The 20 top tech newsmakers who made the headlines in 2015

11 Dec 201559 Shares

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From kid coders to politicians, activists, entrepreneurs and tech CEOs, our 2015 list of the top 20 tech newsmakers has it all. Including the thrills, the spills and the occasional viral tweet.

1. Paddy Cosgrave

If there was anything that overshadowed the surprise news that the Web Summit was leaving Dublin for Lisbon in 2016 was the kerfuffle that ensued when Web Summit founder Paddy Cosgrave chose the nuclear option and published email exchanges between himself and the Taoiseach’s private secretary in the weeks leading up to the Web Summit in November. Ostensibly to highlight very real infrastructural issues that no doubt dog international events that take place in the city, the exchange became a show in itself as demands for Garda escorts for geeky VIPs and tirades against the Government on live radio were all people could talk about.

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The drama became comical when #FoodGate unfolded over the high price for burgers at the event. It reached a hilarious crescendo with Web Summit co-founder Daire Hickey’s microphone-ripping moment after a tense RTE interview. While most people dismissed the entire episode as Cosgrave just throwing his toys out of the pram, he had real points to make about Dublin’s infrastructure, such as traffic problems, that sadly got lost in the fiery exchanges.

Despite all the talk and blame, the decision was ultimately down to money, with Lisbon agreeing to pay €1.3m for the privilege of hosting Cosgrave’s entourage each year for the next three years.

“We’ll be back,” a sweating Cosgrave in a hand-knitted sweater promised the thousands of attendees from the Web Summit stage during its last moments in Dublin. In three or four years, that may very well be the case. But the entire drama was unnecessary and brought a tawdry and undignified close to a dynamic five years of an amazing growth story that put Dublin firmly on the global tech map. No one came away the better for it. All they had to say was “we’re an international business and we are simply scaling up” and most people would eventually have been on side with that.

2. Isis Anchalee

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On an ordinary working day, an engineer called Isis Anchalee arrived in her office at San Francisco tech company OneLogin and agreed to have her picture taken along with other colleagues to support a recruitment advertising drive on the BART rail system. What resulted was a backlash on Twitter where people suggested her employer hired a model for the photo shoot and that the person in the picture wasn’t a real engineer. Anchalee responded by tweeting that she is a very, very real engineer with a photo of herself with the hashtag #ilooklikeanengineer to put the misogynistic whingers in their place. What followed was amazing, as female engineers all over the world took up the baton, posting pictures of themselves. #iLookLikeAnEngineer trended and began challenging established gender constructs on Twitter. Anchelee took to Medium to answer her critics and also to discuss her own personal experience in a traditionally male-dominated workplace. “The reality is that most people are well-intentioned but genuinely blind to a lot of the crap that those who do not identify as male have to deal with,” she wrote. Anchalee is just one out of an incredible line-up of remarkable speakers confirmed for Inspirefest 2016 in June.

3. Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan

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There are life events and there are the life events of billionaires. Eleven years ago, Mark Zuckerberg was a geeky computer prodigy working on a pet project in a Harvard dorm room. Today, he is the CEO of the biggest social network on the planet with 1.5bn monthly users and $4.5bn in quarterly revenues. Upon the birth of their first daughter, Max, Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan decided they were going to donate 99pc of their Facebook shares – that’s approximately $45bn in today’s money – to charity over their lifetime. What was interesting about this wasn’t just the numbers but that you get the real sense that Zuckerberg and Chan will put their intelligence into backing sustainable medical and technological solutions to the world’s problems. In a touching letter to newborn Max, they wrote: “While headlines often focus on what’s wrong, in many ways the world is getting better. Health is improving. Poverty is shrinking. Knowledge is growing. People are connecting. Technological progress in every field means your life should be dramatically better than ours today.

“We will do our part to make this happen, not only because we love you, but also because we have a moral responsibility to all children in the next generation.”

4. Niamh Scanlon

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13-year-old coder Niamh Scanlon is not only an accomplished entrepreneur but she has been named a finalist for the European Digital Girl of the Year Award, with the winner due to be announced next week (14 December). If successful, Scanlon will be the second Irish youngster in a row to win the accolade after Lauren Boyle won the award last year.

