Amanda Brock: OpenUK Is the UK Organisation for the Business of Open Technology, Being Open Source Software, Open Hardware and Open Data

September 4, 2022

OpenUK is the UK organisation for the business of Open Technology, being open source software, open hardware and open data. Our mission is UK leadership and global collaboration in Open Technology.

We do this through 3 pillars, community, legal and policy and learning. We engage the Leadership community in Open Technology to use our collective voice to impact laws and policies in the UK in particular but also internationally and then support educating the next generation of leaders thereby closing the virtuous circle.

We are a not for profit organisation run as a boot strapping start up and rely on a large and incredible volunteer community to operate the organisation and are funded by sponsorship, donations and grants.

Tell us about yourself?

I was a lawyer for 25 years, almost 20 of those in companies, starting in 1999 when I was the first lawyer employed to work on Freeserve and worked on it through its IPO as part of the Management Team of 12.

My roles allowed me to develop an expertise in tech and in particular, open source software and I generally set up and ran the legal function.

In 2008 I did that for the leading UK open source software company, Canonical and ran that legal team for 5 years. I fell in love with open source softwares and the values of collaboration and sharing.

I pivoted away from being a General Counsel 5 years ago and took on the role as CEO with OpenUK end of 2019, almost 3 years ago.

As a lawyer I had always felt I didn’t use enough of my skills and also ran an art company as a hobby and was a Creative Director of a Festival. My festival content was great but we didn’t sell enough tickets and lost more than half a million pounds in a weekend.

So I had already dabbled in other interests and had done a fair bit of writing including a book on e:business, and conference speaking and organisation.

As CEO I get to play to my strengths and use that diverse range of skills. I love that and for a not for profit/ organisation in policy, my legal background has been incredibly beneficial and pleasingly adds a lot of value.

Being CEO makes me feel much more balanced and happier than I ever was as a lawyer. I am doing something that I believe in and have a true sense of purpose.

If you could go back in time a year or two, what piece of advice would you give yourself?

To make changes sooner. Not to feel that you have to do what is expected of you. We live once and we need to do what bring us fulfilment and gives us a true sense of purpose. Whatever that is.

Also, like many women I had terrible imposter syndrome and I would encourage myself to let myself succeed much earlier in my career, to say yes to more.

What problem does your business solve?

Our organisation helps to put the UK’s Open Technology community on the map, by sharing the existence of an often overlooked area of technology whee the UK is a world leader. Open source software sits behind Cloud, AI, Blockchain, the Metaverse and more.

It is the submarine under the digital economy and although we have already demonstrated that its contribution to GDP is 20%of the UK digital economy, that’s on out of date methodologies and I believe likely a multiple of this. Just think what adding open hardware and open data brings to that!

We support the UK’s improving its policies and skills development in this space to build more equitable technology, but also to support the UK doing this well.

Today our national infrastructure is digital and that means it’s software defined and inevitably built on open source software. We’re helping to build understanding on how to do that well and to create safe and secure Open Technologies.

What is the inspiration behind your business?

A decade ago the UK had world leading policies from Government Digital Services and the Cabinet Office, under Lord Maude’s leadership as Cabinet Minister. With changes in Government this seemed to have been forgotten despite it being replicated globally.

We want to put the UK back on the map as the leader it is in the Open Technology space and to ensure that going forward the UK leads and collaborates, does this well and has a voice on an important global technology sector.

What is your magic sauce?

We do a couple of things differently from other similar organisations.

Firstly we bring together Open Technology – software, hardware and data – which we were the first to do.

Secondly we are about the business of Open Technology and all the hundreds of thousands of people working in that in the UK, which means we don’t just focus on the home grown companies but also the people working in international businesses and all kinds of businesses, not just tech.

Businesses like Skyscanner and Starling Bank are built on open source software whilst the BBC simply uses lots of it.

Thirdly by putting Sustainability and Diversity at the heart of everything we do rather than just having projects dealing with these we have built an unusually diverse organisation for tech.

What is the plan for the next 5 years? What do you want to achieve?

Who has a 5 year plan these days. 5 months, maybe.

One of the advantages of being small and lean is the ability to both adapt and take opportunity.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?

Getting good staff at the moment is hard. Lots of reasons why and we see this everywhere not just the UK.

How do people get involved/buy into your vision?

Anyone interested should reach out to us via [email protected] or twitter, openuk_uk or LinkedIn

We are always engaging new people in our activities, reports – maybe as a case study or as part of a survey, our events etc.

I’d encourage everyone to understand what the Open Technologies are all about and how they build a more collaborative and equitable tech sector.

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