Looking back at 10 years of UKtech50 - what can we learn?

Every year when Computer Weekly announces its UKtech50 list of the most influential people in UK technology, it’s an opportunity to look at what the names that feature tell us about the latest trends in the UK tech scene. This year, as the tenth outing for UKtech50, it’s also a chance to reflect on the changes across a decade of influential individuals.

For 2019, two aspects stood out. First, 46% of the leaders on the list were women – the highest proportion ever. In 2010, there were just seven women – 14%. Computer Weekly has campaigned long and hard for greater diversity in UK IT and it’s both rewarding and extremely pleasing to see that so many great female leaders are finally breaking through the long-established glass ceiling in IT.

What’s more – half of the top 10 this year were women. When we started, the top 10 was all male. Let’s hope we can get above 50% next year.

Second, the 2019 list shows the dramatic rise of artificial intelligence (AI) as a cornerstone of the UK tech sector. Ten of the top 50 are directly or indirectly involved in AI, and many others are working with AI technologies in their organisations. The winner, Demis Hassabis, CEO and co-founder of Google-owned DeepMind, is a true pioneer in AI and his company is recognised as a global leader. Perhaps 10 years from now we’ll be using an AI to help select the top 50.

Looking back 10 years, it’s not only the gender and technologies that have changed. Only one person featured in the first and tenth list – Google’s Matt Brittin, then as the company’s UK CEO, now as its European president. Many job titles continue to feature even if their incumbents have changed – CIOs at Unilever and Transport for London, for example, as well as leaders in government IT. Also CEOs of BT and other major UK tech suppliers.

The first ever winner of UKtech50 was Philip Clarke, who had just been promoted from CIO at Tesco to become its CEO. At the time he was seen as a breakthrough appointment – the first time an IT leader at a top UK company had made it to the chief executive’s seat. That didn’t work out so well. It’s still all too rare to see IT leaders following such a career path – but equally, it’s true that CEOs are more aware of the strategic importance of technology than ever before.

Ten years ago, cloud was in its infancy, AI was a distant dream, and we all still thought smartphones were amazing, just two years after the launch of the iPhone. What will we think in 2029 for the 20th UKtech50? Hopefully, for one of our young readers today, we’ll be recognising them as a new winner who embodies the biggest technologies of the decade ahead.

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