Monthly Archives: January 2009

The Transparent CIO

Posted on by .

For some reason, I’ve had several conversations with folks about Transparency in government leadership.  It seems to me that this is one of those terms that everyone tosses around with little common understanding about what that truly means.  True transparency, I believe, comes with some amount of risk.  So, I think I will push the envelop a bit and make myself a little more transparent – I certainly talked the talk lately, so let me walk the walk.

 

Today, I will blog about how I feel.  For the introvert in me, this is a near death experience – and this is not an exaggeration.  And my purpose is to (1) see what’s up with this Transparency Thing; (2) invite conversations about Leadership; and (3) having faith that Transparency is a good Thing, improve my leadership abilities.

 

One of my favorite books is A Leadership Moment, by Michael Useem.  It’s an inspiring and tragic account about several well-known leaders and how they prepared and performed during their leadership moment. One story included the leadership and preparation of NASA Flight Director Eugene Kranz and the ultimate rescue of the Apollo 13 crew. 

 

So, this is what I’m thinking – am I going to be ready for my leadership moment? And this is what I’m feeling – that I have talents that could help me that I’m “saving” for something perhaps less risky? … something perhaps more safe?

 

Some may be familiar with a parable about The Unprofitable Servant.  In summary, the story tells of a certain master who gives each of his servants 5, 2, and 1 talents respectively.  After returning, he found that he got a pretty good ROI from two of the three who doubled their original investment.  However, the servant with only 1 talent saved his and hid it to keep it safe from harm or loss.  The Unprofitable Servant – sure glad that’s not me … or it is?

 

I had a leadership moment about 13 years ago.  I was trying really, really hard to hide my talents inside a data center.  I had a boss that would call on me as his little organizational problem solver.  I could always tell, when he was about to ask me.  He gave me this “look”.  I’ll never forget one “look” he gave me.  I just started cleaning my office and waiting for my boss to call.  That call was to work on establishing a Web 1.0 service.  I went kicking and screaming and shed many tears over that gig.  The tears were shed from using talents I wanted to hide.  Yet, I used them anyway in what ended up being a defining leadership moment in my career. 

 

I find it no coincidence that as I stand at this Web 2.0 point of inflection that I am kicking and screaming and shedding tears about the push to use particular talents that I prefer to hide and not even admit I have.  Like the heroes that Useem writes about, I will need to invest all my talents in order to be prepared for that leadership moment and I won’t know when that moment will come. And all of this makes me feel afraid.

 

As there are boundaries and limitations to all this transparency stuff, I will not disclose the particular talents, though some of you out there already know what they are.  But as a good steward of this blog, I need to say without question, that a CIO gig is a leadership gig.  Some how, some way, any leader, including a CIO leader, will have to be prepared for her leadership moment.  The self-aware leader will have to be prepared to utilize all of her talents when those moments come.

 

Linda Cureton, CIO NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

CIO of the Stars

Posted on by .

In the transformation of IT at NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, we throw around what is now getting to be trite IT jargon … “The CIO must be aligned to the business”.  But what does this really mean?  In English?

 

In English, alignment means that IT resources are optimized to meet the mission’s demand for new and existing technology. But in a Forrester IT Excellence survey of 162 senior IT executives, only 15% declared themselves to be fully aligned. So, if alignment is so important, why are only 15% of folks in this survey there?  It’s no wonder CIO stands for “Career is Over”. 

 

I’m beginning to think that “alignment” is essentially not so much a place to actually “be”, but rather a place to “try” to be.  With apologies to my favorite Muppet, Yoda who implores young Skywalker:

 

“Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.”

 

I believe the effectiveness of an aligned CIO is in the “try”.  So, assuming that alignment is this mythological place that is approached asymptotically, how does the aligned CIO “try”?

 

So, as Deputy CIO at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the first thing I wanted to do was shoot a gun.  Never shot a gun before, though I wondered if it’s a skill that might come in handy for a CIO.  After I got that thrill out of the way, I decided that I would stick with organolyptic testing of fermented beverages and “try” a different way.

 

There are three components to the “try”: effective governance, relationships with the mission folks, and requisite leadership competencies.

 

Effective governance. How do you make decisions about technology? How do you allocate scarce resources? What are the priorities? What information do you need to make good decisions? Who has decision rights? These are multilateral decisions about IT that ensure IT meets mission needs.

 

Relationships with mission executives. Said many times being a CIO change agent is a tough gig, and no CIO should expect to win popularity contests.  An effective relationship requires understanding their pain; understanding their priorities; understanding what IT needs to do for them; and understanding the possibilities of what IT can do.

