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Joe Wells: in memoriam

Profile photo of Joe Wells
One of the few pictures publicly available of Joe. But if you knew him, he was unmistakable – a funny, interesting, quirky and incredibly intelligent person.

Today I learned that Joe Wells, one of the early pioneers in the antivirus space, has passed away.

Joe played a particularly important role in my life. Back in 2006, I was running a software company, Sunbelt Software, and we an antispyware product, CounterSpy. While we had good commercial success, it was clear it was time for a pivot.

Enter Joe Wells: At the time, he was chief scientist for Fortinet, and we asked him to come down to our offices in Florida.

The rest, I quote, from a blog post I wrote later (now archived):

On a chilly and blustery evening last January, Joe Wells, Eric Sites (our VP of R&D) and I sat outside overlooking the water at the Island Way Grill, a favorite local hangout. We were trying to recruit Joe from his position as Chief Scientist at Fortinet and the subject was along the lines of a re-invention of the anti-malware model.

In antivirus circles, Joe is a well-known figure. The founder of the Wildlist, he’s spent his life writing antivirus engines, getting antivirus patents and working for Symantec, IBM Thomas Watson Labs and Trend (and in his spare time, doing a complete translation of the Bible into the Sahidic dialect of the Coptic language as well as writing science fiction).

The rest of the blog was the introduction of our new VIPRE antivirus technology, and the essay represented a massive shift in our corporate strategy. (Fun fact: he even came up with the VIPRE acronym – “Virus Intrusion Prevention Engine”). It was also presaged a shift in how the world collectively thought about antimalware products, and I’d like to think we played a role in the development of the next-generation antivirus market (companies like Crowdstrike and Cylance).

It was Joe who said “we can do this”. And we did (and then three years later, we stupidly sold the business — that’s for another blog).

Joe was a big deal. I’m thankful to have known him, worked with him and to have counted him as a friend. He was our chief scientist and was the one who took us from being a small antispyware/antispam company to the big leagues (and what a run it was!).

Joe was a character in a world going bland: irreverent, quirky, massively intelligent and extraordinarily interesting.

Thank you Joe. You made a difference and you will be missed. RIP.

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