Scanlon learned to code at CoderDojo when she was nine, moving on to website design and app development soon after. Scanlon’s site Learntocode.eu was set up a few years ago to help fellow young coders around Europe to hone their craft. She was 11 at the time. She also developed an award-winning app to help the drivers of electric cars. For three years, Niamh has mentored at CoderDojo in DCU, where she helps others learn how to code, and she’s a member of the Digital Youth Council.

Scanlon has been a regular guest columnist with Siliconrepublic.com in the past, documenting her experiences at Girls Hack Ireland back in March, and Outbox Incubator in August. Scanlon also will be a speaker at Inspirefest in June 2016.

 5. Pat Phelan

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A former butcher from Cork who overcame alcoholism, returned to college and became a shrewd businessman, Pat Phelan is the outstanding entrepreneurial success story of 2015. After selling Cubic Telecom, his first start-up, Phelan set up Trustev three years ago to protect businesses and consumers from e-commerce fraud, Trustev’s technology evaluates online transactions in real time with machine learning, enabling customers to stop fraud and authorise legitimate purchases.

The company has just been acquired by Chicago-based TransUnion for $44m, making Phelan and his co-founders millionaires in the process.

 6. Tim Cook

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The Apple CEO has proved critics wrong time and time again after inheriting his role from the late Steve Jobs, and what is remarkable is the ease, dignity and aplomb with which he is running Apple, now possibly the most profitable company in the history of business. He looks like he is enjoying himself. Not only has Cook used his position as CEO of the biggest tech company on the planet to champion diversity, during the year he deftly recovered Apple’s stock following a China-induced Black Monday. Highlights of the year for Cook were the launch of the Apple Watch, the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, a new reinvigorated Apple TV and, of course, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. Towards the end of the year, Cook visited Ireland for the second time in 2015 to address students at Trinity College and announce that the headcount of Apple in Cork is to increase from 5,000 to 6,000 in the next 18 months. Cook added that the Cork operation is the most diverse Apple workplace in the world.

 7. Sundar Pichai

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Observing Sundar Pichai, then head of Android at Google earlier this year at Mobile World Congress, his strategic grasp and sense of mission ownership at Google were evident. Just a few months later, as Google announced plans to reorganise into a giant conglomerate called Alphabet with Google as a subsidiary, Pichai was named CEO of Google. Until that point, very little was known about Pichai’s leadership qualities outside of Google. He deserves recognition for leading Android to become the biggest mobile operating system on the planet, installed on more than 80pc of mobile devices worldwide. Soft-spoken but not shy, 43-year-old Pichai’s origins are humble. He grew up in a two-room apartment in Chennai in India where he and his younger brother slept on the living room floor and the family owned neither a TV nor a car. After being offered a scholarship to Stanford University, Pichai worked his way around the Silicon Valley scene and joined Google in 2004 where he worked in project management on products that included Chrome, Gmail and Google Maps. Pichai’s reputation as a rising star was recognised when he was tipped as a contender for the top job at Microsoft. As CEO of Google, with exciting projects including the self-driving car, Android firmly enconsed as the world’s biggest mobile operating system and Google asserting itself more and more in the hardware space, Pichai could be the right CEO at the right time for the internet giant.

8. Edward Snowden

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From somewhere in Russia, rogue NSA contractor and probably America’s most-wanted man Edward Snowden continued his crusade to make revelations about the US’ troubled, unwieldy and overbearing cybersecurity apparatus. One of the outstanding revelations was how the NSA and GCHQ hacked anti-virus software products. In September, Snowden joined Twitter and in less than 24 hours amassed more than 1m followers. In Europe, Snowden has been lauded for his work and, in October, the European Parliament voted to drop all criminal charges against him. The vote, a narrow 285 to 281 margin, recognised Snowden’s status as a “human rights defender”.

 9. Richard Moat

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Eir CEO Richard Moat had until this year been an unknown quantity in Irish telecoms circles, working diligently behind the scenes, originally as CFO, to ensure the operator known as Eircom could free itself of its debts and invest in the right technologies to make it relevant long into the future. After taking over from Herb Hribar as CEO last year, Moat has guided Eir to being the undisputed king of quad play in Ireland with services traversing internet, mobile, TV and telephone. 2015 was a whirlwind year for Eir in terms of its rebranding, with it revealing plans to provide high-speed fibre broadband to 1.9m homes, revealing the rollout of 1Gbps fibre broadband to 55 towns and a widespread 4G network. Key business achievements included restoring Eir to profitability for the first time in years and the company’s acquisition of sports TV broadcaster Setanta signifies a steely ambition not seen in the incumbent operator for a very long time.