 

Leadership. Now, Yoda may have had good CIO advice when he encouraged Young Skywalker to use The Force. For the CIO, this Force is leadership.  This includes: strong people skills, to manage an IT workforce; communication skills – to listen and speak; courage to do the right thing; and I suppose, a light saber for technology leadership.

 

Thus, as the CIO of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, I must be aligned with Goddard’s mission to support NASA’s goals in understanding where we came from, where we are going, and are we alone.  I think for this agency, the answer is in the stars.

 

Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

IT Governance in Government

Posted on by .

A really cool and pragmatic friend of mine, Papa, asked me if “IT Governance” was real or was it just the buzzword du jour.  Then he said, “Lil’ Girl, if it’s real, it’s in Wikipedia.” Yes, Papa it’s real.  Very real.  And it’s a real problem in Government.  Sort of like a similar problem we had in … say … Colonial America. More later on why.

 

First, Papa, Wikipedia’s definition of IT Governance is as follows:

 

The discipline of information technology governance derives from corporate governance and deals primarily with the connection between business focus and IT management of an organization. It highlights the importance of IT related matters in contemporary organizations and states that strategic IT decisions should be owned by the corporate board, rather than by the chief information officer or other IT managers.

 

So, IT Governance, the discipline, is of the business, by the business, and for the business.  In NASA-speak, that translates to being of the mission, by the mission, and for the mission.   So, if there are disconnects between the IT management of an organization and the mission, you can always point the accusing finger at ineffective IT Governance. 

 

Dave McClure writes, in IT Governance in Government Agencies: Frequently Asked Questions, (Gartner, Inc.) that there are signs to ineffective IT Governance.  Some of them we see are:

 

         A less focused IT strategy

         Ineffective data sharing

         An inability to capture NASA-wide IT efficiencies (for example, cost reductions, shared services and consolidation)

         Risk elevation that results in IT not viewed as meeting mission needs, nonintegrated systems, elevated security and privacy problems, and lower use of standards.

         The perpetuation of rogue, duplicative IT spending that ignores potential reuse as well as economies of scale

         A lack of real transparency into IT spending

         Sub-optimized IT organizational effectiveness

         Inattention to benefits realization

         Waste of senior executives’ time, “rubber stamping” decisions

 

Some of the more infamous NASA examples would be email and IT security.  Both issues having their genesis in varying levels of disconnects between the mission and the management of IT.   In wrestling with these issues as Goddard CIO for the last three years, I’ve often asked, “Why is this ok?”  The answer can be suggested by considering the famous quote, “People get the government they deserve” – or rather, WE get the IT governance that we deserve. 

 

Oh, there she goes again – the CIO that does not take responsibility.  Screech!!! Think again.  Effective IT governance has many forms – centralized, decentralized and federated.  If we had a centralized governance model, or if I were Her Royal CIO-ness Linda the First, I would be Queen of ALL of IT, and make ALL the decisions unilaterally.  Many assume the decentralized governance model is NO governance model, but it could work just fine for the right business strategy – though it is multilateral, it is not anarchy.  In a federated governance model, we have a hybrid of both the centralized and decentralized model where intentional strategic decisions are made about what is managed in a decentralized fashion and what is managed centrally.  The centralized model requires more technical management skills from Her Royal CIO-ness, the EFFECTIVE decentralized model requires more leadership skills from her, and the federated model, favored by this CIO, requires combinations of both. 

 

Then my Dear Papa said, I have no idea what you just said Lil’ Girl, but I think it was strategic, right?  So, I took another run at it focusing on the federated model and offered this analogy. 

 

Papa, remember those 13 independent directorates … I mean colonies?  As a collective, they had IT security problems … I mean, border security challenges.  One weak militia could jeopardize the security of them all.  By creating a more perfect union which combined their resources for a common defense, they could be stronger and more secure.  So, they created a Federation of sorts, where common things were managed centrally by the Government, and decentralized things fell under the domain of states rights. 

 

At the end of my conversation with Papa, I think he understood that value of IT Governance.  But, then he ended the conversation with some quote about if frogs had wings, they wouldn’t bump their [behinds].  It took a while for this city girl to understand what this refined Southern gentleman meant. 

 

Both NASA in general and Goddard in particular have made significant improvements in IT Governance.  It will however, take more than a few minutes of effective IT Governance to turn around years of ineffective governance.  I think what my Dear Papa wanted me to understand was that this was what CIOs were responsible for ensuring.  And that if it were easy, we wouldn’t have CIO’s with bruises on their body parts. 

