Farewell NASA: The Circular CIO

When I was aschool-aged math student, I always held a special fascination for circles.  I loved trigonometric functions and wouldplay with identities just for sport.  So,here I am now, a more “seasoned” girl and I find myself thinking again about mylove for circles. 

First, let’sdefine a circle.  It is a set of pointson a plane equidistant from another particular point which is its center.  It has no beginning and no end.  It just goes around, and around, and around –from beginning to end to beginning again. 

And here Iam at the end.

Again, atthe beginning.

I’m leavingNASA.  Retiring actually.  Well, kinda. Ending my Federal NASA career and starting a new post civil servantadventure. 

Way back inMay of 1980, I started a nearly 34-year professional career at NASA at GoddardSpace Flight Center.  I was a GS-7 1520Mathematician.  I was in the professionalinternship program (PIP) and had to have great grades to get in and do greatthings to get promoted.  I met anotherGS-7 1520 Mathematician – a shy young girl named Stephanie Gayle Henry who endedup being a BFF for life.  I was a systemsprogrammer on the IBM 360/95 working in Code 500 for Jack Balikirsky.  IBM Assembler Language was fun.  Not for wimps, for sure.

But I leftNASA.  Got married (the first time), to aguy who wanted to move to Seattle.  Twenty-fiveyears, 4 additional Federal agencies, and stint at Boeing Computer Services…later, I divorced and came back to an agency I never wanted to leave.  I came full circle.  Now, I am leaving again – at the end of thecircle.  Again.

As I beginand end, I want to mention a few great NASA leaders that I had the pleasure ofserving under this time.  They all havesomething in common – they are tough … some perhaps in some cases rather mean. 

 I willmention them in pairs, which are almost as good as circles.

Ed Weilerand Rob Strain.  They were pretty toughand mean.  On the surface, they werequite different – in stature and in academic background.  But, at the end of the day, Ed was a thugfrom the South Side of Chicago shaped by the hope and despair that surroundedhim;  and Rob was a thug form Flint,shaped by the hard work and long hours of the tireless men and women in theauto industry.  Both men are tirelessleaders whose love of space made NASA a better place.  One focused his telescope on heavenly bodieslight years away and the other focused his on Earth objects and businesssystems that just kept things running. Thanks Ed and Rob.

Lori Garverand Charlie Bolden.  Pretty tough andmean – well, maybe some think Charlie isn’t mean – but he is a Marine.  Get it. Hoorah.  So, Charlie is anastronaut and Lori is a policy wonk. Yet, this Odd Couple often accused of not getting along have the mostawesome thing in common.  Greatleadership and love of EVERYTHING space. Thanks Lori and Charlie. 

A quickpersonal story.  My husband’s first wifewasn’t especially fond of me.  And Istayed clear of her.  Then our mutuallove, her grandson, broke his foot and was in severe pain.  We were both in the orthopedic surgeon’soffice crying – because this little boy we both loved was in a bad way.  We loved the same thing.  Therefore, we loved each other – the associativeproperty of love.  That’s the real Lori and Charlie. 

So, I’m atthe end again.  Really at thebeginning.  What am I doing next?  Just Google that.  But, I sign off on my last NASA CIO blogsaying that I am leaving and agency I love to start a new beginning again. 

NASA, thanksfor being at my center.  Cureton Out.

LindaCureton, NASA CIO

The End


Cybersecurity Awareness Month

One of the greatest challenges I face as the NASA CIO is how to empower the NASA community’s use of emerging technologies while ensuring that use does not compromise NASA and the NASA mission.  This balancing act is a critical part of the decisions I make in leading the organization forward.  As each new advancement becomes the “must have “technology, security stands up to caution the community and ask that we take a few moments to ensure that the new technology will not harm the Agency in the long run.  This pause often feels like a lifetime; however, the few moments we are asked to wait for the next best thing is invaluable. 

Without effective security practices, our achievements and innovations are easily lost, stolen, or misused.  There is only so much I can do from my organization.  The NASA community must take security considerations into account if NASA is going to maintain its technological and innovative edge, and to help ensure that NASA’s important work in furthering aeronautical and space research and technologies does not fall into the hands of others who may use it against our nation and our nation’s citizens.

