Heroes

Coder, fashion blogger, and author Dona Sarkar is helping change the face of tech.

She's a technologist and a creative, and she's helping to bring internet to parts of the world that need it most.

Coder, fashion blogger, and author Dona Sarkar is helping change the face of tech.
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Microsoft

Growing up in inner-city Detroit, Dona Sarkar was mesmerized by all of the changes taking place in technology.

It was the mid-'90s: The dot-com boom was taking off and legacy industries like publishing were being disrupted by new services like Amazon. Startup after startup was popping up. The reign of the barely legal CEO was starting. It seemed like technology was changing everything, and it was changing fast.

“I realized, from reading the Wall Street Journal with my dad every day, that the only way that innovation was really going to happen, no matter what industry we were in, was through the use of technology,” says Dona.


Dona and a colleague, Leo, kicking off Hour of Code at NASDAQ in 2015. All images via Dona Sarkar, used with permission.

But she noticed one thing that was off: The changes all seemed to be led by men.

That didn’t sit right with her.

Dona decided she wanted to be at the forefront of that innovation. She wanted to make sure there were women leading the charge too.

One problem: Dona grew up without much exposure to technology, and before college, she hadn’t really even touched a computer. But she wasn’t fazed.

In college, Dona signed up for a computer science class, ready to take on the tech industry. But she failed that class. Badly.

Dona could have packed her bags and retreated, but instead she reminded herself that things take time.

Dona showing an entrepreneur in Africa how to use HoloLens.

“The first time I rode a bicycle, I fell down,” she says. “The first time I tried to write a short story, it wasn’t very good. ... The first time you do something, you’re not very good at it ... but if I want to achieve my goal, I have to put in the work.”

So Dona signed up to take the class again. She got better. Whenever she ran into difficulty, she made it a point to give it her best. And with that mentality, she plowed forward.

Today, Dona leads the Windows Insider Program at Microsoft.

She builds holograms at work and makes Microsoft technology seamless and intuitive for the user. And she points out that technology is no longer a silo. It’s a part of everything we’re doing. We’re all “in tech” to a degree — we use technology to communicate with each other. Businesses use it to communicate with customers and to improve internal and external processes. There’s no escaping it.

Dona hard at work on one of her designs.

As a technologist and a creative — Dona also runs a fashion blog and has published four fiction novels and one nonfiction book — she has seen the way technology is ingrained into other industries firsthand.

Dona is also shattering stereotypes at work.

When she entered the tech industry, Dona was cautioned by other women not to speak about fashion or wear heels to work. They meant well, but Dona refused to change — not just for herself, but for the women who’d follow her.  

Putting the finishing touches on one of her designs.

“The height of my heels has nothing to do with my technical abilities. The only way to break a stereotype is to break the stereotype by doing it a lot. ... And if I change, then the next woman will have the exact same battle,” Dona explains. “But if I don’t change, now there’s two of us. If she doesn’t change, there’s three of us. If she doesn’t change, there’s four of us. Before you know it, whoever wants to wear heels can wear heels at work. ... So I won’t change.”

What’s next for the woman who, in spite of initial failures, has taken the tech world by storm?

Dona wants to make technology accessible to every single person on the planet, so she spends a lot of time traveling the world, using advances in technology to bring the internet to the places that need it most.

Dona, speaking at a fellowship in Nigeria in which she helps young entrepreneurs turn their ideas into viable businesses.

She knows this last goal will probably be a lifelong one. But she thinks it’s important to give people the power to control their own destinies. And she believes that technology has helped to start leveling the playing field for women. There aren't gatekeepers in tech. A woman can go online and learn how to code in the privacy of her own home without anyone's approval or blessing.

In other words, access to technology means opportunity. And Dona is determined to be a part of making that possible. For everyone.

Dona is a testament to what can be accomplished through computer science skills. The options are limitless.

Yesterday marked the beginning of Computer Science Education Week, when millions of kids around the world will dip their toes into the world of coding. Microsoft is committed to ensuring everyone — especially young girls — has access to computer science education resources so they too can unlock the power to imagine and to create with technology.

Interested? Check out Microsoft's new Minecraft coding tutorial.  

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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via David Lavaux / Facebook and Google

A farmer in Belgium has caused an international incident by inadvertently redrawing the border between Belgium and France. The farmer moved a border stone that stood on the grounds for over 200 years because it was blocking his tractor.

The two countries share a 390-mile border that was established under a treaty signed in 1820.

The stone, marked 1819, was put in place four years after the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. Nearly 50,000 soldiers died in the battle that would determine the border.

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Courtesy of CeraVe
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"I love being a nurse because I have the honor of connecting with my patients during some of their best and some of their worst days and making a difference in their lives is among the most rewarding things that I can do in my own life" - Tenesia Richards, RN

From ushering new life into the world to holding the hand of a patient as they take their last breath, nurses are everyday heroes that deserve our respect and appreciation.

To give back to this community that is always giving so selflessly to others, CeraVe® put out a call to nurses to share their stories for a chance to be featured in Heroes Behind the Masks, a digital content series shining a light on nurses who go above and beyond to provide safe and quality care to patients and their communities.

First up: Tenesia Richards, a labor and delivery nurse working in New York City who, in addition to her regular job, started a community outreach program in a homeless shelter that houses expectant mothers for up to one year postpartum.

Tenesia | Heroes Behind the Masks presented by CeraVe www.youtube.com

Upon learning at a conference that black mothers in the U.S. die at three to four times the rate of white mothers, one of the widest of all racial disparities in women's health, Richards decided to take further action to help her community. She, along with a handful of fellow nurses, volunteered to provide antepartum, childbirth and postpartum education to the women living at the shelter. Additionally, they looked for other ways to boost the spirits of the residents, like throwing baby showers and bringing in guest speakers. When COVID-19 hit and in-person gatherings were no longer possible, Richards and her team found creative workarounds and created holiday care packages for the mothers instead.

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