Merriam-Webster defines an influencer as someone who inspires or guides the actions of others, and throughout this year, we have covered a multitude of them on IT World Canada, IT Business, Channel Daily News and Direction Informatique.
One of the joys of being a journalist is the opportunity to speak with and write about these interesting and inspiring people. We asked the writers who produce the content for all four of our sites to each choose a couple of folks who are having an impact on the Canadian tech world. It was hard to select just a few, but here are their picks, in alphabetical order.
Jim Balsillie – co-founder of BlackBerry (formerly Research in Motion): Among his many projects since having retired as co-CEO of BlackBerry, Balsillie has devoted a great deal of time and energy to one that may never be a household name, but which will have a big impact on Canada’s competitive position.
The CIO Strategy Council is a group that develops standards for the implementation and administration of technology which are critical to its development and innovation. The Standards Council of Canada has accredited the CIO Strategy Council to develop National Standards of Canada. And just as the TCP/IP standard made the wider internet possible, other standards can fuel collaboration in the development of a range of new technologies from artificial intelligence (AI) to digital identity, and a host of others.
Establishing standards in Canada and sharing these across the world is a huge catalyst for Canadian technology companies. The council is a largely volunteer group which is gaining recognition in Canada and around the world for its work. – Jim Love
Chris Barry, president, Microsoft Canada: Since he took over from Kevin Peesker on July 1, Microsoft Canada‘s new president, Chris Barry, has accumulated more than 50,000 airline miles criss-crossing the country, visiting customers and partners. It’s his second stint in Canada since he joined the company more than 20 years ago; he spent almost three and a half years as vice president, enterprise and commercial at Microsoft Canada before heading back to Redmond, WA in mid-2019 to take on a global role.
Canada, he said in an interview with IT World Canada, is viewed within Microsoft as “this incredible exemplar of innovation” that is doing excellent work with customers. “And so for me, it’s about coming back and continuing to work on empowering our customers and our employees and our partners on this digital transformation journey that is obviously a multi year journey.” – Lynn Greiner
Yoshua Bengio, AI visionary and scientist: A true pioneer in AI, Bengio founded what was to become the Mila Institute (Quebec Institute for Artificial Intelligence) in 1983. His contribution has been fundamental to advancements in several application areas of AI. Concerned about the ethical issues of AI, he contributed to the Montreal Declaration for the Responsible Development of Artificial Intelligence. This year, Bengio was third among the most recognized and influential researchers in any field, according to Stanford University’s ranking.
In addition to this distinction, Bengio was a co-laureate of the 2018 AM Turing Award, and he ranks first among computer scientists worldwide in terms of the citation H-index. A Fellow of the Royal Society of London and of the Royal Society of Canada, he is also “Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur de France” and Officer of the Order of Canada.
Recently, Montreal’s Druide informatique, maker of the Antidote suite of writing tools, added his name to its dictionary, recognizing a great scientist, a great humanist, and a partner whose work contributes to the evolution of Antidote. – Renaud Larue-Langlois
Alexandre Blais. Photo : Michel Caron, University of Sherbrooke
Alexandre Blais, scientific director of Université de Sherbrooke’s Institut Quantique: Blais, a noted scientist, leads a team of 22 research professionals, 26 professors and 73 post-doc students. A key focus has been on quantum engineering, which has led to the creation of a computer able to complete in only 200 seconds computations that traditional computers would require 10,000 years to complete.
The institute’s research also focuses on resistance-free power delivery, maglev trains, higher-range electric vehicle batteries, more precise GPS tracking, clearer medical imaging and sensors able to detect submarines in the greatest depths of the oceans.
The research environment itself includes summer schools that attract students from around the world, as well as weekly seminars and annual workshops on quantum materials, quantum information, mesoscopic physics, or digital methods.
“Advancements in quantum science have already transformed our world, but the impact could be far greater,” Blais said in an interview with Le Devoir. “We’re shifting into high gear.” – Renaud Larue-Langlois
François-Philippe Champagne, speaking at Collision 2022. Photo by Paul Barker.
Federal Minister of Innovation, Science, and Industry François-Philippe Champagne: It is fair to say that the quick actions he took following the Rogers outage debacle in June will lead to major changes when it comes to how Canada’s telecom landscape not only operates, but is regulated. Describing the national outage as “unacceptable – full stop,” soon after it happened, he quickly ordered the CEOs of Rogers, Telus, Bell Media, Quebecor’s Videotron, SaskTel, and the Bragg Group’s Eastlink to produce a plan to ensure an outage of this magnitude would never happen again. – Paul Barker
Shiza Charania: A 16-year-old high school student phenom, Charania is working with computer vision and next-generation AI to help identify brain tumours before they appear. In August, she showcased the work she has done with the University Health Network (UHN) and Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) at the Women in IT Channel event. Charania has been working internships with UHN and at TMU, where she is helping build a novel 3D brain tumour segmentation architecture.
She is also interested in Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) and has been exploring different approaches, frameworks, and perspectives to evaluate AI ethics and safety. – Samira Balsara
Harsehaj Dhami, machine learning researcher and founder of Codespire: Dhami, who is only 17, heads up a non-profit organization that delivers technological education to underprivileged youth. Focusing on creating and using technology to help address gaps in accessibility to education, Codespire works in partnership with existing youth organizations and youth homeless shelters to deliver education through workshops that cover programming, digital design, and digital literacy.
Dhami spoke about her work at the Queer Tech conference in Toronto this year. During the conference she shared that Codespire initially focused on coding and programming, but after visiting vulnerable communities and seeing the need for other skills, the program evolved.
Prior to her work at Codespire, Dhami was part of one of the winning teams at the Hack Against Hate Hackathon for a tool called Pridtect, which aims to protect people attending Pride Parades and help them feel safe. In addition, Dhami was one of the youngest speakers at Denmark’s Aging Research and Drug Discovery conference this year. – Samira Balsara
Philippe Johnston, president of the CIO Association of Canada (CIOCAN): Johnston has led the organization through a strong period of growth with a vision and plan that has grown its membership and relevance.
CIOCAN is a volunteer organization with chapters across the country. Its members are CIOs and CISOs who have a lot on their plate. Johnston himself has huge responsibilities as CIO of a major government agency, yet he, like his predecessors which include well known CIOs such as Humza Teherany and Gary Davenport, commit their free time to the development and growth of the Canadian CIO community.
Johnston’s ability to inspire a team of volunteer executives across the country has earned him respect of the entire CIO community. He is a truly a great example of the many volunteers in organizations that have worked to increase the abilities, professionalism and the respect given to information technology professionals. – Jim Love
Kevin Peesker, president of worldwide small, medium, corporate and digital business at Microsoft: Peesker assumed his new position earlier this year following a five-year posting as president of Microsoft Canada. He became a true celebrity in the Canadian IT community, dating back to his days at Dell Computer, and his ability to communicate and reach any audience has been a trademark of his career.
Few will forget the evening when Peesker helped launch Dell’s channel in Canada wearing a devil’s costume, acknowledging that Dell’s ‘go direct’ strategy did not win them any friends in the channel community. But in classic Peesker fashion, he won over that difficult audience, as he has with so many others, by being humorous, open, and always authentic.
As president of Microsoft Canada, he gave a masterclass in how to communicate in the digital world. His regular videos, whether they were discussions with technology leaders or a surprise