Brian Silverstein, Director of Life Sciences recently had the opportunity to ask Florence Hudson, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineer, former IBM Executive, and Editorial Board Member for Blockchain in Healthcare Today a series of questions. She shared insights regarding her impressive career, trends in the tech and healthcare industries, and advice for up-and-coming STEM professionals.
Please tell us about yourself.
I’m a Mechanical and Aerospace Engineer, and that interest started when I was about 3 years old. I was brought up by my maternal grandparents because my mother died the day I was born, so my mother’s brothers and sister became my brothers and sister. My oldest brother loved space. He used to get me up at 5 or 6 in the morning to watch the Apollo missions take off. I remember thinking it was so cool and wondering how they do that, and how they get up there and back to earth safely. They say that’s when you become an engineer - when you start asking ‘how.’
From there, I got a number of scholarships out of high school and ended up going to Princeton to be a Mechanical and Aerospace Engineer. I worked at Grumman and then NASA at the Jet Propulsion Lab, so I’ve always worked on things that are the leading edge and the future. I was able to work on the space shuttle program and met Sally Ride; she was going to be flying in the space shuttle, and I was building the space shuttle. At the end of the 70’s, the aerospace world was really in a decline, so I took a look around and thought that computers were going to run the world someday, so I interviewed with HP and IBM, and took a job with HP in California. I was there for a little over a year then my grandfather got sick, so I moved back to NY and got a job with IBM. They called me an early identifier, which means I was on track to be an executive, and I was fortunate enough to have a 33-year career at IBM, including Vice President and Director roles.
When I got to the point in my career where I wasn’t going any higher, I decided to look for roles that met my goal to become a Senior Vice President and C-level executive as I had documented in my 1-page lifetime strategic plan created in 1983. At that point, my friend introduced me to a Senior Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer role at Internet2, which was a really fun job. From there I joined the Blockchain in Healthcare Today Editorial Board, which I still do now. In addition, I am the Editor in Chief for a book on women and the Internet of Things and this framework called TIPPSS – trust, identity, privacy, protection, safety and security for the Internet of Things. I’m focused on this area to increase awareness of the need to improve trust and identity of things, people, software, and cybersecurity to keep people safer in this hyper-connected world we live in. There are about 15 women writing chapters in this book from different parts of my life; research, industry, government, academia and more. I am also Special Advisor for Next Generation Internet for the Northeast Big Data Innovation Hub at Columbia University, a very cool role. I also speak at many events regarding Internet of Things, smart cities, Women in STEM, Blockchain, and more. Now I’m looking for the next cool thing I can do whether it is board positions, or new roles where I can make things better – that’s what engineers do.
You have a degree in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. What led you to get involved with healthcare in your career?
When I was at IBM in Corporate Strategy, Lou Gerstner as the CEO inspired us to look at some of the newer markets we should be participating in. Healthcare and Life Sciences was one of them. At the time I was a VP in Corporate Strategy and my team led the development of a number of new strategies, including creating the analytical structure to understand and operate in new markets that weren’t really defined yet, as documented in a Harvard case study about the IBM EBO (Emerging Business Opportunities) program. We created a framework to assess market potential and value creation, then developed a range of uncertainty for the new markets including everyone’s opinion to help us move forward together. We did that for healthcare and other markets. I also worked on the IBM Watson cognitive computing strategy which included choosing healthcare as a prime opportunity for cognitive computing.
As I started getting involved more with Internet2, Healthcare and Life Sciences came up as a key focus area. As Chief Innovation Officer, I did a community survey to find what areas of open collaboration we should work on together, and came up with distributed big data and analytics, the Internet of Things, and end-to-end trust and security. Within big data and analytics, one of the use cases that came forward was Healthcare and Life Sciences. When the Cancer Moonshot came along I was fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in the summit at Howard University in Washington, DC to discuss how the scientists and technologies can support the acceleration of cancer research and data sharing. I was fortunate to be appointed to the program committee for the computational approaches for cancer workshop at the annual SuperComputing conference as another way to leverage different types of scientists, technologists and researchers together to apply their cumulative thinking to cancer. Healthcare is a huge space with so many opportunities to improve outcomes, so much to figure out, and so many challenges. We can bring brilliant people together, leveraging existing and new technologies, to work together and use their unique gifts for good.
Being a Special Advisor for Next Generation Internet at the Northeast Big Data Innovation Hub, what are the biggest challenges and opportunities you see in the world of data?
One of the biggest challenges is cultural; people have to choose to share their data. In research environments your research is your intellectual property, it’s your identity and it’s what helps you get tenure, so we need to get to thinking that data needs to be shared. The other challenge is protecting against other people changing your data. We have to apply new technologies to areas where people aren’t used to sharing data and give them protection.
The opportunity across the board is using the data for good. We need to look at data holistically to get key insights and make the right decisions to change things. Another thing as we look across the world is working together to come up with what we want to accomplish and how we can make things better by improving collaboration within data science globally.
