Tech Industry

10 tech heroes of 2013

In a year of high-profile controversies and failures for IT, people still found ways to use technology to make life better for others. You may recognize some of these folks; others might surprise you.
 
hero
 

Every year, there are heroes and villains across all industries. Though it's much easier to point out the villains, the heroes are the ones who should really be getting the attention. Within the world of technology, there were quite a lot of ups and downs in 2013. For this article, I want to focus on the ups – the heroes. These are people who invented, used, or promoted technology in a way to better a group of people or society in general or to further the reach of technology itself. You might find your own hero on this list -- or you might find someone you consider to be a villain. (That's where perspective comes into play.) Either way, 2013 was an exciting year and I want to applaud a few of those who made it so.

1: Ed Snowden

Ed Snowden was a whistle blower the likes of which the world has never seen. Many consider him a villain. I, on the other hand, hold him up in the hero category for one simple reason: His disclosure of classified documents unveiled the NSA's mass surveillance program. Snowden's goal was "...to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them." Prior to this leak, the public was unaware of the depth of surveillance and the true nature of government secrecy. His disclosures have also had major implications for those in the technology field.

2: George Takei

 George Takei is not only a hero in the world of Star Trek, he is an unsung hero of equality. In 2013, Takei took his charge to social platforms like Twitter and Facebook to spread the word of love and compassion (with a mighty sense of humor) for all. Takei has helped bring the spotlight on bullying and inequality in a way few others have. And thanks to social networking, Takei's voice (literally and figuratively) has spread like the meme it deserves to be.

3: Chuck Hull

Chuck Hull is the co-founder of 3D Systems. If that doesn't ring a bell, all I need to say is 3D printing. That's right, Hull has helped to bring three-dimensional printing into the household and turn it into a revolution. With the help of 3D printing, the manufacturing process has become something even a single-owner business can master. The year 2013 was a major blastoff for 3D printing and Chuck Hull, and 3D Systems will see to it that the years to come continue to broaden the horizons for this miraculous technology.

4: Mark Shuttleworth

Mark Shuttleworth wound up in the center of controversy within the open source community. Many in the community pointed fingers of blame at Shuttleworth for moving away from the Wayland X Server to an in-house solution. Nearly everyone was up in arms. But Shuttleworth had a vision, one that could easily skyrocket the usage of Linux on the desktop and mobile platforms. I give Shuttleworth this nod for sticking to his plan and continuing to make Ubuntu Linux one of the most user-friendly Linux distributions on the planet. If Shuttleworth has his way, Linux will become a household name.

5: Estella Pyfrom

Estella Pyfrom is probably not a name many of you know – but it should be. This amazing Florida woman used her life savings to create a mobile computer lab (Estella's Brilliant Bus), which provides a mobile tutoring program for thousands of low-income students in the Palm Beach County area. Pyfrom doesn't consider her brainchild just “a bus,” but “a movement.” With the help of her Brilliant Bus, Estella Pyfrom is bridging the digital gap so that less fortunate children can get their hands on technology and level the playing field.

6: Dr. Laura Stachel

Dr. Laura Stachel created the "solar suitcase" to enable healthcare workers to deliver babies in more than 20 underprivileged countries. The primary focus is for women to be able to have babies safely and with dignity. Stachel was inspired to develop the suitcase when she discovered many women and babies were dying simply from a lack of proper lighting during the birthing process. With the help of the suitcase, births can now happen with adequate lighting as well as power. The suitcase also aids in numerous other treatments for the sick.

7: Jen Vargas

Jen Vargas wanted to be a Google Glass explorer, so she turned to her community to raise the funds to achieve that goal. But then something special happened. Jen gave back. With her Google Glass Explorer status, she used her glass to start the grass roots initiative Glass4Good. Jen used her Glass to help improve the city of Orlando and other local non-profits. Her efforts have gone to help organizations such as Give Kids the World, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, New Hope for Kids, and a Gift for Teaching. Jen has proved that grassroots efforts do pay off and that sometimes a return investment can go much further than you might expect.

8: Boston Marathon bombing investigators

When the tragedy occurred during the Boston Marathon, the police reacted with efficiency and remarkable humanity. They used every piece of technology that had at their disposal (surveillance video, private video, thermal imagery, robotics, data analytics) and quickly located the suspects. There is no way to proclaim this a “win,” when lives were lost and ruined and innocent humans were disfigured. But in the end, the heroism of the police and other authorities can't go without mention. This is one occasion where the smartphone (and its video cameras) proved its value.

