Dona Sarkar creates technology used by 1.5 billion people every day.
Engineer, author, fashion designer, speaker and blogger? Not many people can put all that on their resume. But Dona Sarkar is a woman with a voracity for creating. In addition to a full time job at Microsoft leading the Windows Insider program, a beta program to get early user feedback for Microsoft products from millions of members around the world, she has written five books, launched a fashion line and blog, and advocated for diversity in STEM through various speaking engagements.
As a child growing up in Detroit, Sarkar was drawn to technology as an equalizer. “My parents worked really really hard, but we definitely didn’t come from money,” she said. “But tech is not a field where your parents had to be successful for you to be successful.” She noticed that so many young people were using technology to make an impact on the world right away, without needing years of schooling. Her decision to pursue computer science wasn’t a walk in the park — “I had to get really okay with failing at things,” she remarked. “Once upon a time, I didn’t know how to read. But I learned. Once upon a time I didn’t know how to ride a bike. But I learned. Why should computer science be any different?”
She earned a degree in computer science from the University of Michigan , and in 2005 started at Microsoft as a software engineer, quickly proving her technical chops. Within a year, she became an engineering lead responsible for the search features of Windows 7 and 8, as well as the roaming platform for Windows 8.1. Recently, she has helped build Microsoft’s Hololens, for which she was a product manager. Now, as head of the Windows Insider program, she liaises with Microsoft community members from all over the world to determine what issues are important to users.
She dismisses stereotypes of women engineers, noting that in order for their technical abilities to be recognized, women often seek to blend in1 rather than embracing what makes them stand out. “When I started working, I would wear T-shirts and jeans every day. But it wasn’t me … [now] I wear heels to work every day. I love my heels,” she said. According to Sarkar, her creativity and people skills have been an integral part of her career development. “Show off your differences,” she advises. “They really set you apart.”
As for how she manages to have what amounts to four jobs at once? “I wake up at 4am. My day is full of things I like, so I’m really excited. You should only do the things you like. That is the secret.”