From Elon Musk to Jeff Bezos, these 30 personalities defined the 2010s

id=»article-body» class=»row» section=»article-body»> This story is part of The 2010s: A Decade in Review, a series on the memes, people, products, movies and so much more that have influenced the 2010s. The first decade of the 21st century introduced us to sweeping mobile and social revolutions largely driven by names like Jobs, Zuckerberg and Bezos. In the second decade that’s now closing, things got a little more… complicated. During those years, a new collection of faces have joined the earlier tech titans to continue moving us into the future. Here’s CNET’s list of the top technology innovators and all-around unavoidable personalities of the 2010s.

A person wears a Guy Fawkes mask, which today is a trademark and symbol for the online hacktivist group Anonymous. From 2012.

PYMCA/UIG via Getty Images Anonymous

More a decentralized collective than a personality, Anonymous was the name claimed by the loose affiliation of hackers who brought «hacktivism» into the mainstream. During the first half of the decade, Anonymous launched attacks against targets like ISIS, the governments of the US and Tunisia, and corporations such as Sony and PayPal. The group’s tactics included distributed denial-of-service attacks that overwhelm a target’s website and http://www.unlimited-rc.eu/forum/member.php?action=profile&uid=527906 (Click at www.unlimited-rc.eu) knock it offline and compromising private databases to access and later leak confidential information, such as the personal details of members of the Ku Klux Klan. 

In 2019, the group’s prominence has faded somewhat — last year it said it would debunk the QAnon conspiracy theory — but concerns about hacking remain in the forefront, in part because one large collective of unknown activists put it there. 

Julian Assange of WikiLeaks during a livestreamed press conference in 2017. 

Screenshot by CNET Julian Assange

The founder of online portal WikiLeaks, Assange had a mission to reveal the secrets of the powerful. It made him an instant hero to many and a wanted man to others (in May the US government charged him with violating the Espionage Act). WikiLeaks started the decade by publishing documents obtained by whistleblower Chelsea Manning between 2010 and 2011, and it supported NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden after he sought refuge in Russia in 2013. To avoid extradition to Sweden on charges of rape — the charges were dropped in 2017, but the case has since been reopened — Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he remained for seven years. 

Despite its founder being stuck in the same building for much of the decade, WikiLeaks still managed to play a role in the 2016 US presidential election by publishing leaked emails that were detrimental to Hillary Clinton and the next year releasing thousands of documents showing how the CIA can hack into phones. The Assange saga is far from over, though. In 2019 he was booted from the embassy by the Ecuadorian government and arrested by London police. He remains in British custody and could be extradited to the US.

Now playing: Watch this: Step inside Julian Assange’s office 3:25 GM CEO Mary Barra says the self-driving technology can help relieve driver stress.

GM Mary Barra

The General Motors CEO became the first woman to lead a major carmaker when she took over in 2014 and has been consistently ranked among the world’s most powerful women over the past decade by Forbes and Fortune. 

Her tenure has been marked by GM’s push to keep up and even eclipse Tesla’s efforts to bring electric and driverless cars into the mainstream. The Chevy Volt EV actually brought a sub-$40,000 EV to market ahead of Tesla’s Model 3, and GM has also invested in ride-sharing technology to help ensure it stays relevant in the future. 

Under Barra, GM is also one of just two global businesses to completely do away with its gender pay gap, according to a study by Equileap.

Bezos speaking at an Amazon press event in 2018.

James Martin/CNET Jeff Bezos

Even after losing a quarter of his Amazon shares in his divorce settlement in April, Bezos remains the world’s richest person, worth more than $107 billion as of this month, according to Forbes. Throughout the decade, he spread his money around, buying the Washington Post in 2013 and growing his company phenomenally. Amazon is now a vast empire that’s not only become the world’s warehouse, but that also encompasses the Amazon Web Services cloud computing platform, game streaming platform Twitch, a fleet of freight aircraft, music streaming, branded convenience stores, the Kindle e-reader, the Whole Foods Market grocery chain and a space startup meant to give Elon Musk and SpaceX some competition. Its Prime subscription service delivers goods in hours, and serves up a huge gallery of movies, TV programs and audiobooks. 

Amazon also makes plenty of products of its own, including its Alexa-powered home assistants and Ring security system, both of which have forced the company to respond to privacy concerns over its increasing expansion into homes. And the company continues to face criticism over working conditions and pay for its employees.

Now playing: Watch this: Jeff Bezos reveals plans for the moon and beyond 3:33 danah boyd

danah.org danah boyd

She may not be a household name, but danah boyd (who prefers to spell her name with lowercase) has become a leading thinker and researcher on the effects of technology on society and our children. In her 2014 book It’s Complicated, she argued that social media provides an important space for youth to express themselves and to engage with each other and with society. 

She’s also a principal researcher for Microsoft and has broadened her research to focus on the relationship between social inequality and technology through her research institute Data and Society. In awarding her its 2019 Pioneer award, the Electronic Frontier Foundation called boyd a «trailblazing technology scholar.»

Richard Branson at a Virgin Mobile event.

