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UKtech50 2021: Vote for the most influential person in UK technology

Our judges have picked a shortlist, and now we invite readers to tell us who should be chosen as the most influential person in the UK tech scene for 2021 – submit your vote now

Computer Weekly has opened voting for the annual UKtech50, our definitive list of the movers and shakers in UK technology – the CIOs, industry executives, public servants and business leaders driving forward the UK’s digital economy. 

Whoever tops the list will be the person who, in the opinion of our judges and readers, holds the most influence over the future of the UK tech sector in 2021 – and hence the future of IT professionals across the country.

Our expert judging panel has selected a shortlist of 50 leaders shown below – chosen from 190 nominations that were suggested by readers, the Computer Weekly team, and the judges themselves. Now we want your vote on who you think deserves the coveted top spot on this year’s list.  

This year’s nominations are influenced by several important tech trends, such as the success of British startups and the growth of artificial intelligence (AI), but perhaps most importantly, the huge shift in our daily lives brought on by the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.

The work undertaken by IT leaders in every sector during the pandemic has shown resilience and growth in the industry, and the top 50 list reflects the hard work organisations and individuals have put in over the past 12 months.

In 2019, the 10th annual UKtech50 saw Demis Hassabis crowned the winner. Hassabis is co-founder and CEO of DeepMind, a company that was born under the premise that neuroscience, combined with artificial intelligence and machine learning as well as other emerging technologies, could lead to powerful algorithms learning the concept of artificial general intelligence.

Whoever tops the list in 2021 will be the person who, in the opinion of our judges and readers, holds the most influence ofer the future of the UK’s digital economy. The winner will be announced at a virtual UKtech50 event on 25 February.

Read more about UKtech50 2021 here and submit your vote now – simply click on the button next to the person you wish to vote for and click the “submit” button below the list. Voting closes at 5pm on 8 February 2021.

The full shortlist is also shown in alphabetical order at the end of this article. 

Judging the UKtech50

The judging panel was chosen to represent different perspectives in IT – so each individual acted both as an impartial and expert judge, as well as an advocate for their area of interest. The judges were:

  • Adam Thilthorpe, director for professionalism at BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT.
  • Joanna Poplawska, CEO at CITF, the collaboration, innovation and technology forum.
  • Sue Daley, associate director of technology and innovation at TechUK.
  • Robin Beattle, managing director of Spinks
  • Rhona Carmichael, regional managing director at Harvey Nash UK North & Ireland

Our judging panel chose the top 50 candidates based on the following criteria:

  • Influence: What authority or ability does the person have – either through their personal position or the role they hold – to personally influence the development of UK technology, or to influence others in positions of authority?
  • Achievements: What has the person achieved in the past 12 months to help the development of UK technology?
  • Profile: Is the person recognised as a role model for aspiring leaders? How widely are they acknowledged by their peers as an authority and influence on UK tech?
  • Leadership: Does the person demonstrate the skills and experience necessary to be seen as a leader in the development of the tech community in the UK? Do they have a leadership role and does that help them develop the role of technology in the UK?
  • Potential: How likely is it that the person will have a significant impact on UK tech in the next 12 months? Will their authority and responsibility grow?

The UKtech50 2021 shortlist:

Alex Chisholm, COO, Civil Service; permanent secretary, Cabinet Office

Alex Chisholm became chief operating officer (COO) for the Civil Service in April 2020, leaving his previous role as permanent secretary to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). In his role as COO, Chisholm recently recruited and appointed the roles for the new government Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO).

Alistair Forbes, CEO, Scottish Tech Army

Tech entrepreneur Alistair Forbes founded the Scottish Tech Army as a response to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, with the aim of using it as a platform to contribute to challenges created by the pandemic. Working with recruitment agencies, the initiative aims to identify IT volunteers whose skills can be used to support public sector organisations that are developing digital projects to help tackle the outbreak of the virus and the management of the recovery process.

Andy Isherwood, EMEA managing director, Amazon Web Services

Andy Isherwood is a UK IT industry veteran who took over running the European arm of Amazon Web Services in March 2018. He previously held a similar role at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and was head of HP’s UK and Ireland business until April 2016. He had worked for HP since 2001.

