Retired NASA CIO: Working Harder Than Ever - InformationWeek

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11/25/2014
08:36 AM
David F Carr
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Retired NASA CIO: Working Harder Than Ever

Retired from government service, Linda Cureton is putting long hours into a consulting business (but also envisioning a "real" retirement someday).

While researching a feature on the "second acts" of retired CIOs, I was startled to see former NASA CIO Linda Cureton's name pop up in a Google search next to the word "retired."

It turns out her exit from government service was officially a retirement, though she did not head directly for the rocking chair. Instead, she has been building a consulting business: Muse Technologies, which is dedicated to helping other CIOs execute a strategy of IT transformation. She is also a valued thought leader columnist on government IT and CIO strategy for InformationWeek.

What she is doing is not unusual. Since federal employees can often retire in their mid-50s (depending on variables like years of government service), they often collect their retirement benefits and pivot quickly into consulting work or sales, trying to win business from former colleagues. For that matter, many CIOs in the private sector also "retire" and go on to other professional activities. Our feature Retired CIOs: 5 Rewarding Second Acts focused on those who have decided to actually retire -- including some who are not necessarily any older than Cureton.

[Laboring online: Tweets Tell Whether You Have A Job.]

Linda Cureton
Linda Cureton

Cureton, however, is much too busy to think of herself as retired in any way, shape, or form. "I figured I still had some life in me at 55," she says. "People work much longer than that, so for me, retirement was just a good point of reflection, an opportunity to take more risk and make more significant change."

An opportunity, certainly -- but definitely not an opportunity to relax. "I've been working 120-hour weeks, really." Even as a top executive of a government agency, she used to work with a lot of people who kept 9-to-5 hours. When they weren't on duty, tasks sometimes had to wait until the next day. Now, as she works to establish her own small business, there are no checks on how hard or how long she works. Over one recent weekend, she totaled five hours of sleep.

Having made a name for herself at NASA, Cureton hung up her shingle as an "IT transformation expert," though she concedes that phrase means "everything and nothing." She explains that every good CIO has a change agenda but also many obstacles to achieving it. She created a strategic framework to pursue change "in a more enduring and rapid way," folding strategic planning, enterprise architecture, leadership development, and team building into the package.

In government particularly, Cureton saw an unmet need for a brand of consulting that would be less high-level (and less expensive) than that offered by big consulting firms like McKinsey or Deloitte. Muse offers guidance on megatrends like cloud computing, boiling down what's real and what's not.

One frustration: "A lot of people talk about IT transformation, but they don't necessarily want to be transformed." Although government is the sector Cureton targeted first, she suspects that the bigger long-term possibility may be with businesses looking to transform themselves. "Maybe they're more able to be transformed."

Hard work though it may be, starting Muse was also a lifestyle choice. "I saw this as a chance to do exactly what I want -- do what I love to do, with people I love," Cureton says. Her husband, Douglas, also a retired federal executive, is her chief operating officer.

Building a business is hard work, but one measure of success will be whether she can make it into a going concern, one that will eventually be able to survive without her. In a decade, she will have reached the more traditional age for "real" retirement.

"Ten years sounds about like what it would be," she says. "I definitely have sitting on a beach in mind for about 10 years from now."

Find out how NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory addressed governance, risk, and compliance for its critical public cloud services. Get the new Cloud Governance At NASA issue of InformationWeek Government Tech Digest today (free registration required).