 

The effective CIO is not a horse holder, being close to the battle but far enough to stay safe, but is a battlefield savvy leader with the bruises of experience, the courage of a soldier, and the skills of a hero.

 

Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

 

p.s. Attention Business Development folks: Before you pick up that phone to call or email me, you CAN’T buy good IT Governance, an organization must live it.

A Day in the Life of a CIO

Posted on by .

A Day in the Life of a CIO

 

I have a colleague, Kerry, who I see normally about once per year at the Gartner Symposium ITxpo.  He struck me as having a knack of accurately anticipating what new technology trends might become widely adopted.  The last time I saw him, I hadn’t seen or spoken to him for about three years.  So, I was glad to catch up on hearing his insights into the wonderful world of technology.  He encouraged me to blog and introduced me to Twitter.  He may have created a monster.

 

Twitter is a micro-blogging service that allows you to write very brief text updates that can be published and seen by anyone or by those you designate.  Several Goddard Space Flight Center missions, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) , Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST), Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX), Dust Mitigation Vehicle (DMV), Hubble Space Telescope (HST), Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), use Twitter to communicate the experience of “A Day in the Life of …”.  It took me a while to get this Twitter thing.  But, I now understand some of the capabilities that this technology offers and how a CIO can use this in her leadership toolkit.

 

My mother, Harriette, often asks me, “Lil’ Girl, what the heck do you do all day? I tell everyone my daughter is a CIO, but I don’t really know what that means”.  I told her I give advice to Goddard’s Center Director on Information Technology.  She asked, “What is Information Technology?”. I told her it was about computers.  She said, “Well, why didn’t you just say that?”  I reflected a bit more on her question and offer an exemplar.

 

*     Leaving home @ 7:45 am 2 make  7:45 mtg w/ my Deputies.  Grab a piece of cheese 4 breakfast; kiss husband; back out of driveway grateful I avoided running over sprinkler head & flower bed. Again.

 

*     Arriving @ 8:00 am 4 7:45 mtg. Run back 2 car 2 retrieve coffee.  Review upcoming activities 4 week.  Negotiate coverage 4 mtgs 4 week. Raise hot operational issues. Sync up on strategic stuff that we’re working.

 

*     Jumping in car & arrive @ 8:30 am Executive Council mtg in nick of time. Pretend like I don’t know how 2 debug Blackberry, Entourage, or Outlook problems.  Pretend like I understand what a Cryogenic Radiometer is while I sneak a peak @ bberry . Catch up w/ colleague 2 discuss some important IT Transformation strategic issues.  I talk while he pretends 2 care.

 

*     Jump in car 2 go 2 staff mtg w/ my direct reports. Encourage them on progress of IT Transformation strategy. Relate high points from exec council mtg. Hear their status on important issues. Pretend like I know more than they do @ debugging Blackberry, Entourage, or Outlook problems.

 

*     Out of mtg running 2 office for noon telecon. Grab a handful of messages from vendors – New Best Friends (NBFs) – who pretend like they have solutions 2 all my problems. No time 4 lunch.

 

*     On telecon called by NASA CIO. Some kind soul brings me lunch – ½ chicken salad wrap & bottle of H2O. I inhale lunch; listen 2 issues @ agency projects, acquisition timelines, OMB direction, standardization, security. Multitasking – catch up on Chris Dorobek & Federal Computer Week headlines; read email; schedule mtgs; respond to questions; approve waivers 4 desktop purchases. I have upset stomach.

 

*     Run 2 ladies room 4 1st time & have ad hoc discussion on status of my procurement. Look @ watch & pick up pace.

 

*     Jump in car 4 1:00 mtg glad I’m on time. Consider driving over grass to dust person who’s taking last parking place. Let out heavy sigh. My feet hurt.

 

*     Arrive @ 3 hr strategy mtg w/ executive council. Exhaust undergraduate Latin derivation skills trying 2 figure out what “exozodi” means. Send buddy blackberry msg 2 ask. Didn’t have 2 pretend 2 b interested in this discussion. Star stuff and polar ice caps are cool.

 

*     Jump in car 2 catch industry grip & grin downtown. Slow down @ photo traffic enforcement zone on New York Ave; wish I could travel greater than speed of light so I could arrive b4 I left.  Get 2 City Club. Talk my way into full parking lot.

 

*     Grip n grin w/ 100 NBFs. Pretend I remember their names. Dodge ones who called me 2day. Collect biz cards. 4got mine, again. Square cheese and red wine 4 dinner. I’m tired & my feet hurt.

