Tom Pyke: Learn the value of hard work

A 30-year career in information technology has taught DOE’s CIO valuable lessons

Tom Pyke was no neophyte when he became the Energy Department’s chief information officer in November 2005, and his experience — more than 30 years’ worth — propelled him to a fast start.

Pyke left the Commerce Department to become DOE’s CIO. When he arrived, he immediately began implementing a security upgrade plan, visiting the department’s far-flung national laboratories, and meeting with individuals and groups whose information technology talents are essential to DOE.

The CIO’s job is to help an organization make the best use of IT to advance its mission, he said. “The mission is exciting.”

Pyke centers his leadership style on the people who work for him. He looks for ways to inspire and motivate them to give their best efforts. Every organization has unique group dynamics, he said, and part of a leader’s duty is to understand those dynamics.

“The challenge here has been to find just the right touch,” he said.

Pyke started his government work early, just out of high school. He took a summer job writing a computer manual for the National Bureau of Standards, which is now the National Institute of Standards and Technology. After earning a degree in electrical engineering, he returned to the government. Pyke was the first CIO at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration before moving to Commerce’s headquarters as CIO.

“When I started, I didn’t intend to stay in the government long term,” he said. “I found the experience was very fulfilling. Every step of my career, I feel I’m doing something worthwhile.”

Pyke’s first mentor was his father, an electrical engineer who served in the Air Force and then in civil service.

“He was a patriot, and I’m a patriot,” Pyke said. “From my dad, I learned to appreciate the value of hard work.”

Pyke met another significant mentor when he was working at the National Bureau of Standards, where he was director of the Center for Computer Systems Engineering and later director of the Center for Programming Science and Technology.

At the programming center, Pyke worked with Ruth Davis. He said Davis passed on to him the value of balancing calm flexibility and forcefulness, to go with the flow when possible and speak up strongly when needed, he said.

Pyke said he has also learned management techniques from DOE Secretary Samuel Bodman. The two worked together at Commerce when Bodman was the department’s deputy secretary.

“He helped me appreciate ways of working with people” and to take full advantage of the expertise available on staff, Pyke said.

Alan Balutis, director of North American Public Sector Consulting at Cisco Systems’ Internet Business Solutions Group, worked with Pyke when Balutis was Commerce’s deputy CIO.

“He’s got a first-rate mind, he’s an extremely bright guy,” Balutis said. “He’s very optimistic and upbeat. It was a real loss to the department to have him go after all these years, but you can tell in the new position he’s really having a great time.”

Pyke likes to share his passion for science and technology. He was director of a program called Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment. In that role, he led an interagency team in creating an environmental science and education program that reaches children in 109 countries.

“I’ve had a lot of different experiences,” he said.

Getting to know DOE’s employees has occupied much of his time as the department’s new CIO. Commerce was a large agency, but DOE is much larger, he said.

“Most of our people are out in the field,” many at the labs, he said. Traveling to meet employees is important, he added. “You learn what’s really happening.”

Pyke said he brings a strong sense of the agency’s mission to his role. He said he believes IT is a means to an end and not an end itself. If IT doesn’t improve an agency’s ability to pursue its mission, it is not serving its purpose, he said.

“I look at IT as being a bunch of us in competition for the best supporting actor award,” he said.

Tom PykeCurrent position: Chief information officer at the Energy Department.

Work history: Pyke began his government career at the National Bureau of Standards, now the National Institute of Standards and Technology, where he served as director of the Center for Computer Systems Engineering and later as director of the Center for Programming Science and Technology. He became the first CIO at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and later moved to the Commerce Department headquarters to become CIO.

Education: He has a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the Carnegie Institute of Technology, which is part of Carnegie Mellon University. He earned a master’s degree in engineering from the University of Pennsylvania.

Recommended reading: “The World Is Flat” by Thomas Friedman.

Family: He has two sons; one is a climate researcher at the Environmental Protection Agency and the other is a law student at the University of Virginia. He also has a granddaughter.

Lesson learned: Pyke’s father, an electrical engineer, was a lifelong government employee, first in the Air Force, then in the civil service. “From my dad, I learned to appreciate the value of hard work,” Pyke said.

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