Donna Jacobs

Title: IT Senior Director, Information Systems and Computing - Infrastructure Operations

Company: University of Pennsylvania

Education: Bachelor's degree from Neumann University, master's degree from Wilmington University

Credentials: CAPM, CBCP, CISM

Organizational Affiliations: Member of 7x24 Exchange Intl., Association of Continuity Planners (ACP), Project Management Institute (PMI), and ISACA


• 2020 University of Pennsylvania Models of Excellence

  • Team awarded for transformation of Penn’s data center

    • "The Transform Penn's Data Center Team successfully migrated from the Walnut Street Data Center to a newly conceived, state-of-the-art facility at the Pennovation Center while modernizing network architecture, delivering immediate and long-term benefits to Penn, achieving sustainability targets, and providing a cost savings."

• Bisnow Data Center Diversity Board Member (January 2021 - present)

• Co-chair 7x24 Exchange Delaware Valley WiMCO (January 2021 - present)

• ACP Liberty Valley Chapter Board Secretary (2019 - present)

• 7x24 Exchange Delaware Valley Chapter Board (2012 - present) — first female chapter president

• AFCOM Midlantic Chapter Board (2019) — first female chapter president

• AFCOM Data Center Institute (2018)

• AFCOM President’s Award (2013)

• AFCOM Data Center Manager of the Year Finalist (2012 and 2013)


What made you realize you wanted to pursue a career in technology?
Like many in our industry, I happened into technology by accident with no intent of it becoming my career. I was out of college, needed a job, and was offered a programming role at a major insurance company — despite only having minimal exposure to technology as a political science major. However, after dabbling in the development space a bit, and as technology continued to evolve and significantly transform the business landscape, it became apparent that I was driven toward using my analytical skills to progress business practices through the efficiencies technology could provide regardless of platform.

What three adjectives would you use to describe your journey in the industry so far?
Transformative, (always) evolving, and challenging.

What is your personal mantra?
Every day presents an opportunity to learn something new or make something better!

Describe the highest point in your career so far and how you got there, including all the hurdles you had to jump (and the ones you tripped over too).
I don’t know that I’ve reached the “highest point” yet. Each job experience, starting with my first internship in college, has been a building block to where I am today. Every day, every person you come in contact with gives you an opportunity to learn something new, realize a different perspective, or appreciate the challenges others are facing. I would say, however, that the greatest benefit professionally has been the opportunity to work in a number of industry verticals (like banking, sourcing services, and higher education) to understand the intimate link between business and technology. The importance of being able to speak business and IT cannot be understated. This skill particularly allows for relationships to be developed and forged across many industries — each offering unique lenses by which one can understand the role information technology plays on the national and international stage.

What is your most admirable quality?
Integrity — be true to yourself and others.

What aspect of the industry do you think has the most potential for growth, and, on the other hand, which aspect do you think needs the most improvement?
I expect there to be a continued increase in data collection and mining as well as data retention at an exponential level — particularly video capture resulting from, for example, the increase of drone usage across many industry verticals. While basic capacity is one aspect of such growth, strains placed on organizations to secure the information adequately, manage retention requirements, further high-density compute options, etc., will be a catalyst to further modify the landscape of our industry. Regarding improvement, the acceleration with which changes are traversing the technology industry continues to widen the gap between the people and processes necessary to support an organization’s steady state. This scenario has continued to put organizations at risk, not only in the cyber sense but also in the ability to execute daily, standard operations with a level of quality commensurate with both the business and client expectations — and those an associated market may demand. Processes need to be efficient and not heavily weighted with administrative overhead; people need to be proficient but empowered to challenge industry norms with creative solutions. Introducing student internships into an organization, for example, is one of the most cost-effective methods of melding individuals who bring contemporary skills and a fresh, unblemished perspective with tenured staff who may have reduced their appetite for change over time. These relationships, when introduced properly, can re-energize an organization, develop future talent, and stimulate creativity in staff that may have become a bit more tentative as time passed by, especially if directly related to their personal role. It is through continued collaboration, and not technical centricity, that service excellence can be achieved in our industry.

When you imagine the future of the technology industry, what does it look like?
Automation of many types, including AI, continues to underpin the technology landscape, and the benefits business garners from automation will require this trend to continue at an accelerated rate in the future. The more daunting question really becomes how will leaders prepare their staff to shift to the changes that automation will ultimately deliver so they might continue to add value to their companies' service models? Preparing staff through education, defining new roles, and cross-training on diverse technologies becomes critical. Alternatively, for those spaces where legacy technologies (e.g., mainframe) may not be cost-justified to result in a significant investment in automation, the workforce that grew up with that technology will be (and in some cases are) contemplating retirement, but the need for the skill set remains, posing yet another challenge for the industry. Technology will continue to grow and evolve organically through the innovation and creativity that permeates the industry. It is the people aspect that tends to take a backseat to the technical progress, yet they are so intimately related — this needs to be recognized and have greater scrutiny in future technology industry framework development and planning.

What is the most valuable life lesson you have learned so far and how has it helped you in your career?
Early in my career, I was so worried about making a mistake that, when I did make an error, I would beat myself up relentlessly — thinking and rethinking what had occurred, reviewing the event over and over in my mind, losing sleep, never able to let it go. At some point, I realized (with some urging from an early mentor) that, No. 1, I couldn’t control everything. And No. 2, that a more constructive way to handle my mishaps existed — using the analysis skills I so highly value. Changing course and using a “business” construct versus a “personal” construct to figure out where things went south made the exercise more productive and certainly more meaningful. While recurring mistakes may require a different tact, one-off mistakes are more teachable moments and opportunities for learning. It’s not just the error under scrutiny, it can also translate to someone’s self-esteem — it is a moment that a leader has an opportunity to offer needed support to a colleague.

What three adjectives come to mind when you think about your future path?
Creative, resourceful, and adaptable. Technology is changing much too rapidly to stand still and rely on traditional management and leadership methods to entice the most talented individuals and progress services to the level of excellence expected by consumers.