 

*     Driving home. Sneak peak at Deputies’ emails on bberry at red lights. Call husband to talk on 30 minute ride. Listen 2 how his day was. He asks @ mine. Reminds me I’m too smart to call people stupid. I’m humbled.

 

*     Arriving home @ 9:00 pm. Read @ respond to “due COB today” stuff. Respond to Deputies.

 

*     Washing face, brushing teeth, taking sleeping pill.  Twitter, Facebook, Hotmail.  5-star Sudoku and listen 2 news til 11:00 pm.

 

*     Go to bed. Say prayers, hope I’ll sleep. Eureka, just figured out what to do about Enterprise Architecture.

 

*     Awake at 2:00 am remembered something I forgot to do. Pray again, and give thanks for being the CIO of the Goddard Space Flight Center and contributing to our nation’s space program. 

Will They Cheer For You?

Posted on by .

Will They Cheer For You?

Today, I attended the Robert H. Goddard Memorial Awards Ceremony. It honors the Goddard Space Flight Center workforce for their dedication to many vital areas, including leadership, management, science, engineering, mission support, and customer service.

The Management Award recognizes managers, supervisors, and organizational team leaders who, while providing day-to-day direction to work units, demonstrate through their management behavior, style, and approach, exceptional levels of achievement that creates a positive and productive work environment for their employees. Garcia Blount was recognized today for exemplary management and leadership qualities that make his Branch, Code 547, and Goddard, a technology leader in manufacturing support.

When his name was called, six people, obviously from his team, let out a tremendous and loud cheer that pierced my heart and touched my soul today. There were six sitting next to each other. They had to have come together, early in fact, to get adjacent seats in the crowded auditorium. They all had cameras, screaming and cheering as they called his name. Their excitement touched me. The frantic clicks of their cameras matched the tempo of what must have been their pounding of their hearts. And I heard it. I didn’t know Garcia, but I thought he must be one heck of a leader.

Now as a CIO Blogger, I am sensitive to being controversial and inciting unbridled emotions in readers; after all, this whole Web 2.0 thing is still pretty new. I will push the envelop here – in Washington, DC – and talk about (gulp) football. I’m fascinated by the New England Patriots. Most of the time, you might hear sound bites like – Terrell Owens and the Dallas Cowboys; Payton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts; Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers … er .. I mean the New York Jets; Gladys Knight and the Pips.

You don’t hear the Tom Brady and the Pats sound bites that often. So, I’ve pondered various aspects of what might be Bill Belichick’s leadership acumen that consistently produces team leaders, quarterback leaders, and winning teams. Clearly skills a CIO would be interested in. After all, IT Transformations and Super Bowls – seems like the same thing to me.

Consider this quote from Randy Moss when talking about Brady’s season-ending knee injury (Source ESPN.COM):

“We saw Tom today,” Moss said in a national conference call.

“I am not sure how much longer we are going to see him, but he is here today and has been uplifting and keeping a positive attitude. I think that goes a long way with not only him but the team as well.”

They are going to miss him. But, his leadership helps them feel they can win without him. Well actually, they will always have him with them even if he is on crutches. And even if he is on crutches, they will still cheer for him. And he will cheer for them.

When Garcia walked down the aisle today, proudly carrying his plaque, he smiled at his team. Click-click-click. He was proud of them. Though he walked across the stage, he knew that they were the ones who made it all happen for him. I saw the look on his face. HE was cheering for THEM.

Linda Cureton

But I Blog

Posted on by .

But I Blog

 

I am often asked why on earth do I blog; why would a federal CIO want to blog; and where do you get the courage to do this. All fascinating questions that I thought about when I started and revisited as I got an email from a CIO colleague last week.  Here’s the email:

 

Hi Linda,

 

I saw this article in Forbes and thought of you.  I have been very impressed and amazed at your level of comfort sharing details of your job and yourself with the world.  I am learning a lot by reading your Blog and Twitters, and I hope to get as comfortable writing (not to mention as skilled) as you are.