The safety and security of NASA data is determined by actions taken, or in some cases not taken, every day by members of the NASA Community.  While you may consider it cliché, NASA truly is only as strong and secure as its weakest link.  During the month of October our focus is directed towards the important role day-to-day security practices play in securely enabling the NASA mission.  We aim to help everyone in our NASA community to become a stronger link in the security chain.  NASA kicks off cybersecurity awareness month with the NASA National Cybersecurity Awareness Month Training Event on October 3rd at NASA Headquarters.  Throughout October, NASA will host a series of cybersecurity awareness activities at each Center.  These awareness events are designed to highlight cybersecurity roles and responsibilities, and provide the opportunity to ask cybersecurity professionals the IT security questions you have always wanted to ask (e.g., “You really expect me to remember 24 passwords, each with 12 unique characters, without writing them down.  Why/How?”). 

Understanding and implementing the fundamentals of cybersecurity is a critical component of our ongoing success.  I want to remind everyone in the NASA community to STOP – THINK – CONNECT, as NASA Leaps forward … in Cybersecurity.

Linda Cureton CIO, NASA

The Out of This World Reality of the Virtual NASA

Well we are on our way.  We launched a pilot of a large meeting of NASA senior executives.  This is a precursor to Administrator Bolden’s a virtual Executive Summit – all remote using collaborative technologies.  While the pilot contained up to 80 participants, the real virtual summit will have well over 600 executives agency-wide, nation-wide – perhaps even in low Earth orbit.  
We had 9 speakers from across the country
 who shared 10 different files consisting of documents, spreadsheets, videos and presentations. Nine speakers across the county shared documents, spreadsheets and presentations.  We even looked at a movie clip of Apollo 13. We were able to see each other on video and web cameras in our new desktop ACES desktop, laptop, and mobile device environment.
Using chat and webcams, we were able to get a reasonable sense of the mood of the attendees.  After we worked through some of the idiosyncrasies of the technology, we navigated pretty well by asking questions and making comments for the records.  We even got a few good jokes in to loosen up the room and saw a great close up shot of the administrator’s tie. 
As the CIO, I nearly had a nervous breakdown (occupational hazard).  The technology was new to the participants and the headquarters wireless network was in a bouncy mood that day.  But at the end of the day, we were one giant leap closer to implementing Administrator Bolden’s vision of an anywhere, anyplace, anytime organization.  
We also demonstrated several of the fundamental tenets of the Administration’s Digital Government Strategy.  In reminding us about the need for a mobile environment, the strategy states: 
“Mobility” is not just about embracing the newest technology, but rather reflects a fundamental change in how, when, and where our citizens and employees work and interact. Mobile technology – the devices, infrastructure, and applications required to support a mobile citizenry and workforce – is a critical enabler of mobility, but is only part of the profound environmental shift that mobility represents.
Technology will not (yet?) replace the human contact required to build trust nor the complex interactions typically used in multilateral problem solving.  But we got one step closer to augmenting the ability to collaborate in a virtual if not more cost-effective way.  
Linda Cureton CIO, NASA

The IT Revolution

Well, well,well … the IT Revolution ishere.  Who knew?  Well, CIOs did, of course.  It really feels that way anyway. 

The ConstitutionI was theaccidental recipient of an email this week. It was about me, but not intended for me.  Basically, the writer of the email said, “Canyou believe it; she is trying to takeover our meeting?”  Well, excuse the heck out of me for trying tohelp by offering my conference room.  It’sno surprise that a CareerBliss.Com survey reveals that thisjob is rated the worst. 

 But, it’s notime to whine about how hard the gig is. It’s really time for CIOs to perhaps take on the same role as ourfounding fathers did during the infancy of our government.  It wasn’t easy back then, and it’s not easynow for CIOs to lead in times of change, stay focused on mission, and implementthe right changes in their IT Governance to establish perfect unions. 

After theAmerican Revolution, our government was basically in a big mess.  There was no money and threats were allaround us – the unknowns of a western frontier, pirates threatening marinecommerce, and an unhappy motherland back across the pond.  Furthermore, the citizens in the nascent countrystill wanted to feel the benefit of their new independence and the resourcesavailable were meager. 

Citizensback then, were concerned about having a government that was focused on itscitizens and ensured that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” wouldmaintain its strategic importance.  Havingjust recovered from the centralized rule of a monarchy, the notion of afederation that would “provide for the common defense, promote the generalwelfare, and secure the blessings of liberty” was now an absolute right. 

In the IT Revolution, we see the same thingshappening.  The Bring Your Own Device(BYOD) craze, gives us IT citizens who want the freedom of accessing data withany device they want, anywhere they want, and any time they want it.  Furthermore, the cyber threats are increasingbeyond anyone’s individual ability to provide a credible defense.  