 10. Max Schrems

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Lawyer and activist Max Shrems met Siliconrepublic.com’s editor John Kennedy earlier this year and told us the back story to how he first became involved in taking a case against Facebook’s international headquarters, which are incidentally based in Ireland, and which thrust this country’s data protection resources onto the world stage.

Describing Edward Snowden’s revelations about government spying by the US andUK as a “Chernobyl moment” in the privacy debate, Schrems tasted victory this year when the highest court in Europe declared the EU-US data sharing Safe Harbour treaties as invalid. While civil servants won’t be happy with Schrems for putting Ireland into the world’s glare, his actions have served the country well, highlighting resource inadequacies at the Data Protection Commission, which resulted in a significant beefing up of resources. Its budget will increase from €1.8m to €3.6m and headcount is growing from 29 to 50 people with a new office opening in Dublin.

 11. Susan McKenna-Lawlor

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Susan McKenna-Lawlor is what Astronomy Ireland’s David Moore calls “Irish space royalty”.

During this year, McKenna-Lawlor stunned the audience at Inspirefest 2015 by revealing her plans for an Irish space project, codenamed Cumar. Cumar’s mission will be to gain new understanding of space weather. Negotiations are in progress to include in the spacecraft’s payload experiments from Chinese, Canadian, German, Japanese, Slovakian and British teams, each aiming to gain further insights into different aspects of space weather and its effect on society, the planet and technology.

In addition to scientific equipment, Cumar will be carrying a sculpture already commissioned from an Irish sculptor, who will use space-qualified materials in its construction. “Music, poetry and literature will form part of the onboard activities. We have two sides to the brain, and we need to have everybody taking part,” said McKenna-Lawlor.

Founder and MD of Space Technology Ireland Ltd (STIL), McKenna-Lawlor has overseen projects that have built instrumentation launched by the European Space Agency, NASA and the Chinese, Indian and Russian space agencies. One of STIL’s most notable projects was with the Rosetta mission, which saw a spacecraft chase down a comet for years, before landing a probe (Philae) on its surface.

12. Dr Joseph Roche

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Research projects coordinator and education learning manager of the Science Gallery in Dublin, Dr Joseph Roche became everyone’s hero when he successfully got himself kicked off a mission to Mars that he didn’t believe would get off the ground anyway.

Roche made a name for himself in Ireland as one of the final 705 candidates remaining from more than 200,000 across the world who could find themselves a part of the first four-person crew to take part in the Mars-bound Mars One programme and go down in history.

Roche studied astrophysics for his bachelor’s degree and was interested in imagery from the Hubble Space Telescope as a child. However, Roche, who is also an assistant professor in Science Education at Trinity’s School of Education, where his research area is the role of science in society, was dismissed from the Mars One programme for calling into question the scientific standards of the mission.

 13. Mary Carty

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Mary Carty co-founded Outbox Incubator, the world’s first incubator programme for girls under 22 who are innovating in STEM, which took place in London over six weeks this summer. Siliconrepublic.com ran weekly reports from the Irish participants in the programme, who all reported back on it being a universally positive experience.

Carty co-founded Outbox Incubator with Stemettes founder and Inspirefest 2015 speaker Anne-Marie Imafidon after the pair met through Twitter. Carty herself will speak at Inspirefest 2016, where she will be joined onstage by some of the participants from the inaugural Outbox Incubator programme.

 14. Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh

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Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh was named by CNN last year as one of the top tech superheroes to watch in 2015 and boy did she live up to that accolade. Sugru is the name of the world’s first mouldable glue and is being targeted at a multi-billion dollar DIY and toys market.

During the summer, Sugru launched a crowdfunding campaign on Crowdcube that blasted past a target of £1m and achieved £3.5m in funding from 2,700 investors. Described by Forbes Magazine as “21st century duct tape” Sugru is an adhesive that moulds like play-dough and sticks to almost anything by turning into a strong, flexible rubber within 24 hours. Manufactured in east London, Sugru is planning to expand globally and aims to create seven factories around the world that will make the material close to their target markets.

