A Day in the Life of a CIO

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?

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

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.






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

A CIO Thanksgiving: Poopsies,Oopsies,and Technologies

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.




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. 




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.




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

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

What CIOs Want

It is the tradition of some to exchange gifts during this time of year.  My family usually agonizes over what to get for me.  They tell me that it’s frustrating to just try to “read my mind” in order to come up with ideas.  One year, my husband just slammed down a piece of paper and a pencil in front of me and said, “Please do your friends a favor and write something down!”  I recently had the pleasure of reading the wish list that belonged to my nine-year-old niece Alyssa.  It went like this:


Dear Santa:


As you know, I’ve been a very, very good girl this year.  Thanks, in advance, for getting me the things on my list.


Love Alyssa


I would like: My own laptop, blue topaz ring, television, digital camera, magic kit, SpongeBob Season One, decals for my fingernails, crayons and coloring book, etc. (actual list truncated for editorial brevity)


Ok, so assuming that a NASA CIO would actually have friends, or a Santa even, that would want to know what she wants, I will write down a wish list.  So here goes:


Dear Santa:


As you know, I’ve been a very, very good girl this year.  I’m especially grateful that Goddard’s Center Director signed off on our IT strategy.  Thanks, in advance, for making it possible to get the things on my list.


Love Linda


I would like:


·        A strong, happy, and healthy family

·        To live happily ever after

·        Peace on Earth

·        Oh, and one more thing … a ring


A strong, happy, and healthy family. A motivated, capable IT workforce to help transform IT management at Goddard.  We’ve been through a lot of turbulence for the past few years.  I would like for us to learn about making choices and taking actions.  I would like a strong and courageous leadership team who will be capable of leading the workforce through times of change.


To live happily ever after. I would really, really like to see IT be a stronger enabler that helps Goddard meet NASA’s mission needs.  Some people just think about desktops, laptops, and email – all of this HAS to work, I know.  But, I’d like to also see IT better help our scientific and engineering heroes win proposals, build and launch spacecraft and deliver superior science products. 


Peace on Earth.  IT Governance has to do with: Who makes decisions about IT? How are those decisions made? What is the process of informing those who make the decisions? Are we investing in the right thing? And why? I know this is a lot of work, and may even take years, but if we get this working well, we will have improved security, more interoperability, better information sharing, and better delivery of IT services.


Oh, and one more thing, a ring. I’d like to consolidate the infrastructure as much as practical so that we can reduce costs and increase our ability to secure the perimeter.  If we can reduce costs, the savings can be reinvested.  If we reduce the cost to secure our perimeter, we can make this problem more and more solvable.  Oh, and it will be easier to share information and collaborate with other boys and girls.


Ok, that’s all for now.  I really, really, really hope I get what I want.  I can hardly wait to open my presents. 


Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Consumerism and the Irrelevant CIO

iPhone, uPHone, we all scream for iPhones.  The NASA CIOs just had a CIO-like conversation about iPhones.  And so, I can check email and get reservations at Ruth’s Chris on the same end user device.  Wow. But what does that really mean? Is there really room for this consumer device in the Enterprise?


Consider Consumerism and the use of Web 2.0 technologies.  At Gartner’s Emerging Technologies Best Practices Council we posed, what I affirm, is a bar room question, how do we harness the power of Web 2.0?  Harnessing Web 2.0 is analogous to taming a wild mustang.  You can do it, but it would be wrong.  How can you tame the untamable?  The power Web 2.0 is atomic and it’s viral.


My brother-in-law, Eric, was complaining about his IT Department.  He needed a snazzy little application that would help his productivity in meetings.  Of course his IT Department wanted written requirements, an IT security plan, and a risk management plan.  So, I said, look on the Microsoft Template Gallery, you’ll find something.  And he sure did.  By the next day, he had what he needed.  Surely any Federal CIO will tell you how important it is to meet requirements, ensure security, and manage risk.  But, how do we get to YES faster while still tending to the things we need to tend to in a responsible manner?


During this Thanksgiving holiday, I noticed an interesting image.  I have a kitchen table that sits six people in the breakfast area.  I was sitting at the table with my two sisters, and my two brothers-in-law.  We were all working on our laptops.  Gee, five laptops — I had a data center in my kitchen.  Oh, and everyone had RSA tokens hanging around their neck, so we were a highly secure data center even.


As CIOs and IT service providers we are used to managing technology.  But what does it mean to lead technology?  The tempo of consumerism moves like a speeding locomotive down a railroad track.  CIOs who jump in front of the speeding train and pretend like they are leading will get run over.  CIOs who lay track that moves the train towards their organization’s goals have the right leadership stuff. 


