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Get to know 50 of the most interesting people in the world of technology
The tech world is filled with fascinating people. They work at giant companies, tiny startups, and everywhere in between. Some of their projects are done on a shoestring budget, others are venture-funded. Here are 50 techies who caught our attention for their innovative and inspirational work.
Michael Astolfi and Aaron Rasmussen
A video game with no graphics? This pair makes it fun for sighted and sight-impaired gamers alike. Instead of using their eyes, BlindSide players are guided by what they can hear in the virtual world as they try to escape monsters and figure out why they can’t see. The story idea came from Aaron Rasmussen, who was temporarily blinded after an accident in a high school chemistry lab. Rasmussen (a former bagpipe player) teamed with game designer and researcher Michael Astolfi (who once hand-fed a group of penguins), and the two worked together to do the design and programming of BlindSide.
A startup that sells to billion-dollar businesses is a lot different from a startup that sells $2 apps to consumers. A former venture capitalist, Ravi Belani understands the distinction. His tech incubator provides mentorship and education -- plus access to investors and potential buyers -- solely to startups with an enterprise focus. Launched in 2012, Alchemist Accelerator seeds roughly 40 enterprise-focused ventures a year. Belani -- a novice surfer who teaches entrepreneurship to undergraduate engineers at Stanford -- says he’s fascinated by spirituality. “I once lived in an ashram for yogis, have studied many types of meditation, and am a bit of a new age nut.”
Without interoperability, the Internet of Things is a bunch of smart devices that communicate with their own proprietary software. The AllSeen Alliance, formed in December by the Linux Foundation, envisions something more. The consortium is dedicated to creating a universal, open-source framework that lets devices and systems discover and connect with each other, regardless of brand, transport layer, platform or operating system. Liat Ben-Zur is a driving force. She’s the chairman of the alliance, as well as the lead behind Qualcomm’s AllJoyn technology, which is the foundation of the AllSeen Alliance’s software framework.
Rob Biederman and Pat Petitti
HourlyNerd connects small business owners with MBA students and alumni, who bid for consulting projects with hourly rates, typically in the $30-$100 range. Since its founding a year ago, the company has attracted private investors including Mark Cuban and inked a partnership deal with Microsoft. HourlyNerd was started by a team of Harvard Business School students: Rob Biederman, Pat Petitti, Peter Maglathlin and Joe Miller. It’s a competitive crew, Petitti says: “We’ve recently ordered Fitbits for everyone at HourlyNerd and are starting a big company-wide competition around it.”
A go-to expert on Stuxnet and its impact on control systems security, Eric Byres wears multiple hats. He’s a technical developer in the field of SCADA security, researcher, entrepreneur and writer. He also chairs multiple ISA groups that are working to establish industry standards and develop a framework to protect facilities from cyber attacks. An avid sailor, Byres and his wife Joann -- who is Eric’s boss at Tofino -- used to live aboard a 43-foot racing sloop off the coast of Vancouver when they taught at British Columbia Institute of Technology. The pair clearly has found success in their work-life partnership: “When not creating high-tech stuff at Tofino Security, we develop and lead relationship courses for couples,” Byres says.
Lisa Seacat DeLuca
IBM is a patent powerhouse, and Lisa Seacat DeLuca is a major contributor. With roughly 350 patent applications filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and 115 patents issued, she’s the first woman in IBM's history to reach its 100th plateau, a point system that rewards patent filings and issuances. She’s also written a children’s book, “A Robot Story,” about a nerdy mom who teachers her twin sons, JSON and WiFi, how to count to 10 in binary. DeLuca, who has twin toddlers of her own, says children are natural language learners, so why not introduce binary language at an early age?
It’s high stakes for Chris Derossi, who led the development of the first legal online poker platform in the U.S. Last spring, Ultimate Gaming released Ultimate Poker in the state of Nevada, followed by UCasino.com, an online casino-games platform in New Jersey. A former chief architect at Apple, Derossi has to keep the platform safe and secure -- such as ensuring only gamblers within eligible state lines are allowed to play, and no minors gain access -- as the company fights to gain entry in more jurisdictions.
Is there a place for big data in the fields? Lance Donny thinks so. His startup, OnFarm Systems, aims to help farmers manage their operations more efficiently. The software’s cloud-hosted dashboard aggregates and analyzes data from multiple systems so farmers can better plan and monitor their crops while also saving water, energy and fertilizer. Donny has completed several Ironman triathlons.
