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Robin Christopherson

Robin Christopherson is Head of Digital Inclusion at AbilityNet, the pioneering UK charity that aims to make the power of digital technology available to everyone, regardless of ability or age.  He was brought up to believe that blindness need not be a barrier in life. Both his parents had demanding jobs despite being partially blind, setting a strong example to their three visually impaired children.

As his condition worsened, Robin learned to adapt, moving gradually closer to the front of the class at school. At Cambridge University an early talking laptop running DOS helped his engineering studies.  Robin took inspiration from Prof Stephen Hawking, who overcame physical disability to provide profound scientific insights by nudging a switch

He co-founded AbilityNet in 1996, specialising in adaptive and assistive technology, helping people gain qualifications and design software that is easy to use for all.  It has centres all over country, but has never received government funding, although many of its services are free.

Upcoming advances in adaptive and assistive technology that he lists include smartphones that help people find keys, shoes, or a dog’s harness, check clothes are suitably colour co-coordinated and use lidar to bleep when it is time to move forward in a queue. AI-enabled biometric authorisation will obviate the need to remember passwords and there is huge potential in smart glasses and headsets, he says.

Sir Bill Thomas

Sir Bill Thomas spent 25 years working in diverse roles in Systems Designers, SD-Scicon and their acquirer, Electronic Data Systems. The British companies merged into and, some would say, transformed the US giant, EDS, and Bill eventually ran the EMEA operation and then oversaw its transition into Hewlett Packard Enterprise Services.  Bill was determined in his youth to study Mathematics and work in Defence, inspired by his father’s service career.  He combined an active passion for sport with doing enough at school to get started on his career plan and had early roles in mathematical modelling and signal processing, first in Marconi and then SD. 

Within EDS, Bill applied his skills to business management and achieved a notable success in a ground-breaking transformation deal with Rolls Royce.  Building on that success he was involved in developing the EDS business model, then managing a large part of the company, becoming the first British member of the Executive Committee.  Since 2009 Bill has pursued a portfolio career as chair and NED in tech and other businesses and charitable bodies.  He was an advisor to the Labour party in opposition on defence procurement and small businesses.  He was knighted in the 2020 New Year Honours list. 

Peta Walmisley

Peta (or Pepita to be formal) Walmisley is well known to many in IT through her association with important industry institutions, seemingly popping up wherever there is an organisational challenge to be sorted out.  Peta worked for the British Computer Society (now the BCS The Chartered Institute for IT) from 1968 to 2004 in various roles, most recently as External Relations Manager. From 1987 to 2001 She was also secretary of the The Council of European Professional Informatics Societies (CEPIS, the representative body of national informatics associations throughout greater Europe). From 1987 to 1992 she helped found The Worshipful Company of Information Technologists as the clerk. With 50 years in pivotal roles around the industry she has some unique insights into its history.

Peta’s previous experience perhaps explains how she found this part in the IT industry; conjuring up an image of an accomplished and formidable multi-talented manager, with finely honed interpersonal skills and a diverse range of interests. She trained with Hardy Amies in Savile Row, and worked for an Australian Americas Cup Team in Newport, Rhode Island (and is a keen sailor).  As an Aspen ski lodge au pair she was known as the Red Bomber on the slopes and in a California bank put out fires (in the photocopier room).

John Poulter

John Poulter is a well known figure of the IT industry who has had an important influence through his participation in the industry bodies and his knowledge of the issues, people, organisations and technology. John’s career CV demonstrates a diversity of experience, from teacher to taxi driver, of which IT is just a part, perhaps giving him the perspective for his roles as observer and historian of the industry. John is a chartered engineer, a professional member of the British Computer Society, and a Chartered IT Professional. During his professional career he worked as system analyst and Management and Systems Consultant.

John is a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists and was the archivist of the WCIT from 2009 to 2021. He received the Mercury Special Recognition Award from the WCIT in May 2022. He is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and contributed to the foundation of the Archives of IT. John shares some fascinating lessons from life and insights into the industry.

Ben Wood

As a graduate trainee at Vodafone in 1985, Ben Wood little realised the significance of the industry he was joining. “Who would have thought the mobile phone would become the most prolific electronics device on the planet?” he says.

In 2020, Ben set up the Mobile Phone Museum, which has hundreds of handsets ranging from the earliest devices to collectors’ gems such as the Huawei KFC phone, emblazoned in red and engraved with an image of Colonel Sanders.

