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Nancy Palm - Witness To the Computer Evolution
February 25, 2014

[image-51]Name: Nancy Palm
Title: Assistant Chief
Formal Job Classification: Computer Scientist
Organization: Code 606, Computational and Information Science and Technology Office, Sciences and Exploration Directorate

After almost 37 years at Goddard, computer scientist Nancy Palm has seen computers evolve from filling an entire room to fitting in the palm of one’s hand.

What do you do and what is most interesting about your role here at Goddard? How do you help support Goddard’s mission?

I am a technical “influence manager.” I sit on agency enterprise architecture and IT capital planning and investment control teams. I represent the programmatic interests of Goddard’s Sciences and Exploration Directorate, including supporting our specialized, high-performance computing facility, the NASA Center for Climate Simulation. I advocate these requirements to the Information Technology and Communications Directorate, as they relate to IT budgetary reporting to the Office of Management and Budget and Enterprise Architecture. I serve on the Procurement Executive Board for purchasing information technology goods and services called Solutions for Enterprise-Wide Procurement.

What was your initial position when you started working here on March 14, 1977?

I was hired as a systems programmer to troubleshoot technical issues for the Science and Applications Computing Center, which has evolved into the NCCS. I analyzed hardware and software problems for the IBM mainframes. We had 60 people working three shifts a day mounting over 65,000 tapes a month. Scientists used keypunch machines, typing out programs on 3.25 by 7.25 inch cards. Information was stored off-line on 200 MB tape reels. Today’s memory sticks have orders of magnitude more capacity than did our tapes or disks. Computing rooms were kept very cold, preventing hardware systems from overheating.

Do you remember your first interview at Goddard?

I had to demonstrate that I was strong enough to lift a 14-inch 2314 IBM disk drive weighing 10.2 pounds and asked if I planned on getting pregnant. Being single, I was first to be called outside of normal working hours for hardware or software problems. Without email, some IBM operating system patches were mailed to my home on tapes via FedEx.

When I was offered the job, I was told that “anyone who could survive taking 51 credits of college mathematics would stick with any problem until it was fixed.” Maybe it was my New England upbringing. Vermonters don’t know how to give up!

How do you “pay it forward”?

I participate on our 600 Directorate’s Diversity Council, and both the center’s Civility Collaborative and Native American Advisory Committee. I mentor many people from across the center.

What are some of the changes you have seen in offices?

I started working before internet or cell phones. We talked in person or on the phone, developing relationships and rapport: Your word was your bond. If I needed anything, I would go see or call in person. Today, with technology changing so quickly, there seem to be many emails going back and forth, too much time spent trying to configure technology before doing actual work.

Today there are so many more meetings. Life is controlled by your calendar full of back-to-back meetings. Sometimes it seems all one does is go to meetings.

Why did you become a math major in college?

Math has a right or a wrong answer. There is a process and rules to solving a math problem. There is always a solution, although there may be multiple paths to a solution. Math requires someone who is doggedly determined and persistent until the problem gets solved. 

What words of wisdom would you pass along to somebody just starting their career?

Stretch yourself. Take risks. Just because something has always been done one way doesn’t mean that you can’t question it and come up with a different way.

What are you passionate about?

I am passionate about respecting and protecting the fragile Earth and all her creatures. With innovation, creativity and determination, NASA is at the forefront of this work.

Who is one of the more interesting people you have met at Goddard?

My husband, Stephen Palm, an Earth science researcher in the Earth Sciences Division. We celebrated our 30th anniversary and have two daughters, both graduates of Goddard’s Child Development Center. One is a registered nurse, the other plans to become a veterinarian.

Do you have a favorite way to kick back, relax or have fun?

We have two, longhaired German shepherds whom I adore. I love to read murder mysteries and watch criminal investigation shows.

Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

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Nancy Palm
Nancy Palm
Image Credit: 
NASA/W. Hrybyk
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Page Last Updated: February 25th, 2014
Page Editor: Lynn Jenner