Role model blog: Dr. Dubravka Ilic, Huld

Everyone has their own role model. In my case, my dad always encouraged me to be curious: to explore, to open a clock, to take its parts out and put them together again. This curiosity has carried me far throughout my career, and it is the same inspiration I want to pass on to my children: the capacity for exploration.

I have been working for the last fifteen years as a tech professional and space enthusiast in the Space industry, at Huld. I work supporting Huld’s Space business as business development and operations responsible. I get to support both our project managers and our customers in different ways when building software for different ESA (European Space Agency) missions. It is as fascinating as it sounds — we build the software for the spacecraft itself or instruments on-board the spacecraft, ranging from missions that help get data benefiting us on a daily level, to science missions that help us understand how our planet became what it is.

Choosing one path amongst many interests

I remember that as a child I always had a different answer to the question ‘What do I wanna be when I grow up?’. I was fascinated by social sciences, but also by natural sciences; I wanted to be an archaeologist, but also a microbiologist – and on top of all of it, I loved Arts! 

I ended up studying Computer Sciences almost accidentally – and as I started, I remember being quickly disappointed at seeing how heavily male-dominated the campus was, with only a few women. It definitely felt like a challenge, and in taking on that journey, I realized a couple of things – the first one: I do have a strong sense of motivation. I challenged myself to study and learn as much as I could, and so I did. The second one: programming is a very creative way of expressing yourself; you’re solving problems and you have numerous ways of doing it. So there I was, fulfilling my passion for creativity, even if in a very technical field.

Dubravka Ilic, Director, Space, Huld

Building a 15-years career

When I finished my studies, I got the opportunity to teach two courses at the Technical Faculty of the University of Novi Sad, Databases and Programming. Something happened while teaching: although I had always defined myself as an introvert, I started noticing that I did love working with students, inspiring them. Growing as an academic felt like the natural next step for me, so I enrolled in a doctoral programme at TUCS (Turku Centre for Computer Science), where I discovered an interesting new domain: how to build dependable software for safety critical applications. It was the very first time in my career when I started working with the concept of safety in software, and that strong interest has remained until today.

I ended up at SSF (Space Systems Finland, nowadays Huld) and have grown in the company for the past fifteen years. That’s quite a journey! I feel grateful that I have been able to explore many interests within Huld, since they have always supported my professional growth. 

I would lie if I didn’t say that what attracted me about Huld is that it was the only company around me that worked in the Space domain – of course, I had wanted to be an astronaut as a child too! And indeed, one of my first projects was a space mission where I was an engineer working on verifying the software and testing it. Ever since I’ve grown in different roles: from engineer to project manager of small projects; then managing bigger projects, and moving on to supporting other project managers. Eventually, I found myself being operationally responsible for all of the space projects we have in-house. 

Unique joys and interesting challenges

Nowadays I am responsible for sales and business development –and at the same time, I am responsible for Operations. This is an extremely detail-oriented role but also creative: I need to know to a sufficient level of detail how our current projects are doing, and I also need to come up with creative solutions and support project managers in their current projects. By getting to know what they need, how they’re doing, and what they’re doing, I get a vantage point on how to enable their work and how to seize the next opportunity.

The projects that I work on are long-term projects, and they’re done on a fixed-price basis. This means we commit to maybe five, ten years, of delivering high-quality expertise. This is a challenge in itself: you have a fixed budget and important commitments. But at the same time, this gives me moments of intense joy, as we honor the deals we made at the beginning of the project. When the challenging times are passed successfully? That’s the best feeling. 

And on a daily basis, I feel fortunate to engage in so many conversations with colleagues. They’re incredibly bright and inspiring!

A word of encouragement

I strongly feel that there should not be fields dominated by a specific gender, only fields where we go because we’re interested, regardless of our gender. 

When I think about new generations entering tech, I always think of general advice: don’t look at what the others are doing, and don’t look too much at what is around you that feels intimidating. Just really do your best in all you do. And I am tempted to add just one more piece of advice: never be intimidated by the things you don’t know, for nobody knows everything. Just keep asking questions –that learning will take you as far as you want.


Dr. Dubravka Ilic, Director, Space, Business Development & Operations, Huld