From tech outsider to enabler of Digital Futures

How Dell director of software engineering and “Innovator at Work” Katrina Hudson is leading the way with outside-of-the-box thinking.

Every so often, someone comes into the technology industry from outside IT who thinks differently and inspires innovation. Katrina Hudson is one such individual. Despite entering IT during her academic studies, she’s risen to the top of the tech sector as a pioneering leader.

The secret to her success has been her ability to excel in what once seemed an unlikely career destination. “I had zero interest in tech,” says Hudson, reflecting on her move into IT. “As a matter of fact, I believe my words were, ‘Oh my gosh, the world will freeze over before I ever get a job in tech.'”

Fifteen years later, Hudson is director of software engineering at Dell  Technologies, with a catalog of achievements—including leading Digital Futures Ireland—that have changed the IT industry for the better.

“The hardest part is the naysayers who say, ‘you can’t do it.’ Use that as fuel. You might fail a million times before you make it—and that’s what makes the success so much better.” – Katrina Hudson, director of software engineering, Dell Technologies

Embracing the journey

While completing her studies, Hudson worked at a U.S. military base in Germany, where her boss asked her to have a go at setting up a point-of-sale system. She excelled, and her success led to further requests. Before she knew it, she was setting up management information systems for various facilities in the Garrison.

After a few years honing her craft in Germany, Hudson—who also has a master’s in industrial organizational psychology and an MBA—moved to the U.S., where she joined Dell in tech support. Once again, she embraced fresh challenges.

“It’s been quite the journey,” says Hudson, reflecting on her 12 years with Dell. After tech support, she moved into resolution management, where she helped customers overcome their challenges.

Hudson moved to Ireland to continue her career development with Dell in 2018. It was there that she helped Digital Futures in Ireland, which is a Dell-led volunteer initiative that raises students’ awareness of the diverse nature of technology careers and which trains individuals from all backgrounds in the critical skills needed to become the IT leaders of tomorrow.

Leading Digital Futures in Ireland

Students of Digital Futures at Dell office

When Hudson took the mantle for Digital Futures, there was a lot of work to do. “It was a small program where some people from Dell would go to schools and talk to kids from a deck of slides about tech careers,” she says.

One of her first steps was to improve the presentations: “We helped make the content more modern and relevant for the kids.” Hudson then leveraged a partnership with Connecting Women in Technology and encouraged other big tech companies to join Dell in Digital Futures.

She worked with new technology partners, such as HPE, IBM and Meta, to deliver new and invigorating content to more children.

“We went from working in a few schools around Dublin to delivering content across the Republic of Ireland, including to kids in rural communities who didn’t realize the breadth of tech career options.”

Hudson didn’t stop there. She looked beyond the IT industry and worked with the Irish government’s Smart Futures initiative, which aims to get more children to learn about the benefits of technology careers.

“We told the teachers, ‘Give us an hour, we’ll come and chat with your kids, and we’ll make it work.’ So, if a school really wanted assistance, Smart Futures would refer them to me.”

And when the coronavirus pandemic brought society to a halt, Hudson developed innovative solutions that helped Digital Futures to carry on growing. “We had to go virtual,” she says. “But even with the break at the start of the pandemic, we had the most students—over 5,000—that we’d ever had go through the program in one year.”

Reaping the benefits of Digital Futures

Students of Digital Futures learning

Hudson moved to England in 2020, but she continues to offer voluntary consultancy advice to Digital Futures.

The foundations she built in Ireland mean the program continues to have a huge impact. The team completed 42 sessions across 22 schools last year, reaching more than 1,400 students. To date, 35,000 students across Ireland have been through the program. The watchword for the program’s success is creativity.

Dell Technologies’ Innovation Index highlights how creative approaches can pay dividends—56% of businesses host hackathons or scrums to encourage innovation and to fix problems collaboratively.

Hudson says the creative approach taken by Digital Futures varies by location. In India, the program targets girls in rural schools; in Ireland, the program targets young students and exposes them to a variety of technology career options.

“In other words, it’s not just coding, and our approach really shows the wide application of technology in work,” she says.

For example, Hudson explained to one law student how she could learn about technology and potentially write the first AI regulations. “She was so excited about this opportunity, she immediately went and signed up for a computer course,” she says. “And that’s what Digital Futures aims to do—to show young people they can do all these different things with technology.”

Looking to the future

Server lesson for Digital Futures students

In many ways, Hudson is the perfect role model for students engaging with Digital Futures. The program aims to remove barriers, create equal opportunities and support diversity of thought—achievements from her own career that she continues to prioritize as she develops others.

“The more people with different backgrounds and interests you get into a company, the more you can innovate because there’s different experiences to draw upon,” she says.

More than half (57%) of executives worry their business will be irrelevant within five years based on their current innovation pipeline, according to Dell Technologies’ Innovation Index. Initiatives like Digital Futures help to fill the pipeline.

“It’s all about giving students tangible role models,” she says. “You can’t be what you can’t see. When our volunteers go into the schools, we make sure they reflect that diversity of experiences and opportunities in IT.”

In her role as a consultant for Digital Futures, Hudson helps the organization expose young people to technology roles as early in their lives as possible. “The younger we get people interested, the better. The program also helps teachers who might not have had IT industry exposure and allows them to guide students.”

A people-focused innovator

Hudson’s advice to aspiring innovators who have barriers to overcome is simple: just keep going. “The hardest part is the naysayers who say, ‘you can’t do it,'” she says. “Use that as fuel. You might fail a million times before you make it—and that’s what makes the success so much better.”

Now, as director of software engineering at Dell, Hudson leads a team of specialists who turn customer challenges into solutions; it’s a role that allows her to make the most of her people-focused skills.

“I found my home in engineering because I love coaching my teams and watching the creative process as they solve problems,” she says.

Innovators at Work is a series on Perspectives profiling Dell team members who drive innovation by combining ideas and technology to create life-shaping impact. The series is inspired by Dell’s Innovation Index, which provides insight on what global decision makers are doing to create innovation resilience in turbulent times.