Anne Boden, CEO, Starling Bank

Tech entrepreneur Anne Boden founded mobile-only Starling Bank in 2016. As CEO, she oversees the bank’s leadership team and drives forward her vision of building the best bank account in the world. Before setting up Starling Bank, Boden worked in various roles in the banking industry, including a stint as COO for Irish Allied Bank.

Anne-Marie Imafidon, CEO, Stemettes

After several years in technology-based roles for firms such as Goldman Sachs, A&M Consult and Deutsche Bank, Anne-Marie Imafidon founded social enterprise Stemettes in 2013 to encourage young women to pursue careers in the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) sector. Imafidon was awarded an MBE in 2017 for her services to STEM, and is a trustee of the Institute for the Future of Work. In September 2020, Imafidon joined the Hamilton Commission, a research project set up by race car driver Lewis Hamilton to help find and break down barriers to recruitment for black people in UK motorsport.

Chi Onwurah, shadow minister for science, research and digital

Chinyelu Onwurah became shadow minister for science, research and digital in April 2020. Prior to this, she was shadow minister for industrial strategy, science and innovation from October 2016. She led Labour’s pre-2015 election review of digital government policy. She was first elected at the 2010 general election as MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central. A chartered engineer and former head of telecoms technology at UK telecoms regulator Ofcom, she is co-chair of the Parliamentary ICT Forum (Pictfor) and former board member of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (Post). She is an advocate for digital skills and digital enablement.

Chris Meah, founder and CEO, School of Code

Chris Meah founded School of Code in 2015, while he was studying for a PhD in computer science. His aim was to launch a coding platform, using gamification and social learning to teach anyone how to code.

Cindy Rose, president, Microsoft Western Europe

Cindy Rose was appointed CEO of Microsoft UK in July 2016. As part of her role, she is responsible for all of Microsoft’s offerings and products in the UK. Before joining Microsoft, Rose spent three years heading up Vodafone’s UK consumer division, following her role as executive director of digital entertainment at Virgin Media. She has also held several senior executive positions at the Walt Disney Company. In 2019, she was awarded an OBE for services to UK technology.

Colin Cook, digital director, Scottish Government

Colin Cook was appointed digital director of Scottish Government in May 2017. He is currently leading on the country’s digital strategy, aiming to build a digital Scotland and create a strategy reflecting the impact of the current Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. He was also the driving force behind the creation of CivTech, the Scottish Government’s public service business incubator.

Daljit Rehal, CDIO, HMRC

Daljit Rehal joined HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) in September 2020, where he is responsible for a budget of just over £1bn, split between an operational budget of £725m and £300m for IT strategic changes. Prior to joining the department, Rehal was the digital and data chief at energy giant Centrica.

Dara Nasr, managing director, Twitter UK

Dara Nasr originally joined Twitter back in November 2012, heading up its sales team, before becoming managing director in 2016. Prior to joining Twitter UK, Nasr oversaw the sales team for YouTube and Display at Google.

David Watson, founder, Ohme

David Watson created Ohme with the aim of making it the world’s most trusted smart charging platform. The idea for the company came while researching clean energy projects. Watson wanted to create a product to allow electric vehicles to be cheaper to run, while also allowing businesses, energy suppliers and consumers to support the transition to renewables across the world.

Debbie Forster, CEO, Tech Talent Charter

Debbie Forster is CEO of government-backed initiative Tech Talent Charter, which aims to boost diversity and inclusion in the tech sector. She is also director at consultancy Novel Design, and director for international development at NCSSS. She was voted Computer Weekly’s most influential woman in UK technology for 2019.

Demis Hassabis, founder and CEO, DeepMind

Demis Hassabis founded AI company DeepMind in 2010. The company, which was bought by Google in 2014 for about £400m, is involved in several AI projects across sectors, including the NHS. Before founding DeepMind, Hassabis completed a PhD in neuroscience at UCL. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society, Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society of Arts, and in 2018 was awarded a CBE for services to science and technology. DeepMind is a British pioneer in a field that is set to dominate the IT scene in the decade to come.

Deryck Mitchelson, director of national digital and information security, NHS National Services Scotland

Deryck Mitchelson joines NHS National Services Scotland as director of national and digital information security in August 2018. In his role, he holds responsibility for Scotland’s digital Covid-19 portfolio. His team has also led on the track and trace roll-out in the country, as well as the Scottish vaccination programme.