David F. Carr oversees InformationWeek's coverage of government and healthcare IT. He previously led coverage of social business and education technologies and continues to contribute in those areas. He is the editor of Social Collaboration for Dummies (Wiley, Oct. 2013) and ... View Full Bio
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batye
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batye,
User Rank: Ninja
12/1/2014 | 1:44:34 AM
Re: Probably just me..
it all depends on few factors... but with gov. vs private sector ... CIO's in private sectors win.. so to say...
yalanand
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yalanand,
User Rank: Ninja
11/29/2014 | 2:59:33 AM
Re: Probably just me..
@GAprogrammer: I don't think we are over compensating government employees because it all depends on the amount of work they have done and the amount of stress they have undergone to retire at 55. That being said, CIOs are highly paid in any private company, they easily earn upwards $150k per year. So they don't need a compensating plan.
yalanand
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yalanand,
User Rank: Ninja
11/29/2014 | 2:55:33 AM
Re: Retire and do what?
@nasimson: There should be a decent work life balance in the system, even though people who are workaholics tend to like work, but too much of either work or play makes jack a dull boy, i.e. it compromises their ability to think and act on decisions other than the ones they have already come across in life.
nasimson
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nasimson,
User Rank: Ninja
11/28/2014 | 9:57:29 PM
Re: Retire and do what?
> That said, 120 hour work weeks sounds so unsociable. Not sure
> I could do that now, let alone at 55!

@Whoopty:

It depends on what you want from life. Family, Friends, Hobbies, Work, Service, Travel? For some people work is like life. For others life is like work.
zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
11/26/2014 | 1:45:44 PM
Re: Retired NASA CIO: Working Harder Than Ever
Like Whoopty said, it's very commendable to see this work ethic and dedication in someone of that age, and someone who doesn't necessarily have to work to put bread on the table. While I'm always skeptical of people gloating over how little sleep they get (for many reasons), that level of relentlessness is beyond me in my 20s, so it's great to hear some insight from someone who can pull it off in their 50s. "IT transformation" is a boring moniker, but hearing Mrs. Cureton's explanation, I have no doubt that we have need of it in government and elsewhere. Given NASA's (relative) successes in my lifetime, I'm inclined to think we have the right person on the job.

I do think this paints an interesting picture of the future of employment in our country as well. Think about this; we're talking about someone who (presumably) began their career in IT in the 80s. Now this person is offering consullting services on the latest and greatest. That's a lot of change for one career (and she's still not finished!). It's impressive on her part, but it's a hint at the kind of longevity that may be necessary for the careers of this of us coming up. You need to have long term plans, be willing to take your expertise and carry it down a different road, not be averse to change, and constantly be getting your hands dirty as a manager to make sure you understand the technology you're managing. If we do it right, this can be a good opportunity for a varied career and not 'oh crap, look at all this extra work I have to do!'.
Whoopty
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Whoopty,
User Rank: Ninja
11/26/2014 | 11:37:30 AM
Retire and do what?
I'm not surprised a lot of her contemporaties work longer. I can't imagine getting to that age and deciding I had nothing left to offer the world like that. 

That said, 120 hour work weeks sounds so unsociable. Not sure I could do that now, let alone at 55!
kstaron
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kstaron,
User Rank: Ninja
11/26/2014 | 9:28:06 AM
Re: Probably just me..
Just an FYI, the government allows one to retire at 55 if you have enough years in but there is no pension any longer. it's something like a 401k, though it's called something different. She still won't be able to collect Social Security until everyone else can. She was a CIO which is one of the better paid positions as it is in any company,but government service when considering what a CIO can make in the private sector is rarely what one could consider 'lurcrative'.

By 55 ideally people with steady decently paid jobs and not too many life emergencies should be able to put aside enough to live on through their retirement plans, at least for the basics. So "retiring" and working like a dog on a new business venture that won't bring in the same amount of money becomes possible. 

 
GAProgrammer
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GAProgrammer,
User Rank: Ninja
11/25/2014 | 12:08:43 PM
Probably just me..
But does anyone else out there think that maybe we are overcompensating government employees a little to much when they can retire at 55? Props to her for not staying home (but still collecting a check), but how many millions of others will do that? With us living even longer, it's common for people to live to 85-90, so now we are paying for people to work to 55 and then just pay them for another 30+ years? Sounds like a lot more government waste and over-compenstaion to me, especially when we are 17 trillion dollars in debt.

Seems like a disconnect as well with Social Security - their argument is people are living longer so you can't get benefits until 65 because we are living longer. Apparently that doesn't count if you WORK for the governement. Do as I say, not as I do??
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