Derrick and Jessica Snowden

Integrated Ocean Observing System

the Snowdens

Ocean Observing Partners

Meet Derrick and Jessica Snowden. Derrick is chief of the IOOS Operations Division. Jessica is a physical scientist in the IOOS Regions, Budget, and Policy Division.

What are your titles and what do you do in your positions?

Derrick: As chief of the IOOS Operations Division, I supervise the group that's primarily responsible for IOOS's data management and communications (DMAC) elements. In addition to the DMAC portfolio, the Operations Division manages the Coastal and Ocean Modeling Testbed program.

Jessica: I'm a physical scientist in the IOOS Regions, Budget, and Policy Division. That doesn't really describe what I do, though. I run a federal advisory committee, lead the out-year budget planning, and interact with counterparts in other federal agencies that are IOOS partners.

You two are married. Did you meet at NOAA?

Derrick: Yes, sort of. We met in the lunchroom of a former NOAA annex building on Wayne Avenue in Silver Spring, Maryland, a few blocks from the main NOAA campus. For several years, IOOS, the Climate Observations Division (COD) of NOAA's Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, and the interagency office were all co-located on the 12th floor there. At the time, Jess worked for and I worked for COD. Sometime later, we both found our ways to IOOS.   

Jessica: Derrick was a recent transplant to DC from NOAA in Miami, and was looking for lunch friends. Lucky for me!

What do you like most about working at NOAA/IOOS?

Derrick: Probably the same thing that's the hardest part (see below). We are a small office with a huge scope. There is always something to learn and think about, and there are always new relationships to cultivate. It's an interesting environment that never gets boring.

Jessica: While the scope of U.S. IOOS is quite large, it's a small office in NOAA, which I love. I work with great people (in addition to Derrick) and on a team that values doing the right thing for the oceans as well as balancing one's personal life.

What are the hardest parts of your jobs?

Derrick: Probably the breadth of the IOOS mission. As I said, we are a small group that coordinates a huge enterprise. On the technology front, which is where I spend most of my time, it becomes increasingly difficult to be current, informed, and deep enough in technology issues to make sound decisions, while still being broad enough to appreciate the diversity of activities going on all over the ocean observing realm. Sometimes the most interesting and important advances happen unbeknownst to us. Learning about them and integrating them into our plans keeps us on our toes.

Jessica: Hands-down, making peace with the bizarre process that is federal budget formulation. Once you stop looking for the logic and give in to the system, it's much easier.

What are your educational backgrounds?

Derrick: I have a BS in physics and marine science from the University of Miami, and have done graduate work in applied mathematics, physical oceanography, and engineering management/systems engineering.

Jessica: I have a BS in biology from the University of Delaware, and an MS in marine biology from the University of Maine.

What inspired your interests in the ocean and coasts?

Derrick: I grew up in the Florida Keys and in Miami, where I fell in love with being in, and learning about, the ocean. I was also pretty good at math and physics, so it seemed like a nice fit.

Jessica: Oh, I assume mine is the usual "girl wants to learn to talk with dolphins" story that evolves into a more realistic, though still somewhat romantic, appreciation for the ocean. I don't know how it started, but I have spent my whole life inspired by others who love and study the ocean, and I wanted to find my place doing that as well.

What advice do you have for young people wanting careers in the "ocean realm"?

Derrick: Math, math, math. Kidding! Seriously, though, my advice for undergrads has always been to get as much math and basic science (physics, chemistry, biology, geology, etc.) as possible, and then specialize in ocean sciences through internships and graduate school. Often, kids want to get into oceanography with a specialized major as soon as possible. But math plus basic science will better prepare them for graduate school and give them a broader background in case they change their minds about oceanography. In my undergrad program, marine biology was the most dropped major in the entire school of arts and sciences.

Jessica: And recognize that there are many ways to achieve that goal. I can't stress enough the importance of a solid science background, for any area of marine studies (not just the bio/chem/geo sciences). Understanding what makes the ocean work builds understanding of sound, fact-based policy. And if you have the opportunity to take writing courses, do it. We need better ocean science communicators!

What is one of the most important things you've learned or discovered while working at NOAA/IOOS?

Jessica: How to grow my career while growing our family. When I joined IOOS, I had just met Derrick. Now we're raising our daughter, who's almost four year old. So, trying to explain to her why my job matters has been an amazing and enlightening experience.

What is one of the coolest experiences you've had on the job?

Derrick: At the last few professional conferences I've attended, I've noticed more and more references to, and results from, IOOS activities. Some I know about and some I've never heard of! It's gratifying to know that our small office is making progress that is noticed and respected by a growing audience.