How Pac Tom spent 16 years running through every street in Pittsburgh
Jul 13, 2023 – minute read
Jul 13, 2023 – minute read
When you’ve lived somewhere for a long time, it can often feel like you’ve seen everything there is to see about a particular town or city. But Googler Tom Murphy VII can say that a little more definitively than most about Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania—because he’s not only spent the last 16 years running down every single street in the city.
But Tom isn’t just a dedicated runner and software engineer here at Google. He’s also a popular YouTube creator known as @Tom7, where he’s been making videos for years on creative engineering projects like implausibly designed hard drives or absurd computer architectures in his own unique, quasi-illustrated style.
So, naturally, once his run was finished, there was only one thing left to do: make a full-length 30-minute documentary detailing the entire decade-plus long project.
As an engineer, I like to do these kinds of wild projects—and a key part of the Tom 7 experience is that I also create a project video about it” Tom Murphy VII Google engineer
“As an engineer, I like to do these kinds of wild projects—and a key part of the Tom 7 experience is that I also create a project video about it,” says Tom.
This Pittsburgh running project—which Tom refers to as “Pac-Tom,” after the famed arcade game that sees its eponymous yellow character attempt to travel every single path on the level—was no exception: Tom’s video takes viewers through the entire process, from the rules he used to define what streets did and didn’t count, how he tracked his runs over the journey, and—of course—his triumphant final journey.
Tom officially reached his goal in October 2022, ending at Schaeffer Way in the Mt. Washington neighborhood, but knew that he needed to make the final run truly special for his documentary. So, he went and created a massive, 20-pound Pac-Man costume from scratch to wear for the final sprint.
All told, he ran down every single one of the over 7,000 streets in Pittsburgh, across 90 distinct neighborhoods and traveling 3,661.1 miles (roughly 5892 kilometers) along the way. “I collect and track all the data in Google Earth—which, when I had started, was a whizzy new piece of software,” he says. “I also wrote some of my own software for data visualization and managing GPS data over the years, because that's what I'm like.”
Tom isn’t resting on his laurels now his years-long quest is complete. He’s still making new videos for his channel—like his latest, a tongue-in-cheek deep dive into neural networks.
“My audience has a lot in common with Google engineers,” says Tom “They're smart, they have some engineering chops and they have some whimsy to the way they approach work. There’s been a lot of Googlers who have messaged me out of the blue, like ‘I just realized you work at Google—I love your channel,’ or ‘You were the reason I went into computer science in undergrad,’ or something like that.”
He’s not done running yet, either: his next goal is to attempt every single street in the entirety of Allegheny County, in which Pittsburgh is located. “It’s an absurd project,” says Tom. “If I dedicated my life to it, I could do it. With a full-time job and so on, I won't ever finish it—but it gives me something to strive towards.”
But, unlike his video game counterpart, Pac-Tom hasn’t had to worry too much about getting cornered by ghosts…. mostly.