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Cultivating Connectedness

Working to maintain a positive culture and providing opportunities for career growth to support his staff.

Corey Richardson
Corey Richardson

Corey Richardson’s career has centered on information technology (IT) for almost 30 years, but his passion is driven by building relationships with his colleagues and employees. This approach is what led him to the institute. A colleague at the Washington Times shared the job description with him and urged him to apply. Today, as the deputy branch manager of the institute’s IT service desk, Richardson focuses on helping young professionals cultivate career growth. Here, he explains why he finds his work at STScI so rewarding.

What led you to IT?

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a chef, but coding was my hobby on the weekends. I learned how to write BASIC in fourth grade on an Apple II. I pursued culinary arts in high school and was recruited to work at a local restaurant. During my senior year exit interview, my guidance counselor said I should think about a career in IT based on the results of my aptitude test. That stuck with me. It’s why I ultimately pivoted to IT. After a gap year, I earned a computer operations diploma and began my career as a computer operator for Pierce Leahy Corporation in Philadelphia. It was in the mainframe days of computing, which meant I was running batch jobs and backups. Early on, I was promoted to the senior operator and kept studying along the way.

Why did you join STScI?

While working for an ad agency as its IT specialist in the late ’90s, I saw an ad for a position at the Washington Times in Washington, D.C. Since my wife’s aunt lives in Maryland, we wanted to move closer to her. A month later, I was offered a position as a system administrator and stayed on for 10 years in various roles. It’s no secret that print was suffering at the time, which is why I began looking for new positions. Our team was very close knit, so when a colleague’s son who works as an astronomer at the institute mentioned that a position in IT was opening, he read the description, thought it was better suited to me, and urged me to apply.

What self-respecting geek doesn’t want to work at the institute? I applied right away and a within a few months, was offered a position as a system administrator. I remember initially being intimated and I was afraid I’d be in over my head. When I came in, though, there was such camaraderie within IT and the institute as a whole, and everyone was welcoming. Over the years, I’ve worked with some pretty brilliant people who have taught me so much. It’s impressive to me that so many smart people are so easy to approach, talk to, and work with. That’s one of the best things about working at the institute—how welcoming everyone is.

You’ve been promoted several times before recently being named the deputy branch manager of the IT service desk this year. Why is mentorship such an important element of your current role?

I’ve learned this from my manager: Staff on the service desk are typically in early stages of their careers, which is why it’s my goal to actively help them experience all aspects of our IT work. I want to help them see their current roles as launching points for their careers at the institute. I want them to focus on what interests them most, even if that means watching them accept roles in other IT departments. Watching my staff be promoted makes me proud.

How have you overcome some of the challenges introduced by having some of your team continuing to work on site at the institute while others work from home during the pandemic?

Half of my team is on site to support the launch readiness exercises conducted in the James Webb Space Telescope’s Mission Operations Center and half is remote, supporting the rest of the institute’s staff. Staff on site may be supporting people in the office or halfway around the world for anything from an account lockout, which isn’t a small issue during an exercise, to a software failure.

For those of us off site, we’re using instant messaging services to collaborate much more frequently, which helps us distribute the calls coming in. It’s also very important to me that my team feels connected, which is why I was so happy when they suggested starting a new channel to chat about anything that doesn’t directly relate to work. We share jokes or talk about the games we’re playing. Normal chitchat that would usually happen in person is now online, but it’s still happening. My team has really come through to help one another adjust to working from home.

You recently became a member of Invision, an institute-wide group that establishes and upholds a civil and inclusive environment for all staff. Why did you accept this opportunity?

I think it is phenomenal that the institute and our leadership take an active role in learning about the struggles of being African American in our current environment, which is why I agreed to join Invision. It’s such a good thing that we’re able and encouraged to discuss race issues and diversity relations in a welcoming environment. I hope that we can move the ball a little bit by making it easier for everyone to understand each other.

Article updated February 2021.