 15. Jules Coleman

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More than a year ago, we met Jules Coleman for the first time and heard all about her start-up Hassle.com. Within a year that company – a kind of Hailo for cleaners – was acquired by Berlin-based Helpling for €32m. Former Accenture executive Coleman established the company in London in 2011 with friends Alex Depledge and Tom Nimmo after teaching herself Ruby on Rails and attending the TechStars programme in London.

The company raised $6m a year ago from Silicon Valley venture capital firm Accel Partners, which has also invested in Facebook, Etsy, Spotify, Dropbox and Atlassian. The acquisition will enable Coleman to expand Hassle.com beyond Europe to provide household services in the US and beyond.

 16. Alex White TD

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The Minister for Communications Alex White, TD, is about to experience the biggest test of his career in 2016 as he oversees the deployment of the National Broadband Plan to finally connect 600,000 homes and 100,000 businesses with high-speed broadband to enable them to join the digital economy.

The plan – priced at between €300m to €500m – will fund operators to compete to deliver a guaranteed minimum of 30Mbps download speeds and 6Mbps upload speeds with 99.95pc uptime. By 2018, Minister White projects that 85pc of the population of Ireland will have minimum speeds of 30Mbps. By 2020, this will be 100pc of the population.

17. Helen Dixon

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Thanks in part to the actions of activist Max Schrems, Ireland has found itself in the eye of a global privacy storm and Helen Dixon, who became Data Protection Commissioner in 2014, is overseeing the expansion of her office to play a greater role in global privacy regulation.

Dixon is overseeing a near doubling of the office’s budget from €1.8m to €3.6m, an increase in headcount from 29 to 50 and the opening of the new office in Dublin. The Government has announced that the new headquarters of the Data Protection Commissioner will be located at 21 Fitzwilliam Square

The beefing up of resources for the Data Protection Commission and the move to more central premises reflect the increasing pressure the office is under to match international scrutiny due to the large presence of data-intensive internet and technology giants in Ireland, including Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Apple.

 18. Keren Jackson

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In 2015, 22 year-old Keren Jackson almost became the first Irish person to go into space, making it to the final three of the Kruger Cowne Rising Star Programme before having her hopes dashed.

Had she won a place aboard the XCOR Aerospace Lynx Spacecraft she would have flown into the outer reaches of Earth for a period of one hour at a height of 103km.

Keren Jackson is one of Ireland’s rising stars as the CEO of the social enterprise company BlueFire, which helps host events and festivals in Dublin with the aim of creating greater community spirit among different cultures.

19. Marissa Mayer

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In the news for all the wrong reasons, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has had a hard year. Three years into her job as CEO of Yahoo, the danger Mayer now faces is seeing one of the original internet companies disappear into internet history, with traffic barely budging since she took the reins.

Mayer has not only had to battle recent shareholder revolts, but for the the last number of months Yahoo has been battling with the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) over its continued attempts to spin-off its significant $32bn stake in the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, entirely tax-free, which the IRS was, understandably, none too pleased about as it would have lost out on $10bn in tax.

Now the board has voted to split Yahoo in two – splitting its core internet services from the Alibaba stock, which is worth more than Yahoo in its entirety. The split marks a defeat for Mayer, who has made numerous efforts to prevent the stagnation of the business since she came into the job in 2012.

 20. Grainne Maguire

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Straight out of the left field, one of our favourite newsmakers of 2015 has to be Grainne Maguire who, frustrated at Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the Irish Government ignoring women’s anger regarding abortion law in this country, took a comedy route to get the message across.

“I thought it would be better to take the Irish State at its word. If they want to control my body, if they feel so comfortable interfering in what happens inside it, they should at least have all the details,” she said in an article in The Guardian.

Her solution: to live-tweet her menstrual cycle to Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

“Sure, some could argue that it’s none of his business what happens inside my fallopian tubes, but if we took that logic to its conclusion, I wouldn’t need to tweet him in the first place,” she reasoned.

Marissa Mayer image via Shutterstock

 

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com