 

Jim

 

http://www.forbes.com/2008/10/13/cio-mesh-collaboration-tech-cio-cx_dw_1014mesh.html?partner=email

 

I read the article which challenges us on the fear of blogging.  Jim shouldn’t have been so impressed.  I’m scared to death. The truth of the matter to Jim and to others is that I am not comfortable and I am afraid.  So, why do I blog?  Here are my reasons:

  • To learn and demonstrate the value of Web 2.0 technologies supporting the spirit of innovation that should be required of a NASA CIO
  • To communicate to stakeholders and customers the activities and issues related to the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center IT Transformation
  • To focus my thoughts and learning to the things that matter in my role as the CIO
  • To increase my leadership abilities to those I serve by providing a means for them to get to know what the “real” me is like

 

To learn and demonstrate the value of Web 2.0 technologies supporting the spirit of innovation that should be required of a NASA CIO

 

Web 2.0 and social networking provide amazing technology innovations that empower the end user and gives us the ability to make quantum leaps in IT.  Using and understanding this technology is helpful for me to learn and demonstrate its capability and helps me walk the talk as a CIO.  The CIO of the future must learn and behave differently.

 

We know the solution to acquiring this knowledge and these abilities is largely through training and experience. It may require a significant investment of time and effort; it may take CIOs and aspiring CIO’s out of their comfort zones, but it is learnable – Colleen Young, The Futuristic CIO, Gartner Symposium ITxpo 2008

 

To communicate to stakeholders and customers the activities and issues related to the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center IT Transformation

 

Leading extreme change requires extreme communication through many channels in many ways.  This is just another one. From the feedback that I’ve gotten, my message is getting out, but I’m not completely satisfied the efficacy of this as being an interactive medium.  There are more effective ways to do that, at least so far. I’ve gotten a lot of feedback and many ideas that have been helpful to the transformation efforts.  This isn’t and shouldn’t be the only communication channel.  It’s just one of many.

 

To focus my thoughts and learning to the things that matter in my role as the CIO

 

I’m a kinesthetic learner and learn best by doing.  I want to: learn about Web 2.0 technologies, hone my leadership skills, and think through NASA’s burning issues relative to my CIO leadership agenda.  The act of writing down my thoughts and wrestling with key concepts and issues gives me additional clarity and understanding. Before I take the plunge of putting my words into the world, I will take the time to analyze and think.  I strive to pause and think on a weekly basis: what I did and what I need to do to take one byte (sic) at time out of the elephant called IT Challenges of the Goddard Space Flight Center; what did I do and what do I need to do to inspire and motivate a workforce; what did I do and what do I need to do meet the mission needs of the organization that I humbly serve.

 

To increase my leadership abilities to those I serve by providing a means for them to get to know what the “real” me is like

 

The road to hell is littered with well-intended and capable NASA CIOs.  There are many reasons why these challenges look so easy to bystanders.  But the leadership stamina required is tremendous.  (As an aside and on a personal note, I recently lost a lot of weight.  Anyone who is overweight knows how hard this is … and have also heard from many bystanders how easy it *should* be for us.  But just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean we should whine and make excuses.  Suck it up and do what needs to be done.) A CIO needs trust in order to be an effective leader.  People need to know who I am and what my intentions are in order for me to be an effective leader.   But this is just one means, no silver bullet here.

 

It takes a whole lot of time, but I blog.  My writing skills are passable, but I blog. Personal communication is critical, but I blog.  I have to produce results for NASA rather than words, but I blog.

 

The note from Jim came on the heels of a hurtful criticism of my blog.  I was reminded of an incident that happened when I was a teenager.  I had to play a Mozart French Horn concerto.  I made a mistake, freaked out and ran off the stage crying.  The band director made me play again.  I practiced more and made it through, but barely.   I don’t think I ever recovered from that stage fright; and there are many times when this blogger wants to run off the stage crying, but I blog.

 

Linda Cureton, CIO NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Social Architecture: My 145 BFs

Posted on by .

Social Architecture: My 145 BFs

 

I just noticed that I had 145 best friends (BF) on Facebook.  So, I decided to look at my other social networking gizmos.  I have 123 followers on Twitter and 81 people in my LinkedIn network.  So what?   

 

Well, I am probably more “socially active” on Facebook, so I pondered on that a bit.  As the tall, introverted bookworm in school I had a #1 best girl friend (BGF), a #2 BGF, and a #3 BGF.  That’s it!  The number 145 is starting to “feel” like a lot and I wondered why.  Is there a limit to the number of BFs I can have?

 

Social networking technology has helped this introverted school girl expand her social network from 3 BFs to 145.  I don’t think this replaces the traditional live contact, but it augments my ability to socialize.  The blog, Real World Marketing for the Social Web, suggests that digital relationships, while admittedly low-resolution, are as legitimate as real relationships. 

