NASA’s Toughest Job?

“We will start individual development for each and every civil servant starting in January,” she explained. “It will help bring about the individual changes that will help us take the right actions to meet the goals of a 21st Century workforce.”

Cureton has already started a leadership development program for her leadership team. She started with a 360 survey that revealed each individual’s development. “I have an executive coach that is working with each member of my leadership team,” she revealed. “The purpose is to help strengthen the competencies that are needed to lead in the 21st century IT organization.”


Like a million other CIOs, Cureton is also struggling with issues imposed upon her organization by a crippling economy. “Our budgets have been affected and there is a lot of doubt in the out years. We’ve had to change the IT strategy to focus on those investments with the highest ROI. I’m concerned that as this presses on, we may become too short sighted. Long term investments like architectural planning suffer because we just need to pay the phone bills. So, we are constantly looking for ways to economize and cut costs.”

The economy is also affecting her staff and the decisions they make. “Employees are now making decisions about their job based on how long their commute will be. Though NASA in general and Goddard in particular, has historically been one of the top places to work, gas prices seem to trump that.”

Despite the immediate challenges, Cureton is keeping an eye on the long term and taking careful aim. “Cloud computing will probably be the next game changer,” she said. “I think we’ve grown up hugging our iron or our supercomputers. In looking at the lean budgets that are forecast, I think we won’t be able to sustain that approach.”

Cureton sees other changes and pressures on the near-horizon as well:

Web 2.0 – “I think Web 2.0 will have a strong impact on the IT environment. End users just won’t need the IT department anymore. Our 18-month develop cycles will no longer be acceptable. So, CIOs need to adapt to that and provide strategic frameworks that align the use of these power technologies with the business needs of the organization.”

Consumerism – “As technologies like Web 2.0 have taken control of IT away from IT departments, we no longer have the luxury of ‘control’ to get our jobs done. Furthermore organizations will have to meet the heightened demand that consumers bring into the work place: high-speed network access, consumer devices (e.g., iPhones), etc.”

Virtualization – “It can decouple end users from their dependence on a hardware platform by letting them do the work they want anywhere.”

Gen X & Y – “They are coming and we are not ready. They want to use all of the social networking tools—they scare us old folks. They want wireless, everywhere. They want to communicate and collaborate with all levels of the organization. They have a different concept of the work day. These represent many changes from a technology perspective and from a human resource perspective.”

While Cureton is a harbinger of change, she believes maintaining a healthy balance is the key to ultimate success. That applies to her personal life as well. Her downtime is spent on non-technology oriented activities: she shoots pool with her husband, hangs out at happy hour with girlfriends, and loves to go to the spa. When she can squeeze in a vacation, it’s almost always spent on a cruise. When she has only an hour on two, she spends them working on Sudoku puzzles – usually the 4-star mega ones in the Washington Post. Other times, she just daydreams.

“I love browsing catalogs and folding down pages of things I will never buy,” she laughs.