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Poornima Muthukumar | Senior Technical Product Manager at Microsoft, mentor & ambassador, women in data science

Meet Poornima Muthukumar, a seasoned product manager at Microsoft with a wealth of experience spanning over 8 years. Specializing in cutting-edge domains like cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and big data systems, she holds a Master’s Degree in Data Science from the University of Washington and boasts 4 patents at Microsoft in the realm of AI & ML. Beyond her professional achievements, Poornima is a dedicated advocate for community engagement. As a firm believer in giving back, she passionately shares her expertise through mentoring at the University of Washington Foster School of Business and actively champions women's participation in data science as an Ambassador for the Women in Data Science Puget Sound Community.

Read her story.

Do you have a favorite quote? 

One of my favorite quotes is from Albert Einstein:

"Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution."

I like this quote because it reminds me of the power of creativity and innovation. Knowledge is valuable, but it can also be limiting if we don't question it or challenge it. Imagination allows us to explore new possibilities, to envision new solutions, and to create new realities. I think this quote is relevant for anyone who wants to make a positive difference in the world, whether in science, art, business, or any other field.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

One of the achievements that I am most proud of is completing my master's degree in data science from the University of Washington. This was a challenging and rewarding journey that required me to balance my studies with my full-time role as a Senior Technical Product Manager at Microsoft, where I led several innovative projects and delivered high-quality solutions. On top of that, I was also expecting my first child and getting ready to embrace motherhood. I am grateful for the support and encouragement that I received from my family, friends, colleagues and mentors throughout this process. 

Many women feel that they have to choose between having a family and pursuing a career, especially in the competitive and demanding field of technology.

I believe that women can have both a fulfilling career and a happy family life, and I want to inspire and empower other women who are considering starting a family while being in a successful career. I did not want to let go of my passion and skills in data science and software, nor did I want to compromise on my professional growth and opportunities. I wanted to show that being a pregnant woman in this industry does not mean that I am less capable, less ambitious, or less valuable than my peers. I wanted to defy the stereotypes and biases that often plague women in STEM fields, especially those who choose to have children.

What is the most meaningful part of your job?

The most meaningful part of my job as a Senior Technical Product Manager working at Microsoft in the Microsoft 365 team is to create solutions that empower people to achieve more. I love collaborating with talented engineers, designers, researchers, and marketers to deliver products that are innovative, accessible, and user-friendly. I enjoy seeing how our products make a positive impact on the lives of millions of customers around the world, whether it's helping them work smarter, communicate better, or learn faster. I feel proud to be part of a team that values diversity, inclusion, and social responsibility.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

If I had the chance to travel back in time and meet my younger self, I would share these three pieces of wisdom with her:

  • Don't compare yourself to others. Everyone has their own path and pace in life, and you don't have to measure your success by someone else's standards. Focus on your own strengths, weaknesses, and aspirations, and work hard to improve yourself every day. You are unique and valuable, and you have something to offer the world.

  • Don't neglect your health and well-being. Your physical, mental, and emotional health are important, and you should take care of them as much as you can. Eat well, exercise regularly, sleep enough, and avoid unhealthy habits. Find ways to cope with stress, anxiety, or depression, and seek help if you need it. Surround yourself with positive and supportive people who will lift you up and inspire you

  • Don't forget to enjoy the journey. Life is not a race or a destination, but a series of experiences and lessons that shape who you are and what you become. Don't get so caught up in the future that you miss the present. Appreciate the small things, celebrate your achievements, learn from your failures, and cherish the people who matter to you. Be grateful for what you have, and be optimistic about what lies ahead.

How did you end up where you are today?

This is my story. I was born and raised in India, where I excelled in academics. I ranked sixth in the state board exams and got admitted to the National University of Singapore, one of the best universities in Asia. There, I studied Computer Engineering. After graduating, I joined Microsoft Ireland Research Center as a Software Engineer, working on the MS Office team. I was part of a team that won the Microsoft Global Hackathon in 2016, creating a system that uses Machine Learning and AI to assess the risk of software changes and decide whether to commit them or not. This project earned me four patents at Microsoft in the field of AI and ML.

In 2016, I moved to Redmond, USA, to work at Microsoft HQ. I was part of the team that built software systems to ensure Office’s products are deployed to all customers, across all platforms, Windows, Mac, iOS and Android, via one unified, friction-less pipeline that enables fast feedback loops, exposure control, efficient use of our audiences, and a hypothesis-driven engineering model.

A few years ago, I decided to pursue my master’s degree in Data Science from the University of Washington. Recently, I switched roles as a Senior Product Manager at Microsoft, where I leverage my technical and data science background to build data driven products that delight customers.

Today, I volunteer as an Ambassador for the Women in Data Science (WiDS), Women in Big Data (WiBD) and Women who code Data Science (WWCode) community as an effort to empower women in the field of data science and spread awareness.

I was also a hackathon Judge for the Microsoft AI Classroom Hackathon - A challenge for students to reimagine the future of education using AI. My journey has been challenging but rewarding. I have learned a lot from my professors, advisors, peers, and collaborators. I have also contributed to the advancement of AI and ML through my publications, presentations, and patents. I am passionate about AI and its potential to improve our lives and society.  

Thus I feel it is a combination of hard work, luck, and passion that got me to where I am today. I  love what I do and I am always looking for new challenges and opportunities to grow. I hope my story inspires you to pursue your dreams and never give up on your goals. Remember, every challenge is an opportunity to learn and grow. 🌟

What is the value of giving back to the community?

Giving back to the community is a valuable practice that can benefit both the giver and the receiver. Giving back can take many forms, such as volunteering, donating, mentoring, or advocating for a cause. Giving back can help the community by providing resources, support, and opportunities for those in need. Giving back can also help the giver by enhancing their skills, expanding their network, improving their well-being, and increasing their sense of purpose. Giving back to the community is a way of expressing gratitude, compassion, and generosity, and it can create a positive impact on the world.


1000 Spotlights: Why We Give reflects our mission of giving back, to mentor and to inspire those around us. Through a series of interview questions, we explore intrinsic motivations behind why we give, and talk with those inclined to make a difference in the lives of others. If you are involved in charitable activities, volunteer and paid academic engagements or in community service, we want to talk to you.

This magazine is committed to featuring individuals who are making a positive impact, without any pay-to-play agenda. Write to us to nominate someone exceptional who is making a difference in extraordinary ways.

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