Elizabeth Denham, UK information commissioner

As information commissioner for the UK, Elizabeth Denham is responsible for ensuring information rights are in the public interest and leads the office dealing with the UK Data Protection Act, the UK’s implementation of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Her role is taking ever greater prominence as technology heightens public concerns around privacy and data protection. Before becoming information commissioner, Denham was the information and privacy commissioner for British Columbia, responsible for compliance with public and private sector privacy legislation and access to information law.

Garry Fingland, CIO, The Weir Group

Garry Fingland joined Weird in April 2019 as its CIO. He is currently leading a large digital transformation programme globally within the company, which is now in its second year. Prior to working for Weir, Fingland was the CIO of Bupa.

Gerard Grech, CEO, Tech Nation

Gerard Grech succeeded Joanna Shields as CEO of Tech City in February 2014, having previously held a global marketing role at BlackBerry. In his current job, he leads the promotion and support of UK startups now that Tech City’s remit has expanded beyond its original east London base. He has supported technology entrepreneurs for several years.

Guus Dekkers, CTO, Tesco

Guus Dekkers has been the CTO of Tesco since 2018, and is responsible for all consumer-facing and enterprise technologies, across online, stores and the supply chain. During the Covid-19 pandemic, his technology team has worked to handle a huge increase in online shopping and deliveries.

Jacqueline De Rojas, president, TechUK

Jacqueline de Rojas has 25 years’ experience in leading technology businesses. In 2015, she took over as president of IT industry trade association TechUK, where she is also board champion for women. The same year, she was voted the most influential woman in UK IT in Computer Weekly’s annual poll, and in 2016 she entered the Most Influential Women in UK IT Hall of Fame. In the past year, she has been one of the leading voices promoting the UK tech sector and has advised the government on digital policy. She also chairs the board of digital leaders.

James Matthews, CEO, Ocado Technology

James Matthews spent several years with Ocado, before becoming CEO of Ocado Technology in April 2018. Since taking on the role as CEO, Matthews has worked to develop Ocado Technology into a leading UK technology company , helped drive the Ocado Smart Platform and mature the company’s technology. He heads up a team of more than 2,000 technologists.

Joanna Davinson, executive director, Central Digital and Data Office, UK government

Joanna Davinson was recently appointed executive director of the government’s new Central Digital and Data Office, which will serve as a strategic centre for digital, data and technology (DDaT) across government. In her role, she will be in charge of the government’s 18,000 digital, data and technology professionals and lead the DDaT function for government. Prior to her new role, Davinson was chief digital, data and technology officer at the Home Office.

Joanna Shields, CEO, BenevolentAI

Joanna Shields is CEO of BenevolentAI, a leader in the development and application of AI and machine learning to understand the underlying causes of disease, accelerate drug discovery, and develop new and more effective medicines. She previously served as the UK’s first minister for internet safety and security, as a government special adviser on the digital economy, and was chair and CEO of TechCityUK.

John Boumphrey, country manager, Amazon UK

John Boumphrey joined Amazon in 2011 as its director of media, UK. In 2020, he became the UK country manager, leading the company’s UK business and its 2,500 employees. Prior to joining Amazon, Boumphrey was a trading director at Homebase.

Julian David, CEO, TechUK

Julian David was appointed director-general of technology trade body Intellect in March 2012 and led its relaunch as TechUK in November 2013. He has introduced a strategy for TechUK that aims to establish the organisation as the leading representative of the IT sector to government and a major influence over the role of technology in the UK economy. In the past year, David has been one of the leading voices representing the tech sector’s views on Brexit, and has advised the government on tech policy.

Lindy Cameron, CEO, National Cyber Security Centre

Lindy Cameron is the CEO of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), where she oversees the organisation’s response to cyber incidents, improvement of the country’s cyber resilience and identifies risks and opportunities for the UK in emerging technologies. She also leads the NCSC’s ongoing response to Covid-19.

Mark Denney, director of IT, EU transition and Covid-19 chancellor schemes, HMRC

Mark Denney was interim chief digital and information officer (CDIO) at HMRC between 2019 and 2020. He has also been leading the EU transition work at the department, including the work on the Customs Declaration Service (CDS) and a range of other customs IT systems.

