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NASA recently convened a group of technologists to discuss the value of the Agency’s data holdings.  The group included astronauts, engineers, Chief Technology Officers, designers, and the new Deputy Administrator at NASA.  And they were all women.  I briefly crashed the meeting — and I was the only man in the room of powerful technologists.  That has never happened to me before.  This event, called Women in Data, kicked off an initiative to bring external tech perspectives into the agency — in a sustainable and productive way.

I noted the difference to a colleague at NOAA, who smiled and said that she is often the only female software engineer in technical meetings.  I’m not trying to make a statement.  I’m just noting that the self-awareness associated with being the only man in the room changed the way I interacted with my colleagues in the room.  I never think about this.  I never have to think about it.  I just sort of say what I want, when I want.

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Dr. Nancy Roman with a model of the Orbiting Solar Observatory

I related this story to Nancy Roman, the Mother of Hubble and a fellow Swarthmore College alum — albeit one that graduated 60 years before me.  She is straight legit.  When Nancy attended her first Astronomical Society meeting, she estimates that of the two hundred participants, only five were women.  I asked Nancy what she thought about Women in STEM initiatives, and she responded in a surprisingly practical way: “I think it’s a great idea!  Not so much for women in science, but rather just for science.”  Over half the US population is women, she notes, and it follows that cultural norms must be responsible for removing about half of the potential talent in science.  The top two hundred participants at Nancy’s first Astronomical Society meeting would have been much more talented with a true-to-form proportion of women.  

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I’m the idiot in the background, when others are doing real and amazing work on civic tech.

This is a good time to be in civic tech.  There is a lot of movement on making the civic tech community much more inclusive, much stronger.

About Dan

Presidential Innovation Fellow

NASA Headquarters

daniel.s.hammer@nasa.gov