Exeleon Magazine

Interview with Amanda Brock – CEO of OpenUK

CEO Amanda Brock

It is rare to see authentic leaders with a desire to serve, improve, and grow. However, for Amanda Brock, being authentic stands at the very core of her values. In an exclusive interview with Exeleon magazine, the CEO of OpenUK, talks about her vision and ideologies, and more importantly talks about her organization’s journey and its contributions.

What according to you makes for an influential leader? How do you integrate the same thought into your leadership?

Influence is something that I believe grows from respect and credibility. It’s important to me to act with integrity and to be authentic and present, to earn that respect. People will only follow leaders they believe in, in the long term. This is particularly so in the kind of organization I lead where a large percentage of the people doing the work are volunteers. It’s also really important in an open source organization to keep up to date as far as you can with technology and what’s going on in the world, to stay relevant.

What prompted the inception of OpenUK? Talk to us about the 3 pillars of the company.

OpenUK had been set up prior to my joining, but the opportunity in my joining was to reinvent the organization and create the geographical organization of the future for Open Technology, in a post Brexit UK. This geopolitical shift for the UK was a very distinct one. With a clear date and time, unlike many of the other geopolitical shifts we are seeing. I and our leadership team and Board have taken the opportunity to shape an organization which is global first.

Anyone who understands technology as we digitalize our business and public sectors across the planet, knows that data is at the heart of what we are doing with software in both business and in the public sector. Adding data to our existing open source software remit made sense. As software and hardware evolve, the lines between them blur, and adding hardware also made sense. It was natural to add both, and as the three seemed to cover anything open, we could think of, the Three Opens as my Board member John Laban christened them, were born.

We are the first industry organization to formally shift from open source software to Open Technology and I suspect many will follow.

As well as the three opens we work on our three pillars, Community, Legal and Policy and Learning. Community allows us to celebrate the amazing people working in this space in the UK through Awards, Honors, and the like, but also to bring them together and to create a cohesive voice for them. This allows us to have influence, this power of community. We use that through our Legal group who respond to all relevant legislation proposals in the UK and Europe and also in some instances in the US. We also use it on the policy side, where we work to support the UK having the most appropriate policies for Open Technology in both business and the public sector.

Of course, to build the community of the future we must have an eye to our third pillar, Learning. We are working to encourage young people to develop skills around Open Technology to build those future communities.

We also made quite a bold move in changing the basis of our constituency, shifting from being like the other country organizations which represent small home-grown companies in Open only, to representing those working in the business of Open. This is really important in the UK, whereas the biggest contributor to open source software in Europe, the UK has a huge business community working for international companies and for non-technology companies.

In our report, State of Open: The UK in 2021, we started by establishing the facts re the UK. It was incredible to demonstrate that open source alone can contribute up to £43.1bn a year to UK GDP. If we use Tech Nation’s recent figures that means open-source software contributes 20% of the UK Digital Economy. What’s even more amazing is that we based this on existing out of date figures as those were provable. My own view is that we are contributing at least double and possibly triple that!

Phase Two shares the results of our survey and we’ll share that 97% of UK companies interviewed are using open-source software and 89% running it in their businesses. That is just incredible.

So, circling back to why we shifted the constituency… we have this incredible, diverse business community around open source software and Open Technology generally. We wanted to pull them together whether they work for a UK company or not. The voice we are building is all of theirs.

Being the CEO, what role do you play in the day-to-day proceedings of the company?

Although OpenUK is a not-for-profit company or NGO, we operate it like a boot strapping start up and are very lean and hands on. Much of our leadership team are volunteers. This means my role is diverse and busy. I get to work on big strategy pieces but also sometimes need to role my sleeves up to get things over the line.

We are lucky to have amazing partners like Dr Jennifer Bath at Smoothmedia, who I have worked really closely with on our Reports.  Actually, we shared Phase Two, our survey output on 7 July. When we were writing the acknowledgements, I realized that it has been created by an all-female team – from the economists to the social scientists to the web developer and graphic designer. It wasn’t intentional but I do wonder if that might be a first in the tech sectors.

We also have great sponsors supporting our work and who understand the vision and opportunity an organization like OpenUK brings.

I have learned a load of new skills through my time in OpenUK, like Editing the Kids Ezines and Producing the animated digital skills course for the Kids Digital Camp. I can be supporting our legal group submitting an amicus brief in the Google v Oracle litigation one day and supporting our organizing catering for an event the next. For me that’s great as I like to mix it up a bit and feel like I am honing a variety of skills. My legal background is a great fall back too, it makes the policy work so much easier, and the legal requirements of any business are often a sticking point for CEO’s but simple for me.

Looking back, what would you have done different when starting out?

Nothing – I am content with my life and have no major regrets. Yes, I could have gone down different paths and I have turned down a number of roles which would have made me quite rich. However, I have never been driven by money. I am driven by what’s interesting and I have made decisions that mean I have been lucky to work on some amazing projects and developments, from the adoption of the internet in the 90’s to the early stages of the commercialization of open source software in Europe. I have also been able to have some influence on policy that has impacted laws around these which is rewarding.

What would be your advice for aspiring and emerging business leaders?

Be as authentic and true to who you are as you can be. My experience is that people become very unhappy when they are not authentic. No matter how much they try to pretend or suppress themselves, eventually that inauthentic behavior will out, and that’s where people struggle as they progress in life.

What has been the biggest roadblock during your journey? What has been your biggest learning?

My biggest learning has to be that it is OK to be me. In fact, understanding that being me is the only way I will be happy or succeed. I feel that I very much identified with the role of being a lawyer for a long time. That role comes with certain obligations to a company and these feed the idea of being restricted. Being a CEO really suits me. It allows me to play to much more to my strengths and I am really glad I took the risk and made the change.

What is the future like for OpenUK?

OpenUK has a really bright future. We have so much opportunity ahead of us and so much to contribute to the UK as well as to share and collaborate on globally.

We will spend the next two years, continuing the work to demonstrate the value and strength of UK open source and influencing the UK to build on this, showcasing our community and encouraging learning and skills development with a kids course and Future Founders training in the autumn. However, I suspect that the next two years will bring a strong focus on Sustainability and Security.

In terms of Sustainability, I am firmly of the view that for technology to be Sustainable, to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the Digital Development Principles, then technology needs to be Open. We will be hosting a Sustainability and Open Technology Day at COP26, thanks to our sponsor Federated Hermes.

On the Security front, President Biden shared an Order on security on 12 May 2021, and specifically called out open-source software and the need for Bills of Materials for it. The great thing about that is that our sector has been working towards good governance for a decade and we have a project called SPDX which provides these SBOM’s.

However, security is an issue for all software, whether open source or not. To my mind there has never been a point in time where Governments have been more focused on security and the risk of bad actors. This is no surprise when we consider that our businesses and public sector are entirely reliant on digital infrastructure as a consequence of digital transformation.

On a personal front, where do you see yourself standing in the coming years?

I am lucky to be on a number of Advisory Boards for both industry organizations and businesses. I really enjoy this work and suspect that I will do more and more of this strategic guidance to business and public sector over the next decade. At 52 (my birthday is mid-August) I am incredibly lucky that I am healthy and full of energy, so I am looking forward to many more years of working in tech. It really keeps me on my toes – both staying relevant and learning.

I write and speak internationally, primarily for the tech sector, on a very regular basis speaking at a hundred plus events in a year. This requires quite a bit of thought, working through a wide variety of issues and challenges in preparation for these. I hope to be able to do more and more of this as time goes by.

Read Digital Version of the Magazine.

Visit OpenUK Website

Contact Amanda Brock on LinkedIn.

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