After 13 years at VMware, Matt Eccleston made the move last summer to Dropbox, the cloud storage service that’s aiming for greater enterprise adoption. Eccleston, a former chief architect at VMware, helped drive the virtualization company’s end-user computing push. Now he’s the engineering lead for Dropbox for Business, which recently added IT-centric features including remote wipe, account transfer, and advanced authentication. Eccleston has visited seven continents, used to be a competitive motorcycle racer, and enjoys energy drink Rockstar Recovery Lemonade.
At 13, Quin Etnyre has already started his own business, Qtechknow, to help other kids get into electronic programming, and taught an Arduino programming class to alumni from MIT. Yet he’s still young at heart: Among Etnyre’s creations is a sensor that measures the methane produced by a person’s flatulence and displays the intensity of the gas on a LED-adorned hat. Etnyre, who spoke at an entrepreneurs’ forum at Caltech in November, spent his birthday on campus at the Athenaeum, in the room where Einstein stayed when he worked at Caltech in the 1930s (pictured: Etnyre studying at Einstein’s desk).
Former iPod and iPhone leader Tony Fadell brought cool design to the home automation market, including thermostats and smoke detectors, through his upstart Nest -- convincingly enough to attract Google, which bought the company for a whopping $3.2 billion in a deal finalized last month. Now Fadell has the scale of Google to help execute his vision for smart tech in the home.
Jennifer Fonstad and Theresia Gouw
Two veteran female venture capitalists start their own tech-focused firm -- that’s not an everyday occurrence. Jennifer Fonstad, a managing director at Draper Fisher Jurvetson for 17 years, and Theresia Gouw, a partner at Accel Partners for 15 years, formed Aspect Ventures to invest in early-stage mobile startups. In her free time, Fonstad climbed Mount Kilimanjaro last summer -- mostly in flip flops and sneakers. Gouw’s first engineering job was at General Motors with 1,000 design engineers -- only two of whom were women. “I learned how to use pantyhose for a fan belt and a coat hanger to reattach a muffler,” Gouw recalls.
If you’ve got a thorny business problem and data to help solve it, Kaggle’s got a community of data scientists up for the challenge. The startup runs predictive modeling competitions, connecting companies to the community of data-crunchers. GE, Allstate and Merck have tried Kaggle’s crowdsourcing model. Founder Anthony Goldbloom is a self-described watersports nut. “When I was 18, I competed in the 29er Sailing World Championship, but performed poorly. I then switched to windsurfing, and now kiteboarding.”
Security and privacy can darken a CIO’s view of cloud computing. Rajiv Gupta’s latest startup, Skyhigh Networks, aims to clear up companies’ key cloud concerns: knowing who’s using what services, identifying the security or privacy risks, and controlling access. Gupta is so confident in the technology, he’s offering a “30-in-30 Challenge,” which guarantees participants that Skyhigh will uncover at least 30 unknown cloud services in use by their organization in 30 minutes. In the bigger picture, Gupta believes we all should try to leave the world a better place than how we found it, and he’s a founding board member of Change.org, a website that hosts public petitions.
The OpenDaylight Project received a boost with the appointment of its first permanent executive director, Neela Jacques, a longtime VMware veteran. He’s guiding product development, governance and marketing for the Linux Foundation’s community-led initiative, which aims to create a set of common standards for SDN. OpenDaylight released its first code base, Hydrogen, last month. At the same time, IBM announced an SDN controller based on Hydrogen. Jacques says living in a meditation and yoga ashram in small Indian village from ages 5-7 was a character-building part of his childhood. “I also lived all over the world as a child: born in London, of French parents, lived in India, Switzerland and Australia before moving to the United States at 15."
Josh James -- who previously took Omniture public before selling it to Adobe for $1.8 billion -- didn’t just raise a few million dollars to get his latest startup, Domo, off the ground. He amassed more than $250 million in funding. All this while still in stealth mode. Details about Domo’s SaaS-based technology are few, but James says it will discover/mash up/visualize/present all the data business execs care about in one place. A father of six daughters, James speaks Japanese, enjoys Honey Smacks cereal, and -- according to his recent Tweet -- wishes he were a better singer: “I'd trade it all to sing like Bocelli, Pavarotti, or George Michael. Unquestionably.”
A former Navy SEAL, Mike Janke is CEO of Silent Circle, an encrypted communications provider he co-founded with renowned cryptographers Phil Zimmermann and John Callas to provide secure voice, video, text and file transfers. Last fall, Silent Circle teamed with Lavabit, another privacy-focused email provider, to launch the Dark Mail Alliance, a project to engineer an email system meant to defend against spying. Most recently, Silent Circle announced a secure smartphone developed in partnership with GeeksPhone.
