across not just all the different Citrix versions, but into AD, DHCP, PVS and many other technologies – well, I can simply say it will be a huge miss, and I hope that those with the skills to maintain them in the community do find the time to do so.
Having interacted with Webster for such a long time – over twenty years, not just in the community directly but also over the last five years by joining him on the CTP program – it might seem surprising that I’ve only actually met him face-to-face on one occasion. It was after BriForum in 2014, when I was attending a post-event dinner hosted by AppSense. Unfortunately, I’d bumped into Paul Mepham prior to the event and the pair of us had consumed a sizeable amount of looseners prior to joining the dinner, and by the time I met my mentor I was rather the worse for wear. Which, coupled with my tricky northern accent that Americans find hard enough to understand when I am stone cold sober, meant that the conversation we had that night would probably have been easier if we’d continued doing it over email 🙂
Anyway, I know people from the community will start to retire more and more as the “Internet generation” begins to head inexorably into middle age, but I just felt, on both a personal and an EUC community level, that Webster deserves to have his achievements highlighted as he moves on to the next phase of life. He’s spent a huge amount of his career helping others by the work he does in the community, and – for no direct reward – personally made the day-to-day life of administrators better all over the world. I never cease to be amazed at the times he sends me email or Slack messages – sometimes three or four o’clock in the morning – and I’m hoping that even though he’s stepping away from the marvellous work he has done on those documentation scripts and his personal website, he still might be around in some capacity to throw me the occasional technical problem he needs help with.
In summary – let us all wish you a happy community retirement, Mr Webster. May all those accidental Citrix admins all over the world raise a glass of ginger beer to your years of efforts. So long, and thanks for all the scripts.