Meaning is More Than Numbers

NSA data scientist is driven by a passion for the mission

January 24, 2022

Photo of Carolyn L.

Carolyn L. has always looked for meaning in her work, but how she defines meaning has evolved.

The freshman NSA data scientist earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and a Ph.D. in biophysics, all the while thinking she was going to make an impact in the food industry.

“I wanted to help the world’s food supply by working in fish hatcheries,” she says.

But as her education progressed and her biophysics studies forced her ever deeper into numbers, she discovered that the discipline of science could be better served with better computers and data analytic techniques.

Pro Photo of Carolyn L.

“Science has needs that computers need to meet,” she says. “I performed years of computational analysis and simulations on data. I learned that, in science, we need data science.”

Her first position out of grad school was as a program manager for high performance computing facilities at the Department of Energy, where she got her first real look at the future of computing.

“Traditionally, high performance computing was not used in data science,” she explains. “In the last 10 years that changed. We have completely new architectures that don’t behave like the old ones. They were made to advance analysis capabilities and data analytics.”

Her work at the Department of Energy led to her position as a data scientist at NSA, which she describes as “building tools to abstract knowledge from large-scale data.”

And this position, more than any other, is where she finds meaning.

“The more I learn about what we do at NSA – the people we protect, the dangers we detect – the more meaning I get from my job.”

Her satisfaction is compounded by the people she works beside – “smart, passionate team-players” – and the open, welcoming environment.

Iceland Photo of Carolyn L.

“Data science, networking, computer science – these are fields that have been traditionally dominated by men. Here there are women at every level, from technical experts through the highest levels of leadership.”

More than anything, though, it’s the mission of the data scientist at NSA that makes the job fulfilling.

“At a big e-commerce company, data scientists figure out the fastest shipping technique for a pair of shoes,” she says. “Here, you solve problems for the nation and the world. Higher paying jobs are tempting, but I wouldn’t come home feeling as good about myself.”

Carolyn is eager for the upcoming generation of data scientists to learn about NSA and join the team. She says they are the drivers of progress.

“Because computer technology and data science are rapidly changing, it’s more important than ever to bring in young people and their new ways of thinking.”