Amazon Web Services is the cloud computing provider to beat, and Andy Jassy is the man at the helm. When AWS inked a $600 million contract last fall to build the CIA a cloud, it gave credibility to the on-fire division -- which Jassy has said could one day be bigger than Amazon's $60 billion retail business. It’s not so farfetched, considering the trillions of dollars companies spend on data center hardware and software and the likelihood of companies shifting computing to the cloud. “I feel very lucky to get to do what I am doing. I get to go to work every day on a business that is changing technology,” Jassy told The Wall Street Journal.
A single title doesn’t do justice to all the roles that entrepreneur and security guru Paul Judge plays. He’s chairman at Pindrop Security, which uses authentication and fraud-detection technology to protect enterprise call centers from scammers; chief research officer at Barracuda Networks; and head of Judge Ventures, an investment firm that backs not only information security startups but also unrelated upstarts, including an energy shot called Limitless -- which makes sense when you consider all Judge does.
Sunil Khandekar is at the helm of Alcatel-Lucent spin-out Nuage Networks, which aims to make network infrastructure as dynamic, scalable and easily consumable as virtualized computing and storage resources are. Last fall, the SDN company rolled out a gateway for linking bare metal servers to its virtual network environment. Khandekar’s favorite hobby is hiking, and he’s an art and architecture buff. He landed his first professional job before earning his degree by convincing a company in his hometown in Indian to hire him as a design engineer during a university-wide strike.
Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng
Where can you get access to free courses from Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and University of Michigan? Coursera. The startup offers university classes for free, in partnership with top schools, in areas such as engineering, mathematics, humanities, and business. Coursera’s founders, computer science professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, aim to educate the world: “We envision a future where everyone has access to a world-class education,” the pair says of their mission. “We aim to empower people with education that will improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the communities they live in.”
Gartner predicts that by 2015, at least 60% of information workers will access content apps on mobile devices. Poised to capitalize on that trend is Aaron Levie, who launched cloud storage player Box from his dorm room at the University of Southern California in 2005. Levie’s mission today, as it was back then, is to make it easy and safe to share content from any device. The company -- backed by $300 million in venture funding -- has its sights set on enterprise customers, and last year, it more than tripled the number of Box deployments with 5,000+ seats. Next up: IPO.
If you build and launch mobile apps, you’ve got to make sure they’re running well. Enter Crittercism, a SaaS product that monitors and reports on app crashes across iOS, Android, Windows Phone 8, Hybrid and HTML5 apps. So far, it’s used on 800 million devices and in 250 billion app sessions. Google Ventures is one of the investors backing Crittercism, which Andrew Levy co-founded with Rob Kwok and Jeeyun Kim. An avid snowboarder, Levy has competed in amateur boardercross races and worked as a snowboard instructor.
Stan Litow is driving IBM’s efforts to be a good corporate citizen. Under his leadership, IBM created voice recognition technology to help children and adults learn to read, a virtual supercomputer to speed research on cancer and AIDS, and digital imaging technology to improve water quality. Litow also helped launch IBM’s Corporate Service Corps, a Peace Corps-like initiative that build leaders within IBM while giving high-tech assistance to communities in emerging markets, and he spearheads the company’s Smarter Cities Challenge, a philanthropic initiative to help cities become more effective. During his 20-year tenure at IBM, Litow has been tapped by the Mayor of New York City, the Governor of New York, and the President of the United States for his expertise on education issues.
Afghan entrepreneur and businesswoman Roya Mahboob is president of the Afghan Citadel Software Company, a software-development company based in Herat, Afghanistan. Mahboob also chairs the Women’s Annex Foundation, a nonprofit that helps provide Internet access to women and children in developing countries. “One of the most difficult challenges faced by Afghan entrepreneurs is traveling through a country that is only beginning to emerge from decades of violent conflict,” Mahboob wrote in an essay. “By opening the gates of the Internet to young Afghans, we are giving them the means to travel the entire world without leaving their homes and schools.”
The average U.S. worker is being left behind by advances in technology, according to economist and IT thinker Andrew McAfee, who studies how technology affects society, the economy, and the workforce. McAfee is a principal research scientist at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, and he wrote (with MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson) a new book: The Second Machine Age: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy. While our technologies are racing ahead, our skills and organizations are lagging behind, the authors assert: “So it’s urgent that we understand these phenomena, discuss their implications, and come up with strategies that allow human workers to race ahead with machines instead of racing against them.”
