Bill started programming in 1959 for extra money in college and gave up his part-time library job to make 30 cents more an hour. That seemingly inconsequential decision eventually led to a Ph.D. in Computer Science and a distinguished career that includes being a principal creator of two of Hewlett-Packard’s most important computer architectures: PA-RISC (Precision Architecture–Reduced Instruction Set Computing) in the 1980s, and PA-WW (Wide-Word) in the 1990s, which became the Intel Itanium family of processors.
Bill was a retired HP Fellow (Chief Scientist and Distinguished Contributor) and served as a Commissioner of Colorado Governor’s Science and Technology Commission. He received an MS (Physics) and an MS (Information Science) from the University of Chicago, and a PhD (Computer Science) from Cornell University. He is the holder of 22 patents issued since 1980.
Arriving at Cornell in the mid-1960s, when the dominant method of storing programs was on tab cards, he noticed that students frequently dropped their tab card trays, getting them out of order. To fix this, he created a program that allowed the deck to be quickly reset in the proper order, saving countless projects (and more than a few students’ grades).
During his 13 years at IBM, he led efforts to define new ways to build instructions in machine language. That work included innovations that were used in IBM’s System/370 mainframes and System/38 minicomputers – IBM’s most advanced mini – introduced in 1978. In 1965, he even proposed an architecture for a small computer that IBM built but never shipped because it didn’t see a market for something called a “personal computer”.
At HP, he also faced doubt and resistance from some quarters to PA-RISC and PA-WW. “It’s almost always true that big breakthroughs will face strong opposition,” he said. “It was that way for the HP 9100 calculator and for the inkjet printer. Now I just take it as a given that it might take a couple of years for something really new to catch on. You just have to move ahead.”
Although renowned for his individual contributions to improve computer architecture, he says he most enjoyed building a team. “There’s nothing like pulling together a bunch of bright individuals and molding them into a coherent team,” he noted. “That’s why I had so much fun building PA-RISC.”
Bill’s primary interests in the computer field were performance and security, passions that influenced much of his work throughout his career. In 2003, he co-founded Secure64 Software Corporation, with the vision of building on the Itanium chip’s highly secure architecture “to prevent malware exploits, protect privacy and defend against denial-of-service attacks, that were just starting to become prevalent at the time, while preserving performance.” As CTO at Secure64 he led development of a purpose built, high assurance operating system, SourceT. Since 2008, SourceT has powered DNS software sitting unprotected on the edge of networks without compromise.
Outside of work, Bill was an accomplished pianist and chess player, and read voraciously on diverse topics: his personal library numbered in the thousands of books.
Bill is survived by his wife of 60 years, Jean, four children, 14 grandchildren, and 4 great-grandchildren. His warmth, humor, intelligence, energy, and passion for knowledge and learning will be greatly missed by all who knew him.
To learn more about the great technical mind that was Bill Worley, read his interview with the SANS institute