Programmer Murphy retires from NWS

Murphy spent six years at VA before deciding that his future lay elsewhere. Having
earned a master's degree in mathematics from the University of North Carolina, he took a
job as a systems programmer for the National Weather Service.

 His three-decade romance with supercomputing began innocently enough when he went
one-on-one with a Control Data 6600, one of the first supercomputers. Because the system
had little memory, programs still had to be written to manually call extra memory. The
6600 will always have a special place in his heart. "It was really an early
Cray," he said with a smile.

 Murphy eventually traded programming for management. But he said that buying
computers, setting strategic plans and writing policies was never as much fun as when he
was in the trenches writing programs.

 "When you are a programmer, you go home at night with a real sense of
accomplishment," he said. "As you move up in the bureaucracy, it becomes less
and less fun."

 As a manager, Murphy said he received most of his job satisfaction from the people
who worked for him. "When you are a programmer, you do whatever you can do," he

"When you are a manager, you are able to direct teams of people to accomplish tasks.
I had a lot of bright people working for me."

 Murphy also said that people in IT are getting even smarter because schools now
emphasize computer use. "When I was starting out, it took a person almost two years
of working before they became a good systems programmer," he said. "Today some
of the bright people right out of school can start turning in impressive work in a few

Murphy may have left the government, but he's not about to abandon supercomputing. He'd
like to do in industry just what he did for so long in the public sector. And he has a
firm vision of how the future will unfold.

 "I think in the future, supercomputer cycles will be given out much like
electrical power is today," he said. "There will be no need for each agency to
have its own supercomputer center. It will just plug into a center and will be billed
based on usage. The networking technology today can easily support an operation like

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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