Josh Miller/CNET Richard Branson

The billionaire magnate is willing to try just about anything, it seems. Branson’s Virgin brand has dabbled in everything from media to hotels to health care, and in the last decade it has also made some far-out bets. In recent years, Branson has invested in Elon Musk’s futuristic hyperloop transport technology and is working on Virgin Orbit, which could launch satellites using a combination of rockets and a high-altitude launcher plane. In the coming months, Virgin Galactic may finally begin launching tourists (including Branson himself) into orbit using a similar approach from the New Mexico desert. 

Kimberly Bryant

By 2040, there will be 1 million more young women of color with coding skills if Kimberly Bryant meets her ambitious goal. The electrical engineer and Vanderbilt grad founded Black Girls Code in 2011 with the goal of reaching 1 million girls by midcentury. That could transform places like Silicon Valley, where only 2% of women working in tech are people of color, according to a 2018 report from the Kapor Center. Bryant’s work has been widely recognized — by the White House, the Smithsonian and others — helping to bring in funding for the mission and increasing the chances that the next Steve Jobs is a woman of color. 

Mark Cuban at CNET’s Next Big Thing panel at CES 2013

Josh Miller/CNET Mark Cuban

During the 2010s, Cuban became much more than just one of the billionaires from the original dot-com boom of the late 1990s. He completed his crossover to become a major figure in the worlds of sports, entertainment and even politics. 

Cuban’s riches can be traced to successful exits from old, old-school internet properties like Broadcast.com, but he’s since leveraged those early moves into a career as an NBA franchise owner, a TV personality (most notably on Shark Tank) and an investor in dozens of companies including Dropbox, Magnolia Pictures and Alyssa’s Cookies. He was even floated as a potential presidential candidate in 2016 and 2020, but says he won’t run without his family’s permission. 

Tim Cook at WWDC 2019.

James Martin/CNET Tim Cook

It was a difficult job to take the mantle after Steve Jobs died in 2011, but Cook has maintained Apple’s dominance over the past several years. Cook may not be the showman of his predecessor, but the brand is as far-reaching as ever. The iPhone still rules the mobile roost alongside Android, and under his guidance the company has launched forays into areas like the Apple Watch, content production, Apple Arcade and even finance with the Apple Card. 

While it might be a stretch to call Cook a gay icon (he came out in a 2014 essay), he’s certainly one of the most powerful LGBTQ people in the world, and his worldview has informed his drive to make Apple more ethical, diverse and values-driven, according to author Leander Kahney.

A pre-beard Dorsey.

James Martin/CNET Jack Dorsey

Assuming the role of Twitter’s CEO in 2015, Dorsey’s been the face of one of the most highly trafficked and often toxic online platforms. Over the past decade, Twitter helped give rise to revolution in the Middle East, including the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and also gave us the platform that @RealDonaldTrump has used more effectively than any other American politician to rally support and spin news events. Twitter has also enabled floods of hate speech, fake news and misinformation. Though the company has tried to combat them with new rules and technology, it’s only subject to more criticism when the regulations are unevenly enforced. 

As he tries to guide Twitter’s central role in reshaping global media, Dorsey’s also CEO of payments company Square, giving him an outsized influence in how information and money move around the world now and in the coming years. 

Jennifer Doudna

UC-Berkeley Jennifer Doudna

One of the key innovations of the 2010s goes by the unwieldy name CRISPR/Cas9, and Doudna is a pioneer in its use to edit DNA. This new tool holds the potential to revolutionize biology, medicine, agriculture and other fields. 

Doudna’s lab at the University of California, Berkeley has also spun off a for-profit venture to commercialize CRISPR applications, and Doudna has become a leader in the ongoing ethical discussions around the future of genetic engineering.

Susan Fowler at the Women Transforming Technology conference

Stephen Shankland/CNET Susan Fowler

The #MeToo movement swept through the tech world and other industries beginning in 2017, thanks in large part to Fowler’s personal blog chronicling sexual harassment and abuse within Uber, where she worked as a software engineer. The fallout resulted in a shakeup of Uber’s power structure and the demotion of founder and CEO Travis Kalanick. Fowler’s memoir, Whisteblower, is due out in 2020, and she has a new role writing for the New York Times opinion section. 

Bill and Melinda Gates

This power couple has taken the money that Bill made producing the software suites we all love to complain about and turned it into a philanthropic empire. The $50 billion Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has poured millions into global health and development efforts, as well as education in the US. Bill says the foundation played a major role in a drastic reduction of the child mortality rate, saving over 100 million lives. Bill has also stayed relevant through the reading lists he releases regularly, and Melinda debuted as an author herself with a book about empowering women around the world. 

Elizabeth Holmes in a still from The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley.

HBO Elizabeth Holmes

Like Pixelon’s Michael Fenne (real name: David Kim Stanley) almost two decades earlier, Holmes serves as a cautionary tale for what can go wrong when the hype becomes unmoored from reality in tech. 

In the span of a few years, Holmes took Theranos and a never-quite-ready-for-primetime blood-testing technology from a subject of interest to one of investment, investigation and now, potentially Holmes’ own incarceration as she faces charges of criminal fraud.