Top 25 DOD Execs to Watch in 2020: Defense Digital Service’s Katie Olson

Katie Olson, Defense Digital Service

Katie Olson learned to design with, not for, users — a core tenant of Defense Digital Service — when launching and running a tech organization in Chicago called the City Tech Collaborative, which reimagines the way cities use technology to manage essential infrastructure and services.

“If it doesn’t work for the end user, it doesn’t work,” said Olson, who serves as deputy director of DDS at the Defense Department.

2019 was a big year for DDS. First, it absorbed the Rogue Squadron counterunmanned aerial systems team, which was previously part of the Defense Innovation Unit. Second, it opened a field office in Augusta, Georgia, near Ft. Gordon, which it affectionately calls Tatooine. And third, it led significant recruiting efforts to find talent and diversify the team in terms of race, gender and skill sets.

Strategic initiatives and emerging technologies like these have helped DDS advance federal defense missions. In particular, its c-UAS Rogue Squadron develops hardware and software solutions for small unmanned aerial system and counter-UAS efforts.

The threats posed by sUAS are real, though the threat in theater is distinct, Olson said. Recreational and commercial sUAS traffic is common and indistinguishable from actual threats.

DDS is also continuing to grow its Hack the Pentagon portfolio, recently partnering with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency on ethical hacking efforts on hardware like voting machines, and launching Hack a Satellite at DEFCON this year with the Air Force.

Why Watch:

In addition to growing its c-UAS and Hack the Pentagon portfolios, DDS is working with DOD leadership on COVID-19 related efforts. These include, an app designed for the DOD community to review symptoms and conditions to assess their likelihood of coronavirus, and Operation Warp Speed, which brings together federal entities to address emerging cyberthreats during the race to produce a vaccine.

Read the entire Top 25 DOD Execs to Watch in 2020 here.

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