Serena Sacks-Mandel: Transforming the Crucial Elements of Education

Serena Sacks
Serena Sacks

In the fast-paced realm of technology, only a select few individuals possess the foresight and deep understanding necessary to lead meaningful change. These visionaries and experts are at the forefront of driving significant transformations that shape the future of technology and its impact on various industries and society as a whole.

Serena Sacks-Mandel, the Global Chief Technology/Transformation Officer for Education at Microsoft, is one such extraordinary leader. In the pursuit of its mission to empower every person and organization to achieve more, Microsoft serves as a prominent force in the global technology landscape. With a deep knowledge in the potential of technology to create positive change, Microsoft strives for meaningful innovation that contributes to a brighter future.

Combining this vision of Microsoft with a deep passion for technology and an unwavering commitment to revolutionizing the education sector, Serena has made a profound impact on the industry. Her journey from a self-taught computer enthusiast to a prominent figure in the technology industry showcases her relentless pursuit of innovation and her dedication to empowering the next generation.

Serena showcases her exemplary leadership in driving technology-enabled transformation in education. Her unwavering commitment to empowering students and educators through innovative solutions has positioned her as a prominent figure and thought leader in the industry. With her vision, resilience and relentless pursuit of excellence, Serena is not only shaping the future of education but also inspiring the next generation of women in technology to follow in her footsteps.

Let’s discover how Serena is revolutionizing the education sector through technology and empowering educators and students to achieve more!

Know the Ropes, Learn the Ropes

From a young age, Serena’s curiosity for how things work and her innate desire for improvement propelled her towards a career in technology. She says, “I have always been fascinated by how things work and how they can be improved.” As she tinkered with gadgets and mastered new skills, Serena’s love for technology grew.

Her journey truly took off when she purchased a used dual-floppy IBM PC computer during her graduate school years. Through self-teaching, programming, database development and productivity tools, she unlocked a world of possibilities, setting the stage for her future endeavors.

Furthermore, Serena adds, “This inspired me to seek an internship with IBM where I worked in the corporate offices and as a side-project, I taught the managers to use their PCs.”

The Path Less Chosen

After achieving a graduate degree, Serena faced a pivotal decision that would shape her career. She had the opportunity to accept a prestigious presidential management internship at a federal agency or embark on a journey with IBM, working as a marketing representative in the financial sector of New York City. With a deep-rooted passion for technology, Serena chose IBM and has never looked back. She says, “I chose IBM and have enjoyed being in technology ever since.” Embracing the challenges and rewards of the technology industry, she found her true calling.

A Vision for Education Transformation

Serena firmly believes that education, at all levels, is a key differentiator in both the quality of individual lives and the economic growth of a region. Technology in education can serve as a powerful enabler for learning, when students have access to devices and internet bandwidth. Digital resources can include quality curriculum to enhance learning and content delivery systems can be used to personalize lessons that meet each student’s needs.

The goal is to enable each student to reach their potential while bringing out their individual strengths and equipping them with skills to confidently join the workforce. In this new generative AI-enriched world, we must recognize that pedagogy and educator skills must also evolve, Serena works tirelessly to support the implementation of technology tools and platforms that enhance learning outcomes. Through her visionary leadership, Serena is committed to equipping students with the necessary skills and knowledge to succeed in an increasingly digital and AI-driven world.

Carving out the Technology Niche

Through her current role as the Global Chief Technology/Transformation Officer for Education, Serena supports K-12 and higher educational organizations globally, helping them understand the latest technology solutions to modernize and improve productivity, reduce operational costs, increase security, leverage data analytics, and support positive student outcomes.

Her role is at the intersection of sales, marketing, and engineering within Microsoft and externally she interfaces with educational technology associations, thought leaders, and market data.

She contributes to the sales strategy and provides key- note presentations at customer executive briefings and relevant conferences. She also serves on the 1EdTech Executive Board which provides industry standards for interoperability that supports integration and ease of use.

Uphill Climb

Throughout her remarkable career, Serena has faced numerous challenges, particularly as a woman in the technology industry. From gender bias to imposter syndrome, Serena has triumphed over adversity by continuously developing her skills and self-awareness. She says, “I have chosen to do this work because education is foundational for every person to achieve their potential.” Her relentless pursuit of educational transformation and contribution to the success of educators, students, and women in technology has been recognized in her state, nationally, and internationally nine times and counting.”

Serena’s journey serves as an inspiration to aspiring women in technology, highlighting the immense opportunities and contributions they can bring to the field. Serena annotates, “I am in constant learning and growth mode while ensuring that my contributions and value are recognized by leadership and my organization.”

Ascending the Hill

The technology industry is constantly evolving and innovating, but it also faces some significant challenges in the current and future scenarios. While the technology industry thrives on innovation, it also faces significant challenges. Serena identifies key areas that require attention:

  • Cybersecurity: As more data and services are moved to the cloud and online platforms, the risk of cyberattacks and data breaches increases. The industry needs to invest in robust security measures and protocols to protect the privacy and integrity of its customers and users.
  • Ethics and regulation: The rapid development of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology and blockchain raises ethical and regulatory questions that the industry and society need to address. How can we ensure that these technologies are used for good and not for evil? How can we balance innovation and social responsibility?
  • Talent and diversity: The technology industry relies on a skilled and diverse workforce to drive its growth and competitiveness. However, there is a shortage of talent in some areas, such as software engineering, data science and cybersecurity. Moreover, there is a lack of diversity and inclusion in the industry. The industry needs to attract, retain and empower more talent from different backgrounds and perspectives.

Being on the Ball

Problem-solving is a vital skill in the technology industry, where challenges and opportunities are constantly evolving which lies at the heart of Serena’s approach to the industry. To approach problem-solving effectively, Serena works with a diverse team and follows these steps:

  • Data-Driven Problem Definition: Define the problem using data and evidence whenever possible.
  • Identifying Root Causes and Desired Outcomes: Identify the root causes, desired outcomes and constraints or assumptions related to the problem.
  • Solution Generation and Evaluation: Generate and evaluate multiple solution options, considering their feasibility, impact and risks.
  • Proposing Solutions: Recommend the best solution to leaders and influencers, taking into account potential blockers such as change management and conflicts with other workstreams.
  • Implementing the Best Solution: Implement the chosen solution, ensuring effective communication and providing sufficient training.
  • Continuous Monitoring and Improvement: Monitor the results of the implemented solution, continuously seeking opportunities for improvement and making adjustments as needed.
  • Learning and Documentation: Learn from the experience and document the process and lessons learned for future reference and continuous development.

On Trend

The technology industry’s dynamism demands a continuous pursuit of knowledge and staying abreast of the latest trends and advancements. Serena tackles this challenge head-on by being a voracious reader and avid consumer of information. Through extensive reading, exploring learning platforms like Microsoft Learn and LinkedIn Learning, engaging with social media, podcasts, newsletters, books and streaming media, Serena remains at the forefront of technological innovations.

Currently, she is particularly focused on the applications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in education, recognizing its potential to support human work, while also considering its ethical implications. Furthermore, Serena actively experiments with new tools and platforms to enhance her skills and knowledge.

Up To the Minute

Serena has received several state, national and international awards for her leadership in educational technology and for mentoring diverse colleagues. To inspire and enable the next generation of technology leaders, Serena is completing a book about her journey.

It is the guide she wished she had twenty years ago to help her through the challenges and obstacles life and career inevitably present. (Look for the announcement on LinkedIn.) It is about owning your power, finding your purpose, defining success on your terms, and celebrating your triumph.