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College of Engineering

Tech for All

Katrina Dickson

Katrina Dickson is a liberal arts graduate in a STEM world. And working at Apple Inc. has given her great insights and appreciation for tech careers.

“I entered the industry in 2008 through a graphic design position, which happened to be situated in a software organization,” she said. “I witnessed not only how technology had the potential to radically transform the way we live. It was also difficult not to notice the economic transformation it offered individuals who contributed to building those technologies.”

Since she benefitted from that field – and her education at Cal Poly -- Dickson decided to give back, donating money for Cal Poly students to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration, the world’s largest gathering of women in computing.

“When you get to the conference, you are surrounded by thousands of amazing, talented women who you are going to find you have perhaps a surprising amount in common with,” she said.

The shortage of diversity in tech has been well documented. Dickson said that impacts innovation and progress – from facial recognition technology that has higher error rates for dark skin to NASA’s recent cancellation of an all-woman spacewalk because they only had one space suit designed for a woman.

Greater diversity will ensure that technology is designed for everyone, said Dickson, who recently set up a scholarship to support students who are invested in racial and gender inclusivity while pursuing degrees in computer science, computer engineering and aerospace engineering.

“No matter your field, the fact is that having a diverse team enables you to build the best product,” she said.

More diversity in tech could also offset a societal imbalance, she said.

“As a country, we have a major opportunity gap and growing income inequality which disproportionately impacts women, communities of color and rural communities,” she said. “A STEM education and career is not a magic wand, and it may not be of interest to everyone, but anyone should be empowered to participate.”

As a child, Dickson was interested in both arts and technology.

“When I was in elementary school my dad brought home an old computer from work, and as I played around on it, I found I was equally as interested in designing logos and letterhead for imaginary businesses as I was in figuring out how to ‘hack’ the startup screen to display a custom image,” she said.

At Cal Poly, art initially won her over.

“When I started, I thought I would get a degree related to design and then apply that to the music industry,” said Dickson, who was general manager at KCPR as a student. “I wanted to start my own record label.”

Then Apple called.

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