Opinion: The 10 Most Influential People in IT of 2011

Transforming information technology depends on the creative brainpower of countless people who cannot be reduced to a handful of individuals. However, the vision and impact of a few can drive and amplify change, which could accelerate in 2012, as our computing environment becomes more mobile and is challenging new frontiers. Here is my list of the people whom you may want to have on your watch list for the new year.

10. Jeffrey Jaffe, CEO, W3C

As the man in charge at the World Wide Web Consortium, Jeffrey Jaffe, in collaboration with W3C director and WWW inventor Tim-Berners Lee, has the last say about new standards that reshape the Internet and the way we use it. HTML5 will become an increasingly visible technology next year (and become standard in 2013) as Adobe Flash fades; HTML5 applications will begin to rival the usability and appearance of desktop apps in cross-platform environments; and especially, as Microsoft promises an increase in respect regarding web standards. Jaffe’s responsibility is to put a structure in place that enables a smooth transition from innovation to sensible and scalable standards for web applications.

9. Virginia Rometty, CEO, IBM

“Ginni” Rometty was elected to the top post at the IT icon, which employs almost 427,000 people worldwide. Her predecessor, Sam Palmisano, transformed IBM from what appeared to be a slow-moving, almost stale organization. While IBM has successfully retained its core values much more than some of its competitors, the company has become a dynamic giant that is likely to be much more flexible in outrunning its rival, HP, in both services and cloud computing innovation. Most importantly, IBM drives the cutting edge and innovation of supercomputing faster than anyone else at this time. IBM was the first company to outline the vision of a 100 petaflop supercomputer. The reputation of the U.S. leading the high-end of computing could mainly rely on IBM in the years to come.

8. Burt Rutan, Founder, Scaled Composites

Rutan has had a long career in aircraft design and may have realized his dream with SpaceShipOne, which became the first privately built, flown, and funded manned aircraft to reach space in 2004. The design hasn’t been discarded though, as Virgin Galactic will be using Rutan’s design for its commercial space flight business. With the help of a $200 million investment from Paul Allen, Rutan is now developing Stratolaunch, which envisions a launch of spaceships in midair from the world’s largest aircraft and provides an opportunity to make space travel much more affordable. What Elon Musk’s SpaceX does for NASA, Stratolaunch may do for the general public by enabling us to fly into space one day. Consider Rutan living the extended dream of Homer Hickam.

7. Jeff Bezos, CEO, Amazon.com

When an entire industry failed to follow the lead of Apple into a new market opportunity, it was Bezos’s Amazon.com that understood a vision of tablet computing devices that are believed to have every chance of ruling a world of service-driven compact computers. It trumps all other tablet makers by having a huge commerce platform that is complemented by entertainment services, which could lead to subsidized tablets that may be entirely free to acquire at some point. Apple may control the $500+ tablet market, but Amazon has the sub $200 category and the power to build a new empire on top of it. Bezos is often criticized for his eccentric, unpredictable management style, but that is often a trait that makes leaders stand out from the masses – and enables a company to succeed.

6. Marc Pincus, CEO, Zynga

Mark Zuckerberg may be ruling the social world, but Pincus and other large app developers are driving the popularity of Facebook. Like a traditional operating system, Facebook (and its revenues) will increasingly depend on applications that draw user interest. Zynga currently has more than 222 million active users within Facebook, which is more than four times the users EA attracts on Facebook, almost four times the users of Microsoft, and seven times the users of Wooga. As an app developer, it is stunning to see that Zynga’s employee count is about the same as Facebook’s (about 3,000). Its market value is estimated to be around $15 to $20 billion. Its upcoming IPO is expected to raise approximately $1 billion in funding for the company.

5. Sundar Pichai, Senior Vice President, Chrome, Google

Sundar Pichai is driving Google’s Chrome efforts. Google reportedly gave Pichai $50 million earlier this year as an incentive to stay with the company, which highlights the importance of an executive that may stand above everyone else at Google at this time. Chrome has the keys to lock Google users into using Google Search, which ultimately secures Google’s core revenues. Chrome just exceeded the market share of Firefox, according to StatCounter. Current statistics indicated that Chrome may be touching IE’s share by mid-2012. Chrome itself is on a road of success, but Chrome OS is a problem Pichai will have to make work. In the long-term, Chrome OS could turn into a weapon that could attract mainstream users below the Windows market.

4. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, Facebook

No surprises here. Zuckerberg may have a subscription to a place on this list for some time. Facebook has an estimated 800 million users, more than a trillion page views, more than $4 billion in revenue (estimated), a potential market valuation at somewhere between $70 and $80 billion. Not bad for a company that was founded not even eight years ago. Not only is Facebook driving and evolving the trend of social networking, it is also increasingly powerful in challenging Google for advertising revenue and creating new high-end computing capabilities.

3. Steve Jobs

Is it appropriate to mention Steve Jobs on this list and not Tim Cook, Apple’s new CEO? I believe so. Whether you liked Steve Jobs or hated him, he became larger than life and his legacy will stay with Apple and us for years to come. Jobs’s vision for a cohesive, cross-platform computing model inspired and transformed technology as we understand and use it today. It will be nearly impossible for Tim Cook to step out of the shadow of Jobs and create his own legacy. Jobs not only left the design for Apple’s new HQ, but reportedly left years of product plans with Apple as well. Those plans may change, but Cook may remain, for many years, the apprentice of Jobs and the guy who merely executes the vision of someone else.

2. Steven Sinofsky, President, Windows Division, Microsoft

Sinofsky carries the burden of introducing the most aggressive Windows OS transition in 18 years. Like Windows 95, Windows 8, due for a 2012 release, will alter Windows in a disruptive way and test Microsoft’s ability to change user behavior. Sinofsky is in charge of a Windows version that promotes touch-input over the mouse and keyboard, which is, by any measure, not a slam dunk yet. If he succeeds, he may have a unique opportunity at Microsoft, as he is already rumored to be in a position to succeed Steve Ballmer as the company’s CEO. If he fails and Windows 8 flops, the damage could be greater than the damage Windows Vista caused. Sinofsky may not follow Ballmer, but might follow Jim Allchin. Allchin had to take responsibility for Windows Vista and “retired” in 2007. By the way, Allchin is now a musician.

1. Warren East, CEO, ARM

Among IT Goliaths, ARM is David. With just 1,700 employees, Warren East has responsibility for just 20 percent of the workforce that Paul Otellini’s Intel controls. Yet ARM is a threat to Intel on a much larger scale than AMD or Samsung ever was. ARM develops only processor IP, but its customers have built and shipped more than 1.9 billion ARM-based processors for phones, tablets, and mobile computers, as well as consumer and digital devices in the third quarter of this year alone. East’s ARM is building an army of soldiers that occupy the low-end of computing, but will be expanding their reach into mainstream computing as Windows 8 will be running on ARM chips as well. So far, East has navigated ARM through a quickly evolving market without any hiccups. In 2012, there will be the first challenge as ARM architectures will have to compete with Intel, and East has to prove that his “little engine that could” can compete with a chip manufacturer that has learned to deliver its best products under great pressure.

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  • ksampanna
    Whether you liked Steve Jobs or hated him, he became larger than life and his legacy will stay with Apple and us for years to come

    Ok so what about Dennis Ritchie ?? Will his legacy (UNIX & C) die within a few years ??
    I understand the tabloids & other media cold-shouldering Ritchie, they're ignorant anyway; but a respected tech publication as yours should atleast not follow in their footsteps ...
  • julius 85
    What "new high-end computing capabilities" is Facebook creating?
  • jryan388
    I hate Zynga SOOOO MUCH
  • Other Comments
  • jryan388
    I hate Zynga SOOOO MUCH
  • julius 85
    What "new high-end computing capabilities" is Facebook creating?
  • larap
    Good list, solid. I'd personally bump Steve Jobs up to the number one spot, though. He's definitely the highest ranking tech person on most of the most influential people of 2011 lists I've seen...