 

So, my husband, who in my opinion, is socially gifted with old-fashioned, engaging, West Virginia charm looks at me incredulously.  Why do you read that stuff (Facebook)?  I tell him it’s like going to happy hour and catching up with friends, except I’m drinking my bedtime tea, listening to the news, and can get it done in five minutes.  Here’s a sample of what I get from my BF’s status on Facebook:

 

  • Chris got a haircut.  I actually saw him at ELC and he looked pretty good – too bad he’s on the radio and you can’t see him.
  • Martha’s daughter is in town again.  She’s going to be in a really a good mood at our next meeting.  I’ve got to remember to get a dinner meeting w/ her.
  • Helene’s feeling blue because of layoffs at her job.  I need to make a note to call Dale to see how he’s doing.
  • Leslie’s off to Nicaragua again.  She’s going to save the world one brick at a time.
  • Dan is off on his motorcycle again.  He won’t be able to move in the morning.
  • Pete is sucking a lollypop.  He doesn’t need sugar; it will make him more excitable.
  • I have no clue who Henrí is, but I learn a lot from his interesting posts. 
  • Emma said the colloquium topic on prediction markets went well.  Wish, I had a chance to go.
  • Alvin is singing today.  He needs to whistle while he works and email me that paper.
  • Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is still in the chamber.  We’ll all be glad when it gets out.
  • LCROSS Lunar Impactor is having a good run of successes. That’s good news; I guess I’ll hear more at the Friday program reviews.
  • Casey is feeling patriotic and wants to buy a of couple cars.  I’m sure she’ll change her mind and just buy a couple of pairs of shoes instead after things settle down at GSA.
  • My brother and sister-in-law are spending the weekend in St. Michaels.  I’m glad he called our Mom today.

 

This technology has proven valuable for my leadership needs as a CIO.  I am able to learn faster and stay in touch a little better with my customers, peers, stakeholders, and employees.  In Consumer Evolution, Charles Grantham and Judith Carr suggest that the outcomes are invaluable for leaders:

 

… [We] get access to a larger social network, which speeds up learning, and decreases information search costs. …. [However, we] see more stress from being overwhelmed by information, anxiety coming from a more fluid social and, a lack of individual identity because of the invisible nature of our new social life. 

 

Stress huh.  Dunbar’s number suggests a reason that my brain may be thinking, “enough already!”  This number, commonly sited as 150, was suggested by anthropologist Robin Dunbar, to be “the limit imposed by neocortical processing capacity … on the number of individuals with whom a stable inter-personal relationship can be maintained.”  Ok BFs, there’s only room for 5 more!

 

Well, the Wall Street Journal article, Sorry, You May Have Gone Over Your Limit Of Network Friends, suggests that “just as humans have developed and harnessed technology to surpass their physical limits on speed, strength and the ability to process information” the social networking technology will enable us to burst beyond our Dunbar’s number.  I guess this begs the question of defining exactly what a relationship is. 

 

I am vigilant to not become like Dr. Frankenstein and let this monster … uh … valuable technology tool … called social networking relationships destroy me – or let social networking destroy my relationships.  I had an occasion to attempt to hook up with a colleague and we had dueling text messages.  So, it occurred to me, duh, why don’t I just pick up the phone and call? While these Web 2.0 gizmos are excellent learning and networking tools, they augment but don’t replace live interactions. 

 

I truly love my husband’s warm, folksy old-school charm.  Alas, you don’t get that in Web 2.0.  But, then there’s always Web 3.0. 

 

FINR.

 

Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

A CIO Thanksgiving: Poopsies,Oopsies,and Technologies

Posted on by .

A CIO Thanksgiving: Poopsies, Oopsies, and Technologies

 

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, many people are pausing to give thanks for what they have.  After I graduated from undergraduate school, my first job was Mathematician at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.  Today as the journey of my career through several Federal Agencies, 28 years later, brings me back to Goddard, it feels almost like another first harvest time for me.  Thus, it seemed apt for me, a thankful CIO, to take time out to reflect.

 

Poopsies

 

These are people in my professional life, who in some form or fashion, have captured my heart and my gratitude.  When I thought about it, I’ve had a good run lately. 

 

A CIO’s role is to advise the head of the organization about IT stuff.  My last two just “got it”.  Rob Strain and Ed Weiler – I didn’t have to pull out crayons; I didn’t have to cry; and I didn’t have to take off my shoe and beat the table.  IT is of strategic importance to an organization AND the tactical stuff still needs to work.  I tried in vain to impress Rob, who has a reputation of a scratch golfer, with my 40 handicap.  Mercifully, he overlooked my challenged short game and let me operate my long game strategically.  Ed, who advised me that I had a horrible poker face and that I had a “type A” personality (I refrained from beating my shoe on the table) kept me from going all-in with a pair of eights. You have a better chance winning with a better hand.

