say it with moxy

Womxn with Moxy: Donna Fernandez

Tell us a little about yourself

I’m Donna Fernandez. I work for the Federal team at Databricks, a Data & AI software company, and lead our work at US Department of Veterans Affairs and Defense Health Agency.

Was there a moment when you first realized you had moxy?

I founded two companies before joining Databricks. One was a recruiting company specializing in big data talent and the other a health analytics startup offering a scalable natural language processing (NLP) software. As a female founder of Filipino descent in the high tech industry, I soon realized there weren’t too many people that came from my background that were trying to change the world. As audacious and improbable as it may seem, you have to have the mindset of wanting to change the world…making a difference and doing something bigger than oneself. If you don’t have that mindset in a startup environment, then you are already set to fail. Someone once told me that start-up founders all had to have a bit of crazy in them…or perhaps that was Moxy :)

Tell us about a time when your moxy impacted your life.

I made a bold move to start the Apache Spark Meetup community in DC in 2014 to drive open source adoption of Apache Spark™, a distributed computing solution for processing data (often lots of data). At the time, it was one of my big bets and a bit of a leap of faith because I already had so much on my plate with my startup (and my personal life).


It seemed like no one knew what Spark was, but there was something very special about the fanatical community of developers and fans behind it. Ultimately, we ignited a change in the cloud and big data landscape…you could see it in the crowds that grew at every meetup.


The DC Spark meetup very quickly became over 3,000 strong, and the community was a vital part of tech innovation in DC. I still remember sitting in awe watching meetup speakers like Jeremy Freeman talk about how he was using Spark to study the brains of fish. Matei Zaharia, the father of Apache Spark™, became a legend that all of us aspired to be. He and Databricks created a kinetic energy around Spark that was infectious. And I was proud to be the facilitator getting the DC Spark crew together on a regular basis.


Fast forward to today and that same excitement is building with Databricks Lakehouse. While I’ve paused my own start-up dreams to join Databricks, my moxy is still humming along, and I’m still fighting the good fight…still hoping to change the world.


Now my focus has turned to supporting our Federal business and the veteran and military health communities as they take on amazing data engineering, AI, and machine learning use cases using Databricks. Things like preventing suicide, tracking cancer, predicting COVID hotspots based on supply chain, or preventing financial fraud are just a few of our early use cases.


I feel super lucky to run alongside these organizations to champion them as they transform themselves and deliver value to a very special consumer, those military servicemembers who have sacrificed so much to defend our freedom. Coming from a military family, I’m super proud to do what I do.

What kind of music do you like?

I have a very eclectic taste in music from The Weekend to Sade and Chicago. To get to my happy place, I love Reggae. To dream and ponder, Enya. For mushy stuff, Ed Sheeran, Charlie Puth-- too many to name in that category. To dance, almost anything with a good beat.

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