PSC Staff Profile - Joel Welling (with PSC since 1985)

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We sat down with Joel Welling, Coordinator of Scientific Visualization, Strategic Applications, for his reflections on PSC through 25 years. Joel reminds us of PSC’s beginnings and the perfect synergy of luck and laziness.

PSC: As one of the first staff members at the Center, what brought you to the PSC?

Joel: What brought me to the PSC was the perfect synergy of luck and laziness. I'd done a Ph.D. in physics at Pitt, taking at least one class from Ralph (Roskies) in the process. I'd post-doc'd for a while at Pitt, and spent a few months at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics using their Cray 1S, which was a machine sort of like an iPhone but with no screen or audio.

After that I had to decide between doing more post-docs while I waited for some tenured general relativist to retire or change course. At that precise moment Mike and Ralph founded the PSC. I went and interviewed with them with the notion that I'd be an 'on-site physicist'. This was the model of 'staff scientists' that other supercomputing centers were adopting, but it wasn't the way the PSC ended up working. Fortunately, I had good computing skills, and I picked up software skills as things went along.

PSC: It seems that PSC took you in a surprising direction, how has PSC changed?

Joel: I guess another way to ask the question is, 'what has the PSC done that the other Centers have not?'. We've obviously supported a lot of unique research. Our support, outreach and teaching programs are perhaps the best among the Centers. For the past few years I've been closest to the performance-analysis side, and I do believe that we get more deeply into the hardware of the machines we propose and build than the other Centers do. The network trickery we propose for new machines is an example of this; the engineering work we did for the Lemeux machine was another very impressive case.

PSC: Very impresive indeed. How do you think it has impacted HPC?

Joel: I'm not sure what I can say... but within the Centers program I think our habit of pushing for highly parallel jobs has benefited the whole community by pushing that boundary.

PSC: What is your most compelling memory over the last 25 years?

Joel: Oh geez, I have to give you several. I remember the very beginning of the Center, when we were all sitting around in a big room full of desks over at Mellon Institute. That was a very, very compelling time — I think the comeraderie that we built during that time is the reason so many of us have stuck around for so long. We all sat at desks and answered each other's phones; I was the User Services department and Doug Fox (where is Doug?) was the hardware group. I happened to take a phone call from a user asking about graphics software, and that earned me more graphics questions, and eventually I became a Famous Graphics Guru.

I also remember the Town Meeting where it was announced that we'd won the proposal for the TCS machine, with Bob Stock standing up and shouting "We're Number One!". I think coming through periods of good and bad times intact was probably the biggest triumph the PSC has had.


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