3-D printing can create jewelry, toys and tools -- and someday even human organs, if Keith Murphy gets his way. Murphy leads Organovo, which creates functional human tissues with proprietary bioprinting technology. The tissue can be used by researchers to test drugs before going into clinical trials, for example. This year, Murphy expects to hit a key milestone: the commercial launch of Organovo’s 3-D liver tissue product. The company is also working to create bioprinted kidney tissue, lung tissue, blood vessels, and breast cancer tissue.
Tapped to reboot Microsoft, 46-year-old Satya Nadella took over as the company’s third CEO on Feb. 4. “Many who know me say I am also defined by my curiosity and thirst for learning. I buy more books than I can finish. I sign up for more online courses than I can complete,” Nadella wrote to employees on his first day as CEO. “I fundamentally believe that if you are not learning new things, you stop doing great and useful things.” Nadella has been with the company for 22 years, notably heading up development of the Bing search engine, then its server and tools division, and most recently as EVP of cloud and enterprise.
Work habits are changing, and so is the workplace. For the millions of people who consult, are self-employed, or lead a nomadic work life, Jeremy Neuner wants to offer a professional alternative to working from home or in a coffee shop. Neuner is CEO of NextSpace, a community of coworking facilities that provide space, utilities, conference rooms, and business services. With nine locations and 1,500 active members, NextSpace claims to be the largest U.S. coworking community. A former helicopter pilot in the U.S. Navy, Neuner knows how to juggle flaming torches.
Renowned designer, advisor and author Don Norman has a new challenge on his plate: making smart cooking appliances. He co-founded a stealthy startup called Palate Home that aims to bring modern technology to the kitchen to simplify and improve cooking. The first product, scheduled for delivery by summer 2015, will be the Palate Grill, an electric grill that can be controlled via iPad for precise -- yet unattended -- cooking.
Early this year, Dheeraj Pandey helped secure $101 million in Series D funding for Nutanix, bringing its total investment up to $172.2 million over four rounds. Pandey cofounded the company, along with former Facebook and Google engineers, to create a scalable virtualization appliance that combines compute and storage in a single appliance, eliminating the need for network storage. It’s built using commodity server hardware, customized open source applications, and in-house developed code. A born spectator of sports, Pandey is an avid cricket fan who polishes his game “by practicing the art of ‘air cricket.’”
Code.org crossed two milestones on Feb. 28. The nonprofit -- which is dedicated to helping K-12 kids learn computer programming -- turned one year old, and it surpassed 1 billion lines of code written by students using Code.org tutorials. Hadi Partovi, who cofounded the site with his twin brother, Ali Partovi, has helped raise more than $10 million from a range of partners (including Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Juniper) and is working to change policy on the federal, state and local levels to expand access to computer science in K-12 schools. He’s a wakesurfing phenom -- check him out holding a laptop, while wakesurfing, to promote Code.org’s Hour of Code campaign.
Guru Parulkar wants to see the SDN revolution happen, and he’s doing his part to boost momentum. He’s cofounder and executive director of Open Networking Research Center, whose mission is to develop the intellectual foundation of SDN, help it become widely deployed, and make it part of standard computer science/engineering education. ONRC is a collaboration of Stanford University, UC Berkeley and ON.Lab -- which Parulkar also leads. ON.Lab’s focus is to shepherd the development of open source SDN tools and platforms, bridging the gap between research and real-world SDN adoption.
Tom Preston-Werner and Chris Wanstrath
GitHub wants to change the way people work, and its user base -- programmers -- has the potential to make it happen. Originally founded to simplify sharing code, GitHub has grown into the largest code host in the world, backed by $100 million in venture funding, and it’s gaining traction as a collaboration platform for non-software projects, too. Co-founders Tom Preston-Werner and Chris Wanstrath swapped titles at the start of 2014, with Preston-Werner taking responsibility for R&D and new growth opportunities and Wanstrath focusing on leading the company and defining its vision: “We tend to do things differently here at GitHub, and remaining fluid in how we define our roles is a big part of that,” Preston-Werner blogged.
Mitchel Resnick has made a career out of making learning fun. His research group at MIT developed the programmable brick technology that inspired LEGO Mindstorms, plus the kid-oriented programming language Scratch. Resnick also co-founded Computer Clubhouse, a network of after-school rec centers. Up next: ScratchJr, which aims to teach even younger children (younger than age 8) how to program. It’s in prototype stage, and a public release is planned for later this year.
