Information Technology Specialist
Science Support Branch
Storm Prediction Center
By Keli Pirtle (NOAA Communications), and Ariel Cohen (SPC)
Q: How does one become an information technology specialist?
It depends on how much time you have to study and gain experience; it could be a long time. My
training was in computer science, and I received both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in the field of
computer science, making the transition into the information technology position rather easy.
Q: So, after your Master’s degree, did you work at the University of Oklahoma?
I did. I started out in College of Engineering, then to College of Geosciences, and then moved onto
supercomputing. This was my passion at the time.
Q: How did you transition to your position at the Storm Prediction Center?
As the SPC was moving to Norman in 1997, I was managing the Supercomputing Center at the University
of Oklahoma. I was contacted by one of the staff members at the SPC who indicated they were in need
of additional technological support. This was during the springtime when forecasters were very busy
dealing with severe storms, so I didn’t come on board until August.
Q: Give me a general idea of your responsibilities.
I'm part of the Science Support Branch (SSB), whose primary duties involve supporting operations. The
whole SSB handles the scientific support and technical support, and I’m on the technical support side.
I’m mostly involved in technological infrastructure support, supporting operations, research related
to the Hazardous Weather Testbed, IT security, and pretty much everything
technologically related other than specifically forecasting the weather.
Q: Where do you see computing going? What does the future look like?
I think it's probably going to become more specialized. Sub-disciplines in computing will be more
specialized. The discipline of computer science is pretty young; modern computers have only been around
since the 1940s. But, the field is expanding and improving pretty rapidly. I think it’s evolving into more
Q: How much do you think SPC operations depend on computing?
Computing is very crucial to the SPC operations, which definitely rely upon a lot of computing
infrastructure, data flow, and communication capabilities. Human judgment and experience still play
very big roles. However, there’s just more data and more information, so the computer provides
important assistance to human forecasters to make better judgment calls and better synthesize more
information and more data. Forecasting is not easy, so we have to try to provide the most concise but
comprehensive information for forecasters to make decisions in a very short period of time.
Q: What educational background helped you get where you are today?
As I mentioned, my background is in computer science, but I have always been working hands-on with
computer systems. Even though I don't solely focus on the theoretical aspect of computer science, I was
actually really interested in theoretical computing for a while. It is through the classwork and different
projects that I learned how to work more effectively across the discipline. This has required work with
not only computer scientists, but also working with those in different disciplines like scientists and
Q: What is it about your job that interests you the most?
A lot of different aspects of my job greatly interest me. The variety of projects we work on and all the
inherent complexity make this job very interesting. Solving problems is what I'm really interested in,
and I get satisfaction from solving problems that are facing the SPC.
Q: Tell us something most people don't know about you.
Most people don't know I was actually a military drill instructor when I served in the Taiwanese Army. I
was a drill sergeant when I served in the military for two years of compulsory service in Taiwan. My own
training was pretty tough, but after that I was training others.
Q: What advice would you provide to an up-and-coming computer scientist or information technology specialist?
I think learning how to work in a diverse team is something that is not being taught very well in
traditional computer science classrooms, at least from my experience.
Trying to find projects that require you to effectively communicate and cooperate
with others from different disciplines would be a very helpful skill, not just for computer science but for
anything. As you advance into your career, your ability to communicate, cooperate, and collaborate is
Q: What do you see yourself doing in five to 10 years?
It depends, and there are so many unknowns. The technology arena is quickly changing, and I hope the
SPC will have an even better, more robust system for whatever its future demands are. I see a lot of
the new technology that is coming, both in terms of computing and in terms of meteorology. As a part
of Weather Ready Nation initiatives, I hope to participate in activities that facilitate communication of
important weather information in the future.
Q: Did you have any interest in weather before coming to the SPC?
I've definitely been interested in the weather from a layman's point of view. This is especially the case
living in central Oklahoma; it's hard not to pay attention to the weather here.
Q: Is there anything I haven't touched on that is interesting about what you do?
As I mentioned earlier, computing is becoming increasingly specialized, but I think that understanding
the basics is still essential. At a National Center like the SPC, it is still important to have more general
skills in computer science. A general understanding of computing can provide you with the ability to
learn new skills. Computer science is a never-ending learning process. There are always new things to
learn, and we require our team to consist of talented people who can pick up new skills fairly quickly
and are productive. One of our purposes at the SSB is to think about what new technology can help us
meet our mission. We support operations, but we also try and figure out new and better ways to do it.
Return to the Staff Profile Page.