 

The boss I had before I came to NASA, Skip Bailey was part of that good run too.  He’s from Salt Lake City and I’m from Washington, DC.  We were as different from each other as DC is from Utah.  I recall a joke he tried to tell me about his wife thinking that John Denver was a country and western singer.  He thought that was hysterical, I thought, “well isn’t he a country and western singer?”.  I still don’t get it really.  But, one thing I got is that people who are very different from you add so much to your life.  Knowing him and working for him was very enriching. 

 

Oopsies

 

Some time late this summer, a couple of friends were lamenting, on distinct occasions, about how bad things were.  I thought that it may actually be good to be thankful for bad times.  The good thing about bad times, is that they always precede good times.  Sometimes, bad things make good things good.  You don’t need courage if there isn’t fear; you don’t need faith if there isn’t doubt.  Early Thanksgivings were celebrated during times of unfavorable events being followed by favorable events. 

 

I’m thankful for the worst job I ever had —  cleaning out test tubes in an infectious diseases laboratory.  And this was from age 15 to 19! This job was stinky – literally … and I had to learn fast to handle my duties appropriately … I always feared that the next thing I opened up would kill me.  Though it sounds a lot like a CIO job, a CIO’s job is better.  Mostly. This week, one of our Assistant Director’s was facilitating us through some problem-solving.  She posed the possibility that she not in the right job.  She was wrong of course, but I did offer the possibility of the CIO job.  I think she said something like,  “Oh, my goodness NO!” … and then she caught herself.   

 

And then there’s the proverbial thorn in my side – for which I am thankful.  I was once asked in an interview question what was the biggest mistake of my professional career.  I made lots, but this one I sealed in my memory to make me better. I set the naming convention for email at Department of Justice.  For the WHOLE Department – firstname.middle-initial.lastname@usdoj.gov.  I liked it because it was easy to do for various technical reasons.  My customers hated it because someone had to know your middle initial to guess your email address.  And plus, most folks abbreviated Department of Justice “DOJ”.  So, it wasn’t really that intuitive.  But I did it for my own selfish technical reasons, not for customer fulfillment.  Today, I still have colleagues there and every time a send an email to them, I’m reminded of my lack of duty to my customer and my selfishness.  I don’t want to ever make that mistake again.  A CIO should put her organization’s needs first – I’m thankful for that lesson. Thankfully, my side still hurts.

 

Technologies

 

As stated in earlier posts, my Myers-Briggs type is an INTP.  So, I’m an absent-minded professor.  So, it’s not surprising that I am thankful for one of my favorite technologies — the keyless entry for my car.  I used to always misplace car keys. Now, I just need to keep up with my purse – it’s bigger so I’m more successful.

 

I am thankful for my PDAs – all of them.  I’m not apologizing!  So, I was thankful when I was on a cruise and my Blackberry worked. It was just comforting to know what I was NOT doing!  And I am thankful for my navigation system.  I love knowing where I’m going.  And how to get back.

 

Finally, I’m thankful for the whole Web 2.0 thing.  This post was easy to bang out until I got to this sentence.  I didn’t really understand fully why.  Except to say, I had an opportunity to use the technology of blogging to express gratitude for a subset of the many things that I am thankful for.  I’m being touched by new Poopsies, most I don’t even know – this is scary really.  My European Poopsie that reminded me of humility; my Grouchy Poopsie who reminded me to draw on courage; and my RT Poopsie who just is. 

 

The convergence of CIO leadership and this technology may seem a strange non sequitur to some – and it was certainly my going position when I started. But, it has added richness to my CIO life and taught me a little bit more about what this viral technology can do.  For this, I am thankful.

 

Linda Cureton, The Grateful CIO of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Doorways to 2009 CIO Leadership Strategies

Posted on by .

As January approaches, the time comes for many to look back at accomplishments and look forward to set goals for the year. 

Roman deity Janus with two faces looking both forward and backwards

In fact, January gets its name from Janus, a highly-regarded deity in ancient Roman mythology.  He was the god of doorways, gates, beginnings and endings.  He’s often depicted with two faces – looking both forward and looking backwards simultaneously.

 

As I pen this blog, whose purpose is to serve me as a CIO leadership channel as I serve NASA, I find it difficult to parse out the “pieces” of “me” to discuss.  I’ve often been asked about work-life balance.  This balance is achieved by recognition that I am not 10% this and 90% other … but rather, I am 100% wife, daughter, granddaughter, sister, aunt, friend, teacher, CIO, leader, senior executive.  And it is through this struggle that I received 1000% richness and fullness in the life that this CIO enjoyed for 2008.  I find it no coincidence that the beginning — my professional career starting at NASA — and the ending — being again at this nation’s space agency at the end of my first half century of life – intersect at this gate of eye-opening self revelation.  2008 was indeed a great year. 