In a CIO.COM  article, User Management – Users Who Know Too Much and the CIOs Who Fear Them, Ben Worthen challenges CIOs to still think about security, manageability, scalability, and Federal regulations but to do so strategically, not draconically. 


The employees in your company are using consumer IT to work faster, more efficiently and, in many cases, longer hours. Some are even finding new and better ways to get work done. CIOs should be applauding this trend. But when you shut down consumer IT, says William Harmer III, assistant vice president of architecture and technology of financial services company Manulife, “You end up as a dissuader of innovation.”


Growing up as a mainframe systems programmer, I still remember my IT “childhood” when the IT Department became irrelevant with the advent of client server computing.  We were called dinosaurs.  Those of us who didn’t adapt became extinct. I suppose we all learn things from our childhood.  Consumerism is the comet that threatens the Jurassic CIO.  The fittest CIOs are the ones with the right amount of courage, creativity, vision in their leadership DNA.


So is there room for iPhones?  The right answer for the Relevant CIO must be yes, just give me a few seconds to get to yes … but next time, I’ll anticipate your question.  Do I *have* to endure an eighteen month development cycle?  Well, no, here are some resources we can point you to.  Oh, and before you even ask, let me tell you about the atomic power of Web 2.0.  And finally, let me introduce us, we are your Relevant CIOs.


Linda Cureton, CIO/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Turning Ideation into the Greatest Nation in the World

This week, I attended a meeting of Gartner’s Emerging Technologies Best Practices Council.  It was a fascinating week of learning about how old organizations are using new technologies in new ways.  Not surprisingly, there were many conversations about Web 2.0 technologies.  There were also several discussions on the process of creating ideas, ideation.


My Myers-Briggs type is INTP. So, assuming one believes in those instruments, I am suppose to be an idea-generating machine who “… starting with only a vague intuition, can construct a whole new world of ideas.”  But this notion of ideation had been bugging me for a while, but I really couldn’t put my finger on why.  I was reading a passage in Judy Estrin’s book “Closing the Innovation Gap” which shed a little light on my irritation. 


“There are a half a dozen words in the English language that are substitutes for substance.  Three of them are innovation, accountability, and leadership,” says retired Intel CEO Andy Grove. “Companies that let people get away with murder talk too much about accountability. Those that don’t have the courage to leave the handrail talk incessantly about leadership. And people who are incapable of changing what they are doing, or even analyzing what’s wrong, go on and on about innovation.”


Now, don’t get me wrong, my husband would tell you that I am probably an impractical true-to-type INTP. But, what good are ideas if they never develop into anything of measured value, use or purpose? Drop back ten and punt? And then again, how do you know whether or not you’re on the very brink of inventing the next wonderful thing? Fourth and short – go for it!


Time Magazine just recognized the 50 Best Inventions of 2008. Two missions from NASA made the list – Goddard Space Flight Center’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (#3); and though not entirely a Goddard Mission, the Mars Science Lab (#18) will carry Goddard’s own microwave-oven-sized instrument suite, Sample Analysis at Mars. I am clearly fortunate to live in what Estrin calls an Ecosystem that has bred such marvelous engineering wonders of the world.  But, how does a CIO create and nurture an Ecosystem that breeds the IT wonders of the world?  It’s all around me and I don’t want to just talk about it, I want to do it.


In looking back at great innovations, they seemed to have come about as a result of the right environment, for the right people, given the right resources.  These people, and their supporting leadership, also had a courage to persist that was fueled by passion and inspired by a nurturing culture. 


Maybe ideation seemed to me to be a mindless paint-by-numbers process.  It’s probably not.  I think it just seemed strange to define a process that was so natural to me.  Whatever.  But, the supernatural part comes in when we understand how to apply the right dose of leadership, passion, power, and purpose to inspire ideas into reality and into masterpieces of innovation.


Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

My Head is Virtually in the Clouds

My Head is Virtually in the Clouds


Long, long ago, before I became a CIO, I used to be a happy carefree Virtual Machine systems programmer.  But, today, I think about hyper supervisors instead of hypervisors; about the Goddard Unified Enterprise Services and Technology (GUEST) procurement instead of Guest Operating Systems; about losing virtually every bit of my memory instead of losing my bits in virtual memory; about program managers who thrash instead of computer programs that thrash. 


So, years later,  after Federal Data Center Managers struggled with the challenges of consolidating Data Centers, I find myself ?Back to the Future? wrestling (using Judo actually) with Data Center consolidation strategies.  But relative to technologies like cloud computing, virtualization, and Web 2.0, what does this really mean if the entire world, or universe (remember, I?m a NASA CIO), is your Data Center?