The Officeof Management and Budget (OMB) is asking its Federal CIOs to be the foundingmothers and fathers of this IT Revolutionin supporting a DigitalGovernment Strategy, a cross-cutting Cybersecurity Strategy, andframing cost-saving strategies that leverage cloudcomputing and smartconsolidation 

Yes, the IT Revolution is here.  It calls for a new IT Governance that is ofthe end-users, by the end-users, and for the end-users.  It requires CIOs to lead with courage,emotional intellect, and political resolve to give the people they serve whatthey really want and need. 

LindaCureton CIO, NASA

Mobility: Now That's Rocket Science

NASA Kennedy Space Center Office of Launch Services in partnership with the Center CIO Mike Bolger (pictured here) developed this cool little educational app that teaches kids (and old CIOs like yours truly) about rocket science.  It’s called Rocket Science 101 and is a great example of how these technologies make things like science a more personal experience.  
When I found out about it, I started playing with it … er …. evaluating it. Kennedy Space Center CIO Mike Bolger with NASA CIO Linda Cureton with Space Shuttle in background I launched a mission (successfully) with a Delta IV and an Atlas rocket.  Before I knew it, I got caught up in it and felt like a genius.  Mike lamented that his 12-year old daughter got excited and started asking him all kinds of questions.  Well, Mike, at least now “there’s an app for it!” 
Innovative use of technology like this is encouraged in the US Federal CIO’s recently announced 21st Century Digital Government Strategy.   It gets the information to citizens in a very intimate way.  
NASA IT is also developing a Mobility Strategy to complement our Administrator’s “Work from Anywhere” initiative.  This strategy seeks to create an experience for our workforce that will be enhanced by the use of mobile technology allowing them to function more efficiently or effectively from wherever they are and whatever device they are using.  Supporting this, we developed a tightly-managed way of delivering internal in our apps store, while external mobile apps will be made available using existing commercial sites.  As new services are developed, they will be done so with mobility in mind and in a device agnostic manner to the extent practicable and securely.  
Mobility is all the rage now with an ever-increasing amount of hype.  At the end of the day, when all the hype settles down, it will simply be about getting information out to those who need it, wherever they are, any time, any amount, securely.  Now I have to run – I need to go intercept an asteroid.  
Linda Cureton, NASA CIO

IT Reform at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration

The NASA IT community has worked diligently during the past year to implement meaningful IT reforms to better serve our Agency’s mission and the American people. These reforms represent the start of a journey that affects our very culture by changing the way we do business, innovate, and use technology to the benefit of our diverse customers. Improved investment management practices, the use of cloud services when appropriate, and the use of shared services as a provider and consumer are core tenets in our IRM Strategic Plan released in June 2011. To underscore the importance of this shift, I identified a Deputy CIO for IT Reform, Gary Cox, in 2012 to provide an integrated focus on IT innovation and service delivery to ensure that our services are effective and efficient from our customers’ perspectives.
In the area of investment management, we collaborated across NASA during two TechStat evaluations in the past year. The TechStat for the Integrated Collaborative Environment (ICE) in March 2011 resulted in actions that improved the governance and usability of the robust management software capability for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. In April 2012, we held a TechStat for our IT Enterprise Service Desk (ESD) to ensure that the requirements were aligned with Agency business needs and that the investment should continue as planned. The outcome was that the critical capability should continue but more focused governance and performance measures were necessary to improve user acceptance. Two Center-level TechStat investment evaluations are being planned for later this summer.
Our use of cloud technologies has benefitted NASA as well as the public. To engage the American people in space exploration, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) loaded 250,000 pictures of Mars into a Microsoft Windows Azure cloud platform. This “Be a Martian” initiative has been very popular, serving over 2.5 million data queries from crowd-sourcing applications and proving that the cloud can be a terrific way to reach and engage the public and support STEM activities in our schools. NASA is the midst of deploying SERVIR, a project in partnership with USAID, to a cloud-based geospatial information technology infrastructure. SERVIR integrates satellite and ground-based data with forecast models to monitor environmental changes and improve world-wide response to natural disasters.  Finally, NASA shifted to a new web services model that uses Amazon Web Services for cloud-based enterprise infrastructure. This cloud-based model supports a wide variety of web applications and sites using an interoperable, standards-based, and secure environment while providing almost a million dollars in cost savings each year.
We have also implemented several other major reforms. During the last 18 months, we laid the foundation to streamline and improve transparency into our IT operations by deploying centrally-managed end user services, communications services, web services, and enterprise application management and development capabilities. We also launched a central business office and working capital fund to support several major IT contracts and we have been integrating the industry-best Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) process guidance into our service frameworks. In parallel, we have closed 20 data centers to date as we continue optimizing our computing capabilities.
We also implemented new, innovative technology to support our scientists and engineers so that they can work from anywhere, any time.  Our Chief Technology Officer for IT, Dr. Sasi Pillay, is also working with industry partners to expand our mobile strategy and improve our ability to attract young employees by allowing them to use their own technology devices on our networks.  And, our Center for Internal Mobile Applications is developing mobile applications that expand our employees’ ability to develop new scientific and engineering breakthroughs for the nation’s space program.  
Finally, while I serve as the co-Chair of the CIO Council’s Strategy & Planning Committee to facilitate improving Federal IT management, I am committed to ensuring that NASA is an avid consumer of idea sharing and best practices from other Agencies. For example, NASA’s Strategic Investments Division (SID) entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Department of Treasury to implement Performance Measure Manager to drive efficiencies by facilitating the input of Agency performance data and providing a consolidated archival capability. Only by working together, collaboratively and in an open environment, can we continue to achieve long-lasting Federal IT reform.
Linda Cureton, NASA CIO

