ReadingWomen of DevRev: Sonya Kotov's journey on empathy & design in technology

Women of DevRev: Sonya Kotov's journey on empathy & design in technology


My mission in life is to build digital products that enable humans to do the best work of their lives. This means building software that honors and nurtures core human faculties – products that help us make better, faster decisions, forge dynamic connections, and kindle creativity. In my view, this is the essence of impact: product-led and centered around people.

My journey started at The University of Michigan, where I chose a surprising combination of majors: Computer Science and Women’s Studies. The number of alumni holding this combination of degrees is in the single digits. During my studies, I came face to face with the power and promise of computing, probing the algorithms and infrastructure that powers today’s most impactful innovations. I also learned to think like an engineer - seeing the world as interdependent systems, processes, and protocols. Meanwhile, my courses in Women’s Studies taught me to lead with openness and empathy, recognizing the sheer vastness of worldviews and the importance of setting these in conversation with one another.

It was then no surprise that my first job out of college was as a Program Manager at Microsoft. This role was transformative in enabling me to articulate a passion for human-centered design in a SaaS context. I got to connect with a myriad of customers, ranging from data scientists to kernel developers, and find creative solutions to their problems in telemetry, observability, and data-driven decision-making. To this day, I have never found a greater motivation than the process of understanding my users — of reading between the lines to elicit the underlying motivations, values, and needs of my customers.

I stepped away from the industry for a few years to pursue my passion for human-centered design at Stanford’s – the birthplace of human-centered design. The most important takeaway from my two years was that we all get to play a role in shaping the future. While we may not know what the future will bring, one thing is certain: it’s our connections as humans that will draw the thru-line between today and tomorrow.

Today, I get to leverage these skills at DevRev in my role as Chief of Staff, driving cohesion in alignment and clarity in execution. When I think about my role in the tech industry, my aim is to build products that augment our natural human abilities in the context of creativity, connection, and decision-making. Necessary to this pursuit is to empower those who have been historically left out of these conversations. When we empower diverse swathes of people to do more of that which makes us human, we are able to shape a world for people to live richer, more meaningful lives.