Wikipedia gives the following definition of cloud computing:


Cloud computing is a general concept that incorporates software as a service (SaaS), Web 2.0 and other recent, well-known technology trends, in which the common theme is reliance on the Internet for satisfying the computing needs of the users.


Gartner, in Cloud Computing: Defining and Describing an Emerging Phenomenon (Daryl C. Plummer, et. al.), calls the trend of IT during the last 15 years,  a discontinuity due in part to the ?commoditization and standardization of technologies, virtualization, ?  the rise of service-oriented software architectures, and, most importantly, the dramatic growth in popularity/use of the Internet and the Web.?

Relationship between cloud clients, cloud architecture, and datacenters


I?m not sure it?s a discontinuity.  It has a feel to this CIO like a point of inflection in some kind of continuous evolution ? whether or not it?s periodic or not.  One good thing about metaphoric points of inflection is that we know something is about to happen, good or bad. 


In this risk averse profession, it?s easy to retreat to a ?default deny? mode.  But, maybe we should think about the paradigm-changing point of inflection we?re on.  The site http://www.cloudsecurity.org has some interesting discussions about security and cloud computing.  Not just the traditional ?keep a CIO up at night? stuff, but some potential security benefits that this technology may have.  What are the possibilities? In this technology Jurassic Park, the nature of our customers will be to ?find a way? to get to these capabilities ? whether or not CIOs are ready or not.


Maybe it?s time for CIOs to be superheroes.  Maybe it?s time that CIO?s use their power for good.  Maybe we need to learn from our past and change our whole concept of service delivery and security in light of this new future. 


?I never look back, darling. It distracts from the now.? [ Edna in The Incredibles]


Just like the ?has been? superheroes in the animated film, The Incredibles, we are no longer needed by our customers to acquire and use these technologies.  But the real CIO power comes from her ability to help her organization and her customers use these technologies for ?good?. 


Oh, the good old days ? when I was a superhero systems programmer.  I can?t look back again.  But, it?s sure incredible up here in the clouds.  Now where did I put that cape?


Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center


CIOs Leading with I3P: Inspiring Passion,Power,and Purpose

CIOs Leading with I3P: Inspiring  Passion, Power, and Purpose


I had a wonderful professor in college, Dr. Frank M. Snowden. He was my Latin professor. He certainly was a memorable person, but two particular things stuck with me. 


We were translating Virgil’s Aeneid.  Ok, so when I took the book out of the library, which was somewhere in 1978, I noticed the last time it was checked out was in 1946.  So, I suppose there aren’t too many fans of dactylic hexameter, but I digress.


The Latin epic poem was a story of contrasts.  Of particular interest to me was the  pietas of Aeneas and the furor of Dido. Some words don’t exactly translate well into English.  So at the time, this young coed interpreted this respectively as mindless duty and frenzied passion.  Not quite, Dr. Snowden said.  I’m thinking whatever, magister.  So, he told the story of another one of his female students who said, if she were Dido, she would have killed Aeneas dead!  He worked himself into hysterics laughing … and told this same story every semester, by the way.  I didn’t get it; never got it in fact.  The chick was burning on a funeral pyre for crying out loud; I just hoped I never had that much passion.


So, my next life moment with him occurred not too long after the Dido incident. At the time, I was a pre-med major and not particularly loving my academic life.  He told me the secret of success, that if I studied what I was passionate about and loved, I would be successful.   I left his classroom and changed my major to Mathematics and declared my minor in Latin.  An action that led this dreamy mathematician to be an entry level GS-7 civil servant at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.


Though I never forgot those two incidents, they have been sticking in my mind a lot lately.   What’s dancing in my big CIO head a lot these days is this notion of passion, and how it intensifies power, and inspires purpose.  Leadership guru John C. Maxwell writes,


“People are instructed by reason, but are inspired by passion.”


He goes on to say that passion is the first step to achievement, the foundation for excellence, and the key to success.  Right now, in this CIO leadership moment, I find myself searching to find ways to inspire an IT workforce to do things that they wouldn’t ordinarily do.  And that inspiration won’t come from the mindless duty of compliance, but from the frenzied passion that burns inside of them. 


My assistant Charlene asked me last week, where does my passion come from? I couldn’t really answer her.  Maxwell doesn’t either, but he gets close when he says find those people who ignite the fire of passion or keep it going … and thank them. 


It happened that I was on a panel for Black History Month last year at Goddard Space Flight Center.  I was asked to discuss the events that brought me to NASA.  I thought about my story of Dr. Snowden.  I should have thanked him.  He died that week.


I bet you think this blog is about you. Don’t you? Don’t you? Well, if it is, this burning CIO thanks you.


Linda Cureton, CIO NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center