Matt Brittin, president of EMEA business and operations, Google

Matt Brittin has been president of Google’s Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) business and operations since 2014, having first joined Google in 2007. During his time working for the company, Brittin has defined himself as “fiercely supportive of the UK media landscape” and has positioned Google as a key player in a new environment where traditional publishers are still working out how to survive in the digital age.

Matt Hancock, secretary of state for health and social care

Matt Hancock has been secretary of state for health and social care since 2018, and in February 2019, he launched NHSX with the aim of having the organisation lead technology strategy in the NHS. Prior his current role, Hancock was the secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport.

Matthew Gould, CEO, NHSX

Matthew Gould became CEO of a new health service digital unit, NHSX, in July 2019, tasked with leading the NHS technology vision introduced by secretary of state Matt Hancock. Gould previously worked for Hancock as director-general of the digital economy unit in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) from October 2016. Before joining DCMS, Gould was the UK’s ambassador to Israel, where he launched the UK Israel Tech Hub. He has previously led the cyber security unit at the Cabinet Office.

Mohamed Hammady, group CTO, Sky

As group CTO, Mohamed Hammady owns the Sky-wide technology strategy. His team oversees all the technology systems underpinning Sky’s European TV services, broadband, mobile and digital platforms, as well major strategic programmes such as cyber security. He joined Sky in 2007 as director of network services, leading the team that built and operated the UK network, which now delivers broadband and telephony to several million Sky UK customers.

Nicola Mendelsohn, vice-president EMEA, Facebook

Nicola Mendelsohn has been vice-president of EMEA operations at Facebook since 2013. She is responsible for growing Facebook’s advertising revenue and improving relationships with brands across the region. She also sits on the UK government’s Industrial Strategy Council and the Mayor of London’s Business Advisory Board. She has served as the president of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) and Women in Advertising and Communications London (WACL).

Nigel Toon, CEO, Graphcore

Nigel Toon is co-founder and CEO of Graphcore, a rapidly growing British semiconductor company that specialises in accelerators for AI and machine learning. He was CEO of two venture capital-backed silicon companies before founding Graphcore – Picochip, which was sold to Mindspeed in 2012, and XMOS, in which Graphcore was incubated for two years before being established as a separate entity in 2016.

Oliver Dowden, secretary of state, DCMS

Oliver Dowden was was appointed secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport on 13 February 2020. He was previously paymaster general and minister for the Cabinet Office from 24 July 2019 to 13 February 2020, and parliamentary secretary at the Cabinet Office from 9 January 2018 to 24 July 2019.

Paul Willmott, non-executive chair, Central Digital and Data Office, UK government

Paul Willmott was appointed chair of the new CDDO in January 2021, as an unpaid, non-executive role. Willmott is also chief digital adviser at the Lego Brand Group and former founder of McKinsey Digital. 

Phil Swan, CIO and digital lead, Greater Manchester Combined Authority

Phil Swan was appointed CIO for the new Greater Manchester metropolitan region in 2017, working for mayor Andy Burnham. He has been a leading figure in local government IT for many years, following a six-year stint at Accenture.

Philip Jansen, CEO, BT

Philip Jansen became CEO of BT in 2019, replacing long-term chief executive Gavin Patterson. Jansen was in charge of Worldpay since 2013, overseeing both its 2015 flotation and a merger with e-commerce firm Vantiv. Before that, he spent time in the catering trade at Brakes and Sodexo Group, as well as a spell managing the consumer operations of Telewest, a predecessor of Virgin Media.

Poppy Gustafsson, co-CEO, Darktrace

Poppy Gustafsson has had several roles at AI and cyber security firm Darktrace, including chief financial officer and chief operating officer, before becoming co-CEO in 2016. She is recognised in the sector for her work across firms such as HP Autonomy, Amadeus Capital Partners and Deloitte, earning her place in lists such as the Management Today 30 under 35, and was a winner in the Veuve Clicquot Business Woman Awards in 2019.

Russ Shaw, founder, Tech London Advocates and Global Tech Advocates

Russ Shaw founded Tech London Advocates in April 2013 as a private sector group promoting London’s technology sector and connecting startups with enterprises. He has founded similar organisations under the Global Tech Advocates banner in 16 locations worldwide. He has since been appointed a London tech ambassador by the Mayor’s Office and a member of the Tech City Advisory Group, as well as being part of the London Technology Week steering group and a member of the UK Digital Skills Taskforce.