9: Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook. That in and of itself should be impressive enough to land her on the list of 2013 tech heroes. Many consider her to have been the single most powerful woman in technology during 2013. In March 2013, she published her book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, which sold nearly 150,000 copies in its first week and held the top spot in nonfiction for quite some time. Being in charge of the operations of the largest and most popular Web site on the planet solidifies Sandberg as a hero of 2013.

10: Amy Parnell

Amy Parnell is the principal designer for LinkedIn. She led the redesign of the LinkedIn homepage and profile pages, which helped make LinkedIn one of the best means of networking for businesses and technology. Her skills extend to engineering, Web development, and data science. I believe she will be a superstar in the years to come, so I hand her a 2013 hero award for technology.

Other heroes?

There you go -- my heroes of 2013. Some have had a tremendous impact on technology and some have used technology to have a positive impact on others. Heroes come in all shapes, sizes, and forms, but their deeds all serve a singular purpose: to better the world.

What tech heroes would you add to this list? Join the discussion and share your own picks.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

70 comments
PeterLeeson
PeterLeeson

Not a single non American on the list? Either the rest of the world has not yet signed up to the Internet or the author is too US-centric to notice that a large portion of the Universe lies beyond the US frontiers.

dunerat
dunerat

Why is the traitor on this list?  All he did was break the law.  He didn't do anything technologically important.  Replace him with Elon Musk or better, Gwen Shotwell, you know, somebody who actually Did something this year.

triggerguy
triggerguy

You're congratulating the cops who needlessly and arguably illegally searched random peoples homes while holding them at gunpoint and still failed to find the suspect...  

Robert04101
Robert04101

I would add Elon Musk. SpaceX becomes the first private company to achieve orbital docking. Tesla Motors wins global awards for the Model S, a car that is not only technically brilliant but achieves commercial success.

toucansam3
toucansam3

Edward Snowden is a hero? He breaks open the NSA's spy program in the name of openness and freedom, yet the country he high tails it to first is China and then Russia, two countries which monitor their citizens more than the NSA ever could. Do none of you see the irony in that?

bicyclebob
bicyclebob

Look at all the mockingbirds in the comments, astroturfing for the NSA :-)

securityforfreedom
securityforfreedom

Edward Snowden is a hero. The fact that there isn't blood in the streets over these revelations shows just how far America has fallen. What a shit hole.

LobsterPenguin
LobsterPenguin

Why isn't Greg Gopman on this list? Judging from the enormous horde of techies who rushed to his defense he's clearly your real hero this year.

Barbara65
Barbara65

Mark Hovroth, of Invisible People http://invisiblepeople.tv/blog/ using his Google Glass and social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.), as well, to help bring awareness to homelessness. Hanes recently donated socks to the homeless due to his cause. He's getting awareness out there!

bergerje
bergerje

Chris Hadfield is one of my tech heroes. He reinvigorated the excitement over space with his skillful videos and photo tweeting. He created a generation of children who are looking up at the stars again, wondering if they could visit them. That's powerful and that's a hero.

JaynaDH
JaynaDH

Colonel Chris Hadfield. He used social media (not to mention space tech) to share an experience that few have had, and he helped people achieve a new view of their world.

chezfisto
chezfisto

Boston Marathon bombing investigators?  You mean like the people on Reddit who falsely accused a Saudi student who was totally innocent?

themattylee
themattylee

The NSA spies on people. In other breaking news, Burger King makes hamburgers and the Yankees are a baseball team. 

dhjohns
dhjohns

I can not believe you included Snowden on this list.  He is an absolutely narcissistic criminal.  There is NOTHING he exposed that I didn't know about.  I believe that the NSA is doing everything it can to protect the U.S. and is doing a GREAT job.  They DO NOT listen in to phone calls or anything else.  They just collect data.  This is a good thing, and all the Edward Snowdens should be thrown in jail for industrial espionage or whatever.  There is no one I know in the tech industry who thinks other than he is a criminal who should be put away.

WebTek2
WebTek2

Some good choices Jack. Thanks for sharing.

mudpuppy1
mudpuppy1

Snowden? Most of the others? You continue to prove you are clueless. What do most on this list have to do with tech? Snowden would have been more of a hero if he hadn't released actual secrets (for which he is a villain) but just the fact that the NSA was spying on everyone.

jmarkdavis
jmarkdavis

Snowden? Takei? And a long list of so-what? You forgot Roger Federer and Britney Spears. Total waste of time. How do I permanently unfollow this guy?