Sourcing Strategies and Innovation – Diversity and Inclusion Create Big and Strong Organizations

We mostlythink of diversity and inclusion issues as it relates to people andorganizations.  The benefit of thinkingin this dimension comes from bringing in groups of people with a broad range ofexperiences, styles, and approaches to solve organizational problems increative ways.  

The sameapplies to sourcing strategies for plugging in outside organizations with ourown.  This is relevant to contracting,partnerships, and strategic alliances. Sourcing strategies give us the opportunity to reflect on the strengthsand challenges of our organizations and be intentional about what kind ofoutside company can provide the biggest advantage.  These successful strategies are key tobuilding an organization that is constantly learning and organicallyinnovative. 

ClaytonChristensen in “Innovator’s Dilemma: WhenNew Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail” talks about the factors that affectan organization’s ability to be creative and innovative.  These three factors which “…affect what an organizationcan and cannot do [are] its resources, its process, and its values.”  He goes on to say that large companies usuallyreject promising opportunities because smaller companies are better positionedfinancially, culturally, and process-wise to pursue them.  

Many of usspend a lot of time bemoaning the fact that it is so difficult to innovate orleverage technology in government because of how we budget, procure, and bureaucratize. But is it really that bad?  

The Officeof Management and Budget (OMB) put out an intriguing memo.  For those non-bureaucrats, we live and die byOMB memos – we even give them names and numbers.  It’s sort of like when your mother tells youto do something – always listen to your Mom. This memo is commonly known as Mythbusters. Here, myth #10 tells that tells us tothat getting broad participation from a variety of vendors is good for us.  If we do this, we’ll grow up to be big andstrong – Mom, uh… I mean OMB has a point here. Here’s the fact: 

”The government loseswhen we limit ourselves to the companies we already work with. Instead, we needto look for opportunities to increase competition and ensure that all vendors,including small businesses, get fair consideration. “

Successfulleaders will create an ecosystem where strategic partnerships exist in whicheach partner or vendor has an important role to play.  Consider a shipping analogy – after all, forthose who know me, it’s all about cruising. 

Large shipstend to be slow and difficult to maneuver. They are like agencies or large companies with entrenched culturaltraditions and a heritage of processes. These ships need the help of pilot boats or tug boats to help them maneuvertight channels or clear reefs in order to have a successful journey.  These smaller ships are like smaller agenciesor small businesses that are able to go into places the big guys can’t fit andare nimble, quick, and flexible.  Finally,we have yachts and other small pleasure boats that can run circles aroundeveryone – like the tender boats that ferry people back and forth to shore muchmore effectively and safely than the big guys can.  

Whether you’rea Harvard Business School professor, a Mom, or a frequent cruiser, the value ofthe variety and capabilities that we apply to sourcing work in organizations isa key to success.  

LindaCureton, CIO, NASA



International Space Apps Challenge: Carbs, Caffeine, and Coders

NASA’s OpenGovernment Team saw a great turnout in citizens from around the world gatheringfor 48 hours to develop software code, technology, and solutions.  Teams from every continent gathered to solvechallenges that were relevant to both space exploration and social need.   From4/21-22, 2,083 collaborators from 111 organizations in 25 cities and 17countries addressed 71 challenges.  They created101 unique solutions in 48 hours with 50 submitted for global judging.

