Women in Digital: Amanda Brock

We talk to Amanda Brock, CEO of not-for-profit OpenUK about her career, the importance of open technology and of encouraging kids to learn digital skills

Posted 14 December 2020 by Christine Horton

Did you enjoy school?

Oh, I was a right swot and loved school. I was one of those good all-rounders – not brilliant at anything, but good at everything.

What qualifications do you have?

More than you need. Education is very important to me. For someone like me, education has taken me from a housing estate in rural Scotland to travelling the world, to work and speak in tech.

I attended a private secondary school in Scotland thanks to an assisted place and was the first person in my family to go to university. I have three law degrees from three different countries. My UK education was funded by the state and I was lucky enough to secure a Rotary International scholarship that covered all of the costs of my Masters from New York University.

I suspect that this is the basis of my passion for supporting the learning work we do at OpenUK and in encouraging kids to learn the digital skills they will need to have a fair chance at the best future they can have.

Has your career path been a smooth transition, a rocky road or combination of both?

Like most things in life, it’s been neither one nor the other. I try to take the rough with the smooth.

I don’t really have any regrets and there have been some great experiences along the way. I tend to be the kind of person who makes something out of whatever the situation is. Generally, that helps in life.

What’s the best career advice you can give to others?

Follow your gut instincts. They are rarely wrong.

Take any opportunity that interests you.

The only person that will stop you is yourself.

If you had to pick one mentor who has had the biggest influence on you, who would it be?

Another difficult one.

Recently, it would be Keith Bergelt. He’s the CEO of Open Invention Network and I have worked with him for over a decade. Open Invention Network provides its community members and users of Linux/OSS-based technology with access to a wide pool of patents that supports all those organisations. It protects the Open Source community as a whole, while encouraging more innovation and expansion over time.

In my teens, it would be a friend’s mother, Renee Miller, who was a Church of Scotland Minister and had lived all over the world. She had three kids and then went to university and trained as a Minister. She was an amazing example to me.

From where do you draw inspiration?

On a personal level I try to manage a spiritual / mindfulness practice as part of my daily routine, which really helps me to be in balance and find focus and vision. It’s amazing what comes to the surface in 10 or 15 minutes of self-reflection.

On a business level I find inspiration in organisations working in a progressive way, ensuring that they look at more than shareholder value. I find many of the people I meet through my role at OpenUK really inspirational. Everyone has a story.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced to date?

There have been many and it’s hard to name one of the challenges as biggest. I generally like a challenge!

I would say that, at 51, I’ve worked for over 25 years in law and it was a pretty damn sexist place. It took me a long time to work it out to be honest. I very much hope that young women lawyers today do not have to go through some of the experiences I did. It was a very unfair environment.

I am sad to share that and not to be able to say it was something that was due to a legal issue or business complexity.

What qualities do you feel makes a good leader?

Integrity is absolutely critical. I don’t see how anyone can follow another they don’t respect and trust. I also believe it’s important to own your role as a leader but to balance that with empowering a team and allowing them to develop themselves and their roles. There should be room for everyone to succeed and most of all to enjoy what they are doing and have fun.

From a work viewpoint what has 2020 been like for you so far?

2020 has not been what I expected. Then again, I doubt it’s been what anyone expected.

For me, it was to be the year of the keynote and I had booked travel for 20 conferences across the globe by January. That was really exciting as I gave my first keynote last September and suddenly I was flavour of the month going to speak in all these glamorous places.

Sadly, the jet setting didn’t happen, but that’s ok. It’s not such a hardship when I see what some others have been through.

There have however been some real positives for me on a personal level and for OpenUK.

I am not convinced that the industry has found the right balance for online conferences yet, but I have spoken at many. However, I have also turned my hand to writing and have been published which feels like a big achievement. I’ve plucked up the courage to accept invites to podcasts and have been thoroughly enjoying doing these. They’re actually good fun.

Telling the mainstream press about why open matters through examples like the NHS Test and Trace has been important, as I don’t think many outside the tech niche understand what this means to people every day. This has provided a big opportunity for me to write about them and I’ve developed a bit of an expertise around them.

That’s also been good for OpenUK and we have been on a rapid trajectory. For example, we reconfigured our planned kids competition and spent some of our funding on creating an animated digital course, teaching kids both digital skills and about Open Source. We were lucky enough to be supported by Imogen Heap in doing this.

The course has already won an award and I think it’s likely to win more. So, from this difficult circumstance, we have built the organisation in ways we might not have considered without the pandemic.

Give us a fact about you that most other people wouldn’t know.

I ran an art company as a hobby, selling a couple of hundred paintings a year through pop up exhibitions in London, for almost a decade. I sold Scottish art and was lucky enough to represent some of the greats of Scottish contemporary art. It is great to help creative people realise their ambitions, and the crossover between art and tech is smaller than you might think.