Rangarajan Suresh
Rangarajan Suresh

Anyone who proclaims Ed Snowden as a hero, in my opinion, is nuts. Was I glad when Time magazine did not choose him as the man of the year – I would have lost all respect for Time had that happened

Our privacy is at the Government’s fingertips - correct -- as if it was ever completely protected --  many private institutions have more information about us than we are willing to admit to ourselves. While I would prefer this snooping in a more informed way (targeting specific interests) and not a brute-force snoop on everyone approach, it does not bother me per se – it is like being on the highway and seeing a police car with lights spinning behind you – as long as you have not violated any traffic laws, you have nothing to worry about that car behind you.

Russia among the nations he was choosing asylum from and these countries are clean? -- That is a joke

He is a whistle blower – correct. But that is all. Calling him a tech hero – also a joke. What has he really contributed to tech, to be considered one? It is like claiming that the first person to report that Amazon.com is testing delivering packages using drones is a hero. Not the person(s) who actually are developing this technology.

And what bothers me the most is that he is (or based on what the media is saying) offering to help these countries if they gave him asylum. He could have handled this in a much more clean manner and still get his message out, stayed here and “fought”. His best chance of doing that was in the US and I daresay it still is. 

niksad8
niksad8

wtf??

what kind of list is this?? i would never count any of those as TECH heros!

redesigning linkedin makes you a tech hero? how did they contribute to tech, they just fulfilled their need/desire to make more money.

COO of facebook belongs in Mangement Heros, what has she contributed to tech?

only 3 and 4 are worth mentioning, the rest dont belong here at all.

TomMariner
TomMariner

Six out of ten made social / political contributions with little knowledge or talent in technology. The headline says "Tech".

dvs2rockin
dvs2rockin

Shouldnt you consider Aaron Swartz as the hero of internet as well??

jdcnservices
jdcnservices

I don't see how anyone can be a "hero" because of Facebook.  2013 is the year I left Facebook.


As far as Snowden goes, really?  His critics overly demonize him while his proponents overly lionize him.  Maybe his motives were well-intentioned, but then again maybe not.  If he had not have fled to Russia -- now THERE is a bastion of political freedom! -- then perhaps his whole story would have been more believable in my eyes.  In any event, his was a political story, not a technological one.

jimmanis
jimmanis

I keep hearing that Snowden harmed the U.S., but so far I haven't seen the evidence. What, precisely, "harm" has he done? A few heads-of-state have been embarrassed by the publication of the fact that they all spy on one another. Certainly, they could not have been so foolish as to believe that this was not taking place, so the harm, presumably is in the publication of it?

bjsmith
bjsmith

I might have considered Snowden a hero if he had stuck around to face the legal consequences of his actions, and if he'd been more selective about how much information he stole and what he chose to release. As it is, he's admitted to committing serious crimes and he ran and hid. I don't think he even qualifies for your list as someone who "invented, used, or promoted technology" any more than the hackers who "used" technology to steal Target customers' account information.

"Force" is right. Stick with the truly technical expertise.

Force
Force

Lamest article of the year.  We enjoy the technical information and analysis on this site.  We don't come here to listen to political commentary.  

There are plenty of sites and sources with authors trying to make political statements.  We don't need it at Tech Republic.

tracychess
tracychess

@securityforfreedom Eric Snowden is number one hero.  It's perfectly clear by reading the comments below.  No-one on the list receives more hatred than Eric - clearly he is the on who made the most difference. If you want to make a difference, prepare for vitriol. Every comment against Eric is actually a vote in his favor.

boomergran
boomergran

@dhjohns And since we, the citizens, are doing such a good job of spying on each other (and publishing it on FB, Twitter, and every other form of social media) what's the Big Deal? Anyone who thinks 1) that NSA has the time to listen to your mundane phone conversations; 2) your next-door neighbor would be happy to rat you out - rightly or wrongly - and save the government the cost of surveillance; or 3) you expose more about yourself with every tweet, post, selfie, and attendance at rallies, is living in a fantasy world.


So Snowden found sanctuary in the country with the biggest citizen-infiltrating and -imprisoning the world knows. What does that make him now?

