Amanda Brock is CEO and Chief Policy Officer of the UK body for Open technology, being open-source software, open hardware and open data, “OpenUK”. Founded in 2018, the not-for-profit, OpenUK, promotes businesses, projects and people, who use and develop Open Technology and strives to collaborate across all existing organisations for Open. She has previously been the Chair of the open-source and Intellectual Property (IP) advisory group of the United Nation's Technology Innovation Labs; CEO of the Trustable Software engineering project, focused on solutions to risk in open source software; and a member of the Cabinet Office Advisory on open source; General Counsel of Canonical, one of the world’s biggest open-source companies and the commercial sponsor of Ubuntu, setting up the global legal team and running this for five years. As a senior lawyer, she worked across a range of sectors including mobile, ISP, data center, and digital financial services in emerging markets. She is also the Editor of the book, Free and Open-Source Software: Law, Policy and Practice”, 2nd Edition, to be published by Oxford University Press in the autumn of 2021 with open access sponsored by the Vietsch Foundation and contributed to by 20 leading figures in open source.
In an exclusive conversation with Aspioneer, Amanda Brock discusses her journey, beliefs, and vision with OpenUK.
Aspioneer(A): Tell us a little bit about your organisation? What makes it unique? Amanda Brock (AB): “We are a globally unique organisation at the moment. What makes us unique? Firstly, we call out the need to bring together three separate strands - open-source software, open hardware, and open data - to create Open Technology. Our mission is to develop and sustain UK leadership in Open Technology. Secondly, we focus on the business of Open Technology in the UK. We are not a traditional membership or open-source organisation focusing only on local businesses but we aim to bring together the hundreds of thousands of people in the UK working in Open Technology in all businesses and represent them on a world stage. The UK is blessed with great talent, but we want to raise that profile. One of the great things about Open, beyond its transparency creating trust, is the opportunity to work across borders and develop diverse, sustainable, and global outputs. That will be essential to the UK’s economy in the future and companies in this country can be a big part in driving some of those trends around technology forward.”
"One of the great things about Open, beyond its transparency creating trust, is the opportunity to work across borders and develop diverse, sustainable, and global outputs. That will be essential to the UK’s economy in the future"
(A): How did you start with the organization? What has changed since then and how did you contribute to bringing that change? (AB): “OpenUK was an existing by embryonic organisation, so effectively we had to start from first principles around what we wanted to put together so that it would fit with what we wanted to create. It is best judged as a start-up that’s 18 months old. We are bootstrapping currently to build and scale.
Today almost all software includes open source and the world wide web and cloud environments are built on it. I could see we needed to unite geographically in the UK as a consequence of Brexit, and the rollercoaster that this and other geopolitical shifts are bringing. Tech is the foundation of all of our infrastructure today and few people have understood how fundamental that is to the global economy and politics.
We need to focus locally within our geographic areas to collaborate globally. Combine that with the UK’s previously unsung position as a world leader in open-source software - number one in the EU before Brexit - and I frankly saw both an opportunity to develop this position and really make the UK’s community around Open Technology world-leading and a need for someone to step in and do it. I have the right skills and experience so thought I would give it a go.
The beauty of Open is that you have to collaborate in order to be successful. It is in our DNA to collaborate and share globally without discrimination. And in that way alone will our UK Open Technology community and our economy be able to thrive.”
(A): What were the challenges you came across in your career as a female leader? There has been an increasing conversation about moving the needle on diversity and inclusion, have things actually changed? (AB): “I was a lawyer for 25 years. It was pretty rough if I am honest. I have had more than my fair share of both direct and indirect sexism and haven’t always felt like I belonged. I have had times of real frustration. not being heard. I am pretty determined, I guess.
I heard someone describe Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging as Diversity – being invited to the dance in the first place; Inclusion – being asked to dance and; Belonging – being able to choose the music, I believe it’s attributed to Verna Myers. That really resonated with me as when I started work in the early 90’s we were standing on each other’s shoulders trying to see through the high up window just to get a glimpse of what the dance looked like. We have come a long way.
When I look around me, I am really proud to see so many young women at the table, bringing skills and talent. I really hope that they will feel able to continue in business, in technology and stay the course to the senior executive level. That’s when we will see real change. It is of course not just about being female. It’s about there being a place for everyone. There needs to be room for people not being the same and not having to fight the stereotype to get to the table. We need to just see people.”
(A): Which skills do you think are most important when it comes to leadership? (AB): “Leadership is about integrity. People follow who they believe in, not who they are told to. To lead, you must be willing to be accountable, to be transparent, and act with integrity. We need to remember we are dealing with people, not AI, and we have to both accept and encourage differences. Leadership is based on treating people with respect and encouraging them to be the best versions of themselves in what they do while holding people accountable for their actions and for what they promise to deliver. It is a fine balance between trying to get the most out of people, and respecting their situations.”
(A): How do you unplug from work? What are your favorite books, websites, films, and resources? (AB): “Unfortunately a lot of the things I like doing, like writing, relate to work. In the pandemic, in lockdown alone with a kitten who’s now a much-loved cat (and a celebrity at conferences) I have been bad at taking the time to do other things. I don’t read so much, but enjoy audiobooks – anything Gabor Mate, Brene Brown, or Eckhart Tolle floats my boat. I do try, not always successfully, to spend some time each day meditating or contemplating.
In terms of tv and movies, trying to work out what to watch in lockdown, was driving me nuts, so I started to follow themes, like a director, a year of release, or an actor. I really enjoyed my Jack Nicholson period and I am a big Jane Fonda fan.”
(A): What are your current goals? (AB): “My current goal is to have greater impact and influence on UK policies around technology, to succeed in seeing our children better educated in technology with an Open slant and the UK acknowledging the important role that Open plays in technology and society.”