 

It’s all about the mission and the people.  My 2009 goal suddenly became a 2008 accomplishment.  The Goddard Space Flight Center Director, Rob Strain, signed off on the reorganization of the IT Directorate.  The reorganization formally recognizes several significant changes in how we will manage our IT resources.

 

We made some significant accomplishments as a directorate in 2008 and I am proud to serve as the Director of the IT and Communications Directorate and the CIO of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.  We’ve provided mission critical communications services; business essential applications; delivered capabilities through project management rigor; supported desktop requirements for end users; fulfilled the voice, data, and video needs of NASA’s world class scientists and engineers; all enabled by crucial administrative financial, contract, and other support services.  This is no silver bullet, as an organizational structure is just a series of lines and boxes that describes organizations and functions.  It’s the people inside the boxes linked to the mission that makes this a success.

 

As we look forward to 2009, my leadership team will be suiting up — putting on the whole armor of leadership – needed to meet the challenges ahead.  My organization has been through a lot – and during these times of changes, we all have been through a lot personally.  But, I have no doubt that in 2009 we will continue our relentless pursuit to ensure that our IT services fulfill the mission needs of our nation’s space program.

 

Process isn’t glamorous, but neither is chaos. In a later post, I will blog about the importance of IT Governance especially as it relates to the challenges of IT security.  In 2008, Goddard Space Flight Center gained momentum in its IT governance processes. 

 

This is not the evil menacing villain CIO –arch enemy of truth and justice — destroyer of all life forms and networks as we know them today.  Nor is it the super hero Wonder Woman CIO — savior of mankind — enemy of evil hackers (though the bullet-proof fashion accessories might be useful).  If IT Security threats are likened to Goliath, then IT Governance is the slingshot to hurl well-placed stones that can slay this giant IT problem. 

 

I look forward to shedding my “geek-speak” in 2009 (but I’m keeping Cosmopolitans!).  So, let me practice.  In English, IT Governance is all about how the “collective WE” make decisions about IT.  It is not a unilateral monarchy run by a Queen-CIO; it is a multi-lateral Federation with decision rights, “laws”, principles and processes. 

 

In 2009, we’ll “provide for the common defense” by planning and developing Network Architecture.  We will “promote the general welfare” through an informed investment management process.  We will “secure our blessings” by making sure that we focus on the things that we need to perform our mission. 

 

It’s not all about technology. Last, but not least, in 2008 I jumped into this powerful and amazing technology called Web 2.0.  Ok, so I expected to determine its efficacy as a communication medium; and I expected to learn practical aspects of its use; and I expected to get the hang of this transparency stuff.  I didn’t expect to make the people connections that I made that so enriched my life.

 

I connected with QuarkSpin through Twitter.  He made me look back fondly at my systems programming days of creating REXX routines while on my pot-of-coffee-a-day habit.  Today, though I drink only about 16 ounces of coffee daily, his message of optimism and faith will stay with me and help frame my outlook for 2009.

 

I connected with Harold on Facebook.  It’s amazing that I’ve known him in real life for years.  As we were both going through what ends up being a routine bout of insomnia, he shared with me through Facebook some seemingly random thoughts.  Random indeed.  He was observing Rosh Hashanah and discussing the idea of asking for forgiveness from those you hurt during the year.  Today, even though I wonder why it took me so long to know the man behind that shy smile and mustache, his message of trying to be a better person — wife, daughter, friend, CIO, etc — will help frame my outlook for 2009.

 

I connected with RT through blogging.  I read with wonder his fascinating tales of growing up in the Southwestern part of the United States.  His youthful adventures which emanated from his life in the great southwest sure put a different perspective on the life of a NASA CIO, which emanates from southwest Washington, DC.  Perhaps you know him – maybe he held the door for you as you entered the store; maybe you passed him on the street and said good morning; or maybe he walked by as you were pumping gas.  Today, SW USA and SW DC seem to be right next door, and his message of inspiration, courage, focus, strength, and commitment will help frame my outlook for 2009.

 

I suppose a CIO’s IT Strategy should look at people, processes, and technologies.  It seems that it all boils down to people though — being a good and humble servant to the people you lead, being a better person no matter how you parse yourself it out, and valuing the people in your life. 

 

 Linda Cureton, CIO/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center