Sarah Wilkinson, CEO, NHS Digital

Sarah Wilkinson joined NHS Digital as its CEO in 2017. In her role, she is responsible for leading on digital transformation delivery across health and social care. She has also led the huge programme of work NHS Digital has produced during the pandemic. Prior to her current role, Wilkinson was chief technology officer at the Home Office, where she led many of the most critical IT systems supporting UK borders and policing. She was previously managing director and head of corporate systems technology at Credit Suisse for over two years, having previously worked at HSBC, UBS and Deutsche Bank in various senior IT roles.

Shaun Pearce, CTO, Gousto

Shaun Pearce joined Gousto in 2015, before taking on the role as chief technology officer in 2016, where he is responsible for all aspects of technology across the business. Prior to joining Gousto, Pearce worked for Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Accenture.

Simon McKinnon, CDIO, Department for Work and Pensions

Simon McKinnon was appointed CDIO at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in December 2019. Prior to taking on the role as CDIO, McKinnon was technology director for children, health and pensions services at DWP.

Simon Segars, CEO, Arm Holdings

Simon Segars took over as chief executive of chip designer Arm in July 2013. Segars, who topped the UKtech50 list in 2016, has worked for Arm since 1991 and led the development of a number of the firm’s processor designs. Arm has become central to the mobile revolution, with its chip architectures powering most of the smartphones and tablets worldwide, while the firm is vying to make a similar impact on the emerging market for internet of things (IoT) devices. In 2016, Arm was acquired by Japanese technology firm Softbank Group.

Sonia Patel, CIO, NHSX

Sonia Patel took on the role of CIO at NHSX in summer 2020. In her role, she is working with regional digital transformation leaders to define clear models and guidance around technology, as well as identifying what support various areas of the NHS need to unlock effective use of technology.

Tabitha Goldstaub, co-founder, CognitionX; chair of the government’s AI Council

Tabitha Goldstaub is the co-founder of CognitionX, a platform and network that helps to build and accelerate the adoption of AI and data-driven systems. She is a serial entrepreneur, having co-founded several businesses, and has also worked with organisations such as Founders4Schools and Teens in AI, and is the chair of the government’s AI Council.

Tara Donnelly, chief digital officer, NHSX

Tara Donnelly heads up digital for the UK health service’s digital unit, NHSX, where she leads the team responsible for liaising with tech firms and digital health innovators. Alongside her work with NHSX, Donnelly is a member of the board of trustees at health charity Nuffield Trust, president of the Health CEO’s Club, and chief executive of the Health Innovation Network.

Tessa Clarke, co-founder and CEO, Olio

Tessa Clarke founded Olio together with co-founder Saasha Celestial-One in 2015. The food sharing app connects users to others who have spare food to give away. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Olio also created the #Cook4Carers campaign, as well as an initiative to collect surplus food, which could be restributed to the vulnerable.

Theo Blackwell, chief digital officer to the Mayor of London

Theo Blackwell was appointed London’s first chief digital officer in August 2017, where he is helping to develop a Smart London Plan. He is also working to promote pan-London collaboration on connectivity, digital inclusion, cyber security and open data, and contribute to plans for a London Office for Technology and Innovation. Blackwell has spent 15 years as a councillor in the London Borough of Camden, where he has led the implementation of an ambitious digital strategy for the borough.

Tom Read, CEO, Government Digital Service

Tom Read was recently appointed CEO of the Government Digital Service (GDS), where he will be at the helm of government technology. Prior to this new role, Read has been Ministry of Justice (MoJ) CDIO for several years, where he has undertaken several large technology transformation projects.

Zahra Bahrololoumi, CEO, Salesforce UK&I

Zahra Bahrololoumi was appointed Salesforce UK and Ireland CEO in November 2020, and will join in March 2021 to lead the company’s operations in both markets. She came to Salesforce from Accenture where she has been leading its technology practice for UK and Ireland.


Editor’s note: The final UKtech50 list will be chosen by combining the decision of the judging panel with the votes of our readers. The combined reader vote will carry the same weight as that of one judge, and will provide the UK IT professional input into the order of the list. The editor’s decision on the UKtech50 list will be final.

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