RepublicKen
RepublicKen

If there was nothing he exposed that you did not know about, then he exposed no secrets, and therefore did not commit 'treason'. On the other hand, by exceeding the limits placed on it by the Costitution and Federal Law, the ones doing the spying on private citizens are the actual traitors.

lo1337as
lo1337as

@dhjohns Like my main man Ben Franklin once said: "People who are willingly to sacrifice their freedom and liberty for security deserve neither."

jeasterlingtech
jeasterlingtech

@dhjohns some of what Snowden did was wrong some of how he did it was wrong BUT the government spying on friendly governments and innocent citizens is very wrong. all it would take is a corrupt administration to decide one step further and all the worst dictatorships in history would look like child's play next to it.

remember other traitors from our history Washington Addams the founding fathers were all traitors to England

i am in the tech industry i wish he had done things differently but for the most part i am glad they were done 

eaglewolf
eaglewolf

Thank you .. I share your feeling about Snowden - an outright traitor.  It is NOT the decision of the general populace, who understands *nothing* about International security, to make the decisions of how the NSA should be run and what it does.

This is not Facebook and I think the attitude of social networkers that everything about them and the world should be public knowledge goes far beyond common sense and safety, both personal and otherwise.  And that the general populace should have *anything* to do with decisions affecting the nation's security is not only insane on the face of it, but the most dangerous thing we could do.

The person laughing the hardest and longest at our headlong rush of the social media set and technologically incompetent politicians to destroy our capabilities in world security is ... Putin.  Does anyone think our lunacy will be adopted by other countries?   Of course not.

Note to Jack:   both putting Snowden on this list .. and first in line, no less, immediately stopped my reading of your article.  The others may have made major contributions, but .. sorry, your judgement is compromised.

GMJaeger
GMJaeger

@Rangarajan Suresh  And yet, Time magazine once named Adolph Hitler as the 1938's Man of the Year, and Joseph Stalin twice in 1939 and 1942, not mentionning Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979. Time magazine's choices are based on the person's impact on the international level, positive or negative. And in that matter, Ed Snowden was a logical candidate to this 'award'.


Call him a Tech anti-hero for that matter, but his revelations were based on an spying program that affected not online telecoms but also the cyberworld. So it's indeed related to Tech.


Defacto, you should not base your information from the US media centers, there's hardly any news network being completely neutral, as he never offered to help Russia in the first place. And fought against what, death penalty or life-long sentence with possibility of torture by the CIA? Right, because The Land of the ''Free'' has hardly done that for ''National Security'' purpose...

thebaldguy
thebaldguy

@jdcnservicesI left in 2012. What did me in was getting a good look at "creator" Zuckerberg. No way I'm helping that weenie get rich.

John-D
John-D

@jimmanis Making this information public is a distraction for the NSA and an international embarrassment to the U.S.  There is plenty of harm caused by these alone.  The question that should be asked is; what did Snowden contribute to technology or the public good.

dunerat
dunerat

@jeasterlingtech Obviously you don't understand what the NSA programs were doing, why they were doing them, or how International Relations works.  Point the First: there are no friendly governments.  Point the Second: Yes, in fact, they all do the exact same things, and they're usually a lot less nice about it.  Point the Third: Everything Snowden "exposed" had already been vetted by judicial oversight and deemed both legal and worthwhile in response to a clear and present danger to the safety and security of the United States of America.  Research, it's your friend.

securityforfreedom
securityforfreedom

@eaglewolf Here's a tip for international security: don't bomb muslims. Or anyone for that  matter. Christ, at war since Korea and you wonder why planes get flown into your buildings?

dunerat
dunerat

@GMJaeger Based on the criteria you specified, Snowden doesn't even come close to qualifying.  He's not a hero, anti- or otherwise.  he's just a narcissistic coward that can't even be bothered to use the legal options for whistleblowing that are available to him.  And your facts are wrong: His revelations didn't have anything to do with tech, whether in advancement, education, whatever; Russia's own news organs released his offers to give them information, as did China's (though the Chinese were probably just copypastaing the Russian releases); and had he simply used the already available, legal whistleblowing resources available, he wouldn't have anything to "fight" against.

jimmanis
jimmanis

@John-D@jimmanisWhat harm? The Nixon administration used these same vague excuses. The request is for specific examples, not vague generalities.

RepublicKen
RepublicKen

The Nixon Administration was spotless compared to our last two democrat presidents.

dunerat
dunerat

@RacingCowboy No he didn't, he waited until he was faced with the threat of impeachment.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen moderator

@jimmanis@John-DIt's the same harm done to the U.S. during the 90s when the rest of the world was laughing at the U.S., not because our leader was a philanderer, but because we were obsessing about it in the form of the Starr investigation.



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