Dongarra received a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics from Chicago State University in 1972 and a Master of Science in Computer Science from the in 1973. He received his Doctor of Philosophy in Applied Mathematics from the University of New Mexico in 1980 under the supervision of Cleve Moler. He worked at the Argonne National Laboratory until 1989, becoming a senior scientist.
He holds the position of a Distinguished Staff member in the Computer Science and Mathematics Division at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and is an Adjunct Professor in the Computer Science Department at Rice University. Dongarra holds the Turing Fellowship in the schools of Computer Science and Mathematics at the University of Manchester. He is the founding director of Innovative Computing Laboratory.
He specializes in numerical algorithms in linear algebra, parallel computing, the use of advanced-computer architectures, programming methodology, and tools for parallel computers. His research includes the development, testing and documentation of high quality mathematical software. He has contributed to the design and implementation of the following open source software packages and systems: EISPACK, LINPACK, the BLAS, LAPACK, ScaLAPACK, Netlib, PVM, MPI, NetSolve, TOP500, ATLAS, and PAPI. With Eric Grosse, he pioneered the open source distribution of numeric source code via email with netlib.
He has published approximately 300 articles, papers, reports and technical memoranda and he is coauthor of several books.
Member Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Society Industrial and Applied Mathematics (county member since 1985, chairman supercomputing 1985-1988, referee Journal Numerical Analysis, Journal Statistical and Science Computing, Journal Discreat Methods), Association Computing Machinery (editorial board Comm., member SIGNUM board directors 1985-1989).
Married Susan Sauer, October 4, 1980. Children: Nicholas, Benjamin, Katherine.