I had thepleasure of manning the San Francisco site. It was unseasonably warm in SFO – a sweltering 85 degrees.  The coders consumed massive quantities ofwaffles, bagels, and pizza to fuel their passion for space and their strongdesire to contribute to outcomes that improved life for all of us on this amazingblue marble.  Tech Shop, which gives the initialimpression of a high school shop class, provided the perfect atmosphere for themakers and shakers. 

Collaborators working on solutions

Here are afew examples from some of the sites:

 ·        SatelliteData Correlation System

·        LunarTerrain Roughness Mapper

·        WaterSampling System

 Challengeslike these engage citizens in a meaningful way. It taps into the collective creativity of the crowd and fostersco-creation that quickly and cost-effectively helps agencies advance theirmission. 


LindaCureton, NASA CIO


Geek Power

After my last blog, it was clear that I needed to acknowledge the unsung heroes also known as Geeks.  From his book Leading Geeks, Paul Glen defines them (…uh, us) as “… the highly intelligent, usually introverted, extremely valuable, independent-minded, hard-to-find, difficult-to-keep technology workers who are essential to the future of the organization.” Another characteristic of Geeks, according to Glen is that they lots of love, caffeine, carbohydrates, and saturated fat.  Picture courtesy of Efrain Fernandez


Maybe it is no surprise that these workers are hiding in data centers, heads down developing web sites, or fixing problems on laptops – drinking Red Bull and eating pizza, of course.  Yesterday’s Geeks are masquerading today as CIOs, CTOs, or some flavor of manager or executive (before Red Bull it was coffee or Mountain Dew and pizza). And what of this thing called programming?  Who does it now?  Well, Geeks did and they still do!


I found a blog from a retired Geek who can’t get programming out of his system and furthermore understands the value of the skills needed to support heritage code that solve celestial mechanics problems for NASA.  Yes, his name is David Eagle, he’s still going a bit of work for NASA Kennedy Space Center and he is a Geek.  He loves to do the things that Geeks love to do – which is to solve problems.  He admits: 


“The computer programming I do is not all about making money. It’s a way to keep my mind sharp (and to prevent it from totally turning to mush!) and it’s fun, too. I’m currently semi-retired, working part-time at Kennedy Space Center.  After 30+ years in the business, it can be hard to just walk away. I love to solve problems, especially those that involve optimization of space flight mechanics problems.”


A Geek after my own heart.


Geeks are people who deliver technology innovations no matter what era you are from.  When you find them, give them a hug.  You may in fact wonder if you are a Geek.  Here are some clues (feel free to add more).  You know you’re a Geek if …


…you see the world in 4K pages.

…you have an iPhone, a blackberry, an iPad, a laptop, a PC, and a MAC. 

…you know what thrashing is and believe it is inherently evil.

…you know what ASP, HASP, and JES are but can’t remember your kids’ names.

…you loved Geometry and hated the prom.

…you can’t remember phone numbers but you remember IP addresses.

…you use the terms do-loop and no-op in non-technical contexts.


More …?


Linda Cureton, Geek CIO




The End of the Mainframe Era at NASA

This monthmarks the end of an era in NASA computing. Marshall Space Flight Center powered down NASA’s last mainframe, the IBMZ9 Mainframe.  For my millennial readers,I suppose that I should define what a mainframe is.  Well, that’s easier said than done, but heregoes — It’s a big computer that is known for being reliable, highly available,secure, and powerful.  They are bestsuited for applications that are more transaction oriented and require a lot ofinput/output – that is, writing or reading from data storage devices.  

Source: IBM archives - www.ibm.com

They’rereally not so bad honestly, and they have their place.  Things like virtual machines, hypervisors,thin clients, and swapping are all old hat to the mainframe generation thoughthey are new to the current generation of cyber youths. 

In my first stint at NASA, I was at NASA’sGoddard Space Flight Center as a mainframe systems programmer when it was stillcool. That IBM 360-95 was used tosolve complex computational problems for space flight.   Backthen, I comfortably navigated the world of IBM 360 Assembler language and stillremember the much-coveted “green card” that had all the pearls of informationabout machine code.  Back then, realsystems programmers did hexadecimal arithmetic – today, “there’s an app for it!”

 But allthings must change.  Today, they are thesize of a refrigerator but in the old days, they were the size of a CapeCod.  Even though NASA has shut down itslast one, there is still a requirement for mainframe capability in many other organizations.  The end-user interfaces are clunky and somewhatinflexible, but the need remains for extremely reliable, secure transactionoriented business applications.