What trends do you expect to see in technology in the next 5 years?
A trend I see is the need for this TIPPSS idea; trust, identity, privacy, safety and security. More people are becoming aware of the threat of physical and financial harm from the connected devices and systems on the planet. We need to build in TIPPSS for new devices, and add more security to existing devices and systems. I think there will be more and more awareness and regulation in these areas. The issue of ethics will also increase regarding how we use the vast amount of data available about people and things, relating to data science, IoT, privacy, and security. There are so many aspects of making tech more safe and secure as it becomes more integrated into our daily lives. For example, quantum computing is going to be very real and provide opportunities and challenges; if you make something really smart it can be good and bad so figuring out the ethics of data and tech are more and more important as we move forward.
What interesting new projects are you working on?
The Blockchain world is very interesting. My position on the Editorial Board of Blockchain in Healthcare Today allows me to look at how new blockchain technology, which tucks under the TIPPSS umbrella, can provide better integrity, trust and security of data, whether it’s data about the pharmaceutical supply chain to make sure counterfeit drugs don’t enter, or provenance of medical or clinical research data as it is transferred between devices, institutions, people and networks in the eventual pursuit of precision medicine and precision cancer care. We focus on figuring out how to maintain integrity of the data since all devices which house the data are hackable. Blockchain can help with this, as it tracks who and what creates or changes data. It’s exciting to work with doctors, the editorial board, and medical schools to make things better by marrying technology with healthcare.
I am also involved in a number of things related to TIPPSS, which we need to get more women involved in. The way I look at diversity, until we are at human population parity in STEM fields – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math - we aren’t leveraging all the resources on the planet; if 50% of the planet is women, then 50% of everything should be women. We need to encourage women and let them know that they can do it and they should get involved.
What types of mentor or mentors have you had throughout your career?
My first was my brother who woke me up to watch the Apollo missions when I was 3 years old. He provided me the opportunity to see what’s out there so I could see what I was interested in. My parents were also always very supportive of me. My first real mentor in the aerospace engineering field was Yvonne Brill, who passed away a couple years ago. I met her when I was at Princeton University and president of the Society of Women Engineers section. When she passed away, her NY Times obituary called her the first female rocket scientist in the US. She connected me to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab as my summer internship and she was on the NASA safety advisory board after the Challenger disaster. She was incredible. I always show pictures of her when I do my Women in Tech talks. Whenever I went back to Princeton I always tried to go and visit her at her house and give her a hug. Last time I saw her, she showed me the medal President Obama had just presented her on Technology and Innovation. I also had a number of mentors at IBM when I was on the Executive path. Now a few other women and I who were VPs at IBM have started doing peer mentoring and ladies dinners to help each other in work and life. We invite the EVP from IBM who mentored us all to join our dinners too. He is still there for us even though we have all retired from IBM.
What do you believe are the traits and qualities of a great leader?
I think a great leader needs to care. They need to care about the business, their team, clients, people, partners; people can tell if you do or don’t care. You can show that you care by listening. I used to present to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem when I was at IBM, and I’d speak to them about our strategy, and they gave me this ornament I still have that says, ‘It is the province of knowledge to speak, and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen’ – Oliver Wendell Holmes. So as leaders it is our job to listen, respond, and lead, inspiring people to look forward, look up and think of what more they can be or do, and help them reach for the stars.
You were recently featured by the New York Hall of Science with your STEM profile. How do you encourage STEM careers among your network?
I’m approachable and friendly, but I’m a geek; I worked on future missions around Jupiter, cognitive computing, next gen internet, and helping cure cancer. I say if I can do it, you can do it. I had very humble beginnings, with my mother dying and my father leaving, and I was an orphan, so if I can do it, you can do it. I encourage anyone to find what inspires them and do it. It could be boys, girls, robots, anything; I’m flexible, we just need more thinkers and doers in the STEM field.
Based on your LinkedIn profile, you have earned various honors and awards. To what or whom do you attribute your success?
My parents were my core. They were so supportive of me – they lost their daughter and then took care of me. I was first in our immediate family to go to a 4-year college and they supported that. I also had teachers who were supportive of me. You need personal cheerleaders in your life that believe you’re great. My parents, siblings, friends, daughter, have all been personal cheerleaders for me and I’m very lucky that they support me.
What advice would you give to up and coming technology professionals to be successful?
Figure out the unique gifts God gave you and use them for good. If people say you have a gift, ask them for feedback about it and what the good part was. When I was looking at how to portray myself, my mentor from IBM said that my unique value is that I’m technical and a business executive, and it’s the unique combination that really differentiated me, so that’s what my CV says at the top now. Getting feedback from other people, listening, and leveraging that can help you on your way to success. Find things that really inspire you, listen to the market, continue to pursue your ideas, and don’t give up. Look at how to leverage ideas for good and watch out for those who use their ideas for bad.
Director of Life Sciences