Although currently virtual, the aim is for the museum to have a physical pop-up exhibition by 2025, in time for the 40-year anniversary of the first mobile phone call made in the UK.

Ben is also chief analyst and chief marketing officer at CCS Insight, a consultancy focused on connected technology, which he has helped grow from three people in the UK to a global team of 30.

Ben was not hugely academic at school, but flourished at university, especially during a year’s work placement at Texas Instruments in the south of France. “I had a luggable laptop, desktop computer and an email address, which was quite exciting at the time,” he says, “a trigger for making tech part of my life.”

Working for an American multinational proved a “wonderful immersion” in the way IT was evolving. It also taught him how to build empathy with people and maximise business relationship. He worked his way up through the industry until, in 2001, he became the youngest ever research VP at Gartner.

Still a consultant, Ben has never lost his love of gadgetry, and changes his phone every three to five weeks. This keeps him up-to-date with the latest in foldable phones, wrap-around screens, 5G, and connectivity with smart-watches, smart-glasses and headphones. He even wears a ring that functions as a credit card.

Such devices will play an increasing role in healthcare over the next few years, he says, perhaps measuring blood sugar and body temperature as well as heart-rate and sleep patterns.

In 2020, Ben set up the Mobile Phone Museum, which has hundreds of handsets ranging from the earliest devices to collectors’ gems such as the Huawei KFC phone, emblazoned in red and engraved with an image of Colonel Sanders.

Although currently virtual, the aim is for the museum to have a physical pop-up exhibition by 2025, in time for the 40-year anniversary of the first mobile phone call made in the UK.

Ben is also chief analyst and chief marketing officer at CCS Insight, a consultancy focused on connected technology, which he has helped grow from three people in the UK to a global team of 30.

Dave Miles

As Director of Safety Policy at Meta (formerly Facebook) for Europe, Middle East and Africa, Dave Miles has more than thirty years of executive management experience in the technology, regulatory and charitable sectors.

Among Dave’s significant career moments was his participation in the Child Dignity in the Digital World Congress and 2017 Declaration of Rome, returning to the Vatican in 2019 to respond on Facebook’s behalf to the Pope’s call to action.

He is optimistic that technology can now provide safer solutions for young people, and says the industry is highly motivated to keep its platforms safe, so that people will continue to use them.

“The challenge will be about balancing privacy and safety for young people. The UK’s draft Online Safety Bill is very exciting and Meta looks forward to its publication,” he says. “If we get it right here in the UK, other countries will follow. In 10 years, the internet will be a more mature, regulated environment and we will stop perhaps calling it the “Wild West.”

Anthony Hodson

Anthony Hodson comes from a distinguished academic and professional background and was one of four sons who all gained Eton Scholarships.  Fascinated by technology, Anthony broke from the main stream of Eton/Oxford to go into the nascent digital computing industry.

He started his 46-year career in IT as a mathematician in the aviation division of Elliott Brothers where he used an early minicomputer, the Elliott 803 and worked in the UK and the USA for the company.

He carried out field research on mainframe-based distributed business systems for the Diebold Research Programme.  He worked for Sperry Gyroscope and was in the thick of ICL as its mainframe business collapsed.  He championed the X.500 Directory standard there and in his own consultancy.

Anthony has supported charitable activities through the Mercers’ Company and Gresham College.

Dr Hayaatun Sillem, CBE

Dr Hayaatun Sillem says the value of education and the self-coaching mindset her parents instilled in her as she grew up in west London has been a guiding principle all her life. The desire to make a positive contribution to society has been another key goal.

 Both are values she is pursuing at the Royal Academy of Engineering, where she has been Chief Executive since 2018, leading a team of some 140 staff, and overseeing a budget of more than £50m.

In 2019, the Financial Times named Dr Sillem the 4th most influential woman in UK engineering, and this year Computer Weekly ranked her the 7th most influential woman in tech.

But with a mixed race background, and parents of modest means, her proudest achievement is having stuck with an internal voice of doubt and a sense of differentness. She is a leading voice on diversity and inclusion in and beyond engineering, and co-chaired the Hamilton Commission on improving representation of black people in UK motorsport with Sir Lewis Hamilton.

There is a “massive diversity deficit in engineering,” she says “And this really matters because engineering and technology are everywhere in our lives. The people who develop deliver, maintain and upgrade the products and services we all rely on every day are currently way too unrepresentative of the society they serve. And that is not good for us as a profession.” It is a balance she is striving to redress.

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