The Most Influential IT Thought-Leaders
I would like to introduce a new series, which I refer to as “IT Influencers.” The field of Information Technology is home to many innovators and thought-leaders. These individuals, all from vastly differing walks of life, share a commonality: Their expertise and unique insights have made them some of the most influential members in their professions and in IT. This is a diverse lot, including individuals like:
- Walt Mossberg, Journalist/Columnist
- David Pogue, Yahoo! Technology Columnist & CBS News Correspondent
- Salman Khan, Executive Director and Founder of Khan Academy
- Sir James Dyson, Inventor, Industrial Designer & Founder of Dyson Company
- Dr. James Goodnight, CEO of SAS Institute
In the kick-off article to the series, I highlight some common denominators among these trailblazers:
- All of them have thought about business value first, and technology second
- Most have worked in other business disciplines prior to ascending to the CIO role
- Many work within organizations that promote from within
- A majority have an MBA or advanced degree in a business discipline
- Many also have spent time as consultants
Below are the IT Influencers Series’ most recent posts:
Jim Goodnight is one of the great technology entrepreneurs of the past fifty years. His emphasis on data analytics as a business model starting over 40 years ago with the development of Statistical Analysis System (SAS) while he was an academic at North Carolina State was quite prescient, presaging the analytics boom that has taken over so many industries by multiple decades. Over the years, SAS has been used by pharmaceuticals companies to help them analyze their drug pipelines better, by banks to help them assess who to give credit cards to, and to an increasing extent by a wide array of companies to assess fraudulent activity and risk management, which Goodnight suggests will be a significant area of growth for SAS.
Goodnight has built a multi-billion dollar software company without going public or seeking suitors to buy the company. He points to the advantage that he had in receiving early funding from government and academic sources rather than from venture capital, which meant there was no pressure to create a financial event for his investors. As a result, he has been able to successfully steer his company through many business cycles while avoiding significant layoffs that are de rigeur among so many major companies. This has been a cultural differentiator, and is one of the reasons that SAS is regularly chosen among the best places to work in the United States.
Sir James Dyson is a modern day Edison. In a world where products are typically released to the public as quickly as possible, Dyson and his team work through hundreds and sometimes even thousands of prototypes of a product before the public sees them. With an estimated net worth of $4.5 billion, Dyson has the wherewithal to operate in such a manner, but I was curious how he developed his methods, and how he influenced his teams before he was considered perhaps the UK’s greatest living innovator.
Despite his vast wealth and resources, that was not the measuring stick that he used in the early days of his career. Instead, he had an obsession to make elegant and easy-to-use products that people wanted to use on a daily basis. As he has explained it, if you look at the design of a ski, you will see the passion of the person who created it. They designed it to use themselves. The same care and passion has not traditionally been put into products like the vacuum cleaner, however. Who has a passion for vacuuming, especially when it is a loud messy process? Dyson was frustrated by these factors when he created a better vacuum cleaner. In the process, Dyson has influenced others who have chosen to innovate in categories of products that had long been thought of as difficult to improve upon. He has also unintentionally spawned a number of imitators along the way. Through it all, Dyson has remained singular in his focus on perfection, realizing that business success would follow. In the process his influence has been felt much further than he might have thought early in his career.
David Pogue has become a household name in tech criticism from his “State of the Art” column in New York Times along with multi-media contributions to PBS and CBS among others. Last week, Pogue launched Yahoo Tech at CES in Las Vegas to much fanfare. The new digital magazine is quite sophisticated in its fit and finish, and it remains as such no matter the device with which it is accessed. Its innovative article tiles allow readers to read articles while all other articles remain on the same page. As Pogue explains below, this should make the site stickier and more psychologically satisfying.
When I last spoke with Pogue in mid-2013, he was firmly planted at theNew York Times and referred to his post as “the greatest job in the world.” I wondered what had changed in the ensuing six months and what else he had planned for Yahoo Tech.
I have had the a good fortune of speaking with good number of the leaders in education technology today. Since so many of these players have emerged from academe, the competition between companies is fierce certainly, but there is also a collegial willingness to acknowledge the successes of other companies. In the case of non-profits like edX, CEO Anant Agarawal says, the more companies that enter this space, the merrier. (Stay tuned for my interview with Agarwal on January 20th.) Several of these leaders acknowledge that the most influential person to the MOOC landscape has been Salman Khan. As Agarwal lists the genesis of the MOOCs, he lists Khan and his Khan Academy first among the major players. Sebastian Thrun acknowledged in my interview with him that “I stumbled into this after listening to a gentleman named Sal Khan of Khan Academy. In his speech he noted that he had tens of millions of students in his classes. I was teaching at Stanford at the time and had tens of dozens of students in my classes, and I felt I should try something different and see if we could do what I do and scale it to many people.” In fact, in my podcast interview with Thrun, as he listed those who had been most influential to him over the course of his career, he listed Khan on the short list.
David Pogue is as well known a technology critic as you’ll find in the world. He is a master of both old and new media. He is best known for technology column in theNew York Times, but he also has a column in Scientific American. He’s the host of “NOVA ScienceNow” and other science shows on PBS, and he’s been a correspondent for “CBS Sunday Morning” since 2002. Pogue has nearly one and a half million followers on Twitter and writes four to five books per year, with over three million of his books in print. He’s won an Emmy, a Loeb award for journalism, and an honorary doctorate in music.
What may be most remarkable for someone who has among the strongest personal brands that you will find is how little planning he has put to developing that brand. Rather, he has largely been reactive as opposed to proactive in his career. When he arrived at the New York Times in 2000, others saw in him an ability to make the esoteric accessible, and thus offers arrived to get involved in other media to continue to pontificate about technology as well as to explain other adjacent fields, such as science. As he mentions below, he has simply continued to answer the phone and say, “yes.”
Walt Mossberg has been called the most influential technology critic in the world. As I prepared for our interview, I was interested in the similarities between Mossberg and the famous wine critic, Robert Parker. Each is a powerful commentator whose opinions can make or break product launches, whose field of criticism is dominated in this country by activities in Northern California. Yet each chooses to live in Maryland, each refuses to accept gifts or perform advisory roles to those companies whose products he critiques, and each relishes the role of criticism even if greater remuneration would follow from joining such companies. Mossberg made quite clear that the mantle of “most influential technology critic” was not one that he chose.