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Center Snapshot: Hope Venus
Snapshot: Hope Venus. Image above: Hope Venus listened to a NASA Langley computer specialist in high school and made a career decision to work at the center someday. Credit: NASA

By: Jim Hodges

The call goes out often to NASA Langley personnel: Go to a school. Talk to the students about a career with the agency.

So many calls, and the speakers often wonder if anybody is listening.

Hope Venus was.

She can't remember whom she heard or even what was said that day at Warwick High School. All she remembers is that the speaker was a computer programmer from NASA Langley and what she did seemed cool.

Venus, then a junior, went home and began to plot a path to the center.

"It was almost like I needed direction and she gave me something to shoot for," said Venus, an information technology specialist with the NASA Engineering and Safety Center who runs its Systems and Communications team.

"I decided to formulate my career around that. I figured out what degrees would be helpful in getting a job at NASA, which is why I went into computer science (at Christopher Newport University). I was able to work in 12th grade part time, so I got a job at Fort Eustis with the intention of hopefully transferring to NASA one day."

At Fort Eustis, she worked in personnel because she wanted to understand what being employed by the government involved. Upon transferring to Langley, she worked in personnel to find out what kind of competition she faced for a civil service job with NASA.

"When I came over here, I got to work with the applicant supply file system," she said. "I got to see all of the applicants and all of the grades they had. People who apply here are straight-A, degree on top of degree on top of degree."

Venus comes from a family of 13 children. She paid her way through Christopher Newport University, where she studied computer science.

"My objective of getting in here was doing the best job I could and get to know as many people as I could," she said. "I knew I wasn't going to graduate from Harvard and make straight A's. So I thought the only way I was going to get in here was to do a good job and make a good name for myself."

She has done just that by adapting with the technical times and by adopting a different approach to working with computer software. The idea is to consider what the software needs to do while understanding who is using it.

"There has been a paradigm shift," Venus said. "At first, the job was about creating software for making people's lives easier. But now there is information overload, so now I want to understand how I can make this less daunting to people. Software is coming out so quickly that we're drowning in it.

"Before, you wanted make something to do everything. Now it's making one thing to do everything easily. It's a big challenge."

So, too, is working in communications with the NESC, a decentralized, distributed organization that frequently has to react quickly to solve complicated technical problems. Communications is a key, with advanced technical capability facilitating it.

Projects like Max Launch Abort System. Problems like tears in astronaut gloves. The NESC Academy. NASA Tech Fellows. Technical challenges. The Chilean mine disaster, and on it goes, each offering a challenge for NASA engineers, academicians and industry experts. The challenges filter down to the business arm of the NESC, the Management Technical Support Office, where program analysts and the Systems and Communications team make sure the technical groups get what they need, get team members on board and give them the capability to communicate quickly and effectively. Sometimes it's like a fire station after something has begun to blaze.

"NESC is distributed, so our folks and partners are all over the country," Venus said. "The IT has to be distributed because the folks are distributed. It makes for lots of, uh, opportunities."

Escape is offered off center by 12- and 14-year-old sons who require transportation to practice and games for whatever sport is in season. It's also offered by a novel hobby called tile sublimation. It's the art of taking pictures and turning them from a solid into a gas, by-passing the liquid phase while printing them onto tile. On her cell phone, Venus carries a reproduction of a 36-by-30-inch wedding picture on tile that hangs in her home. She also produced several for her co-workers.

"I go in spurts and do a lot of it, then I'll stop for a few months, then start up again," she said. "The thing is you've got to have a very good picture, and that's hard to come by. People are taking pictures on cell phones, and it's hard to get a good quality picture. But when you find one the result is timeless and priceless."

So the system works. Sometimes when people go out to talk to schools, the students are listening. At least Hope Venus hopes so. She's doing some of the talking now, telling people about opportunity. She has an excellent example.

The Researcher News
NASA Langley Research Center
Editor & Curator: Denise Lineberry
Managing Editor: Jim Hodges
Executive Editor & Responsible NASA Official: Rob Wyman