Android founder Andy Rubin has a new role at Google: managing the robotics division. He’s heading an initiative that might someday put robots in manufacturing and supply chain settings. “I have a history of making my hobbies into a career,” Rubin told the New York Times, which reports that Google quietly acquired seven companies during a six-month period in 2013 to bolster its robotics initiatives. “This is the world’s greatest job. Being an engineer and a tinkerer, you start thinking about what you would want to build for yourself.”
Julie Samuels is the driving force behind Trolling Effects, a new initiative via the Electronic Frontier Foundation that aims to highlight patent trolls and their implements of nuisance. Trolling Effects lets targeted companies post demand letters, search a crowdsourced database to find similar letters, research who’s behind the threats, and more easily determine if a letter they’ve received is a legitimate patent claim or not.
Seventy-four percent of girls in middle school express interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), but when choosing a college major, just 0.3% of high school girls select computer science. Reshma Saujani wants to help close that gender gap. She’s founder of Girls Who Code, a multi-city program that combines instruction in robotics, web design and mobile development with mentorship led by top female engineers and entrepreneurs. This year Saujani plans to expand the reach of Girls Who Code by partnering with schools, libraries, and community organizations nationwide.
Peter W. Singer
Cybersecurity is as misunderstood as it is important. Peter W. Singer, a political scientist and a specialist on 21st century warfare, co-wrote (with cyber expert Allan Friedman) Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know to make it easier for everyday computer users to understand how cybersecurity works, why it matters, and what they can do about it. “In treating cyber security as a matter only for IT experts, computer users often neglect the most basic precautions that go a long way toward protecting both the Internet's users and the network itself,” Singer opined. Singer’s experience includes consulting for Call of Duty: Black Ops II, for which he worked on a quad-copter drone concept called Charlene.
Luke Soules and Kyle Wiens
Luke Soules and Kyle Wiens started iFixit in a dorm room at Cal Poly. A decade later, CXO Soules and CEO Wiens have built a global community of tinkerers who like to see things fixed, not tossed. iFixit is the place people turn when they need repair information for all sorts of devices. Soules and Wiens are also putting together an e-waste resource on iFixit.org, including tips on how to help fix the global problem of waste electronics.
Debbie Sterling graduated from Stanford with a degree in mechanical engineering and product design, and today she’s working to inspire the next generation of female engineers. Sterling founded GoldieBlox to create brain-feeding toys that combine storybooks with construction sets to get girls building. She writes and illustrates the stories of Goldie, a girl inventor who solves problems by constructing simple contraptions. Sterling is inspired by her grandmother, a cartoonists and creator of Mr. Magoo.
Cars and open source are turning out to be a good match, as automakers begin to move away from proprietary systems and incorporate Linux-based technologies into audio and entertainment systems. As director of embedded solutions at The Linux Foundation, Rudolf Streif is ready to help accelerate the trend. “A $2,000 integrated navigation system with Bluetooth hands-free is a tough sell when you can get the same and much more in a smartphone for a fraction of the price,” Streif told Opensource.com. “The automotive industry is realizing that it has to catch up with the way consumer and communications industries are successfully leveraging Linux and open source for product development.”
Shapeways is like the Etsy of 3D printing -- it’s a marketplace and community that helps people make, buy and sell anything they want. 3D printing used to be the domain of engineering and design communities that used it for prototyping, but now Shapeways has made it accessible and affordable to a huge range of designers and entrepreneurs. “For the last century, big companies were in charge: they determined what consumers wanted and made those products in large quantities using mass manufacturing,” says Shapeways co-founder and CEO Peter Weijmarshausen (who brews his own beer and used to race cars on an amateur level in Europe). “Now, thanks to 3D printing, those days are over.”
Ever since Snowden and PRISM became household names, anonymous search has never been less unknown. Snowden’s leaks began in early June, and on June 17, DuckDuckGo -- a search engine that doesn’t track cookies or save records of users’ IP addresses -- had 3 million daily direct searches, compared to 1.8 million for the entire month prior. Creator Gabriel Weinberg solo-founded DuckDuckGo in 2008. By design, it doesn't collect, store or share any personal information. But privacy isn’t its only differentiator. DuckDuckGo also delivers instant answers, a feature that presents direct answers to people’s queries, rather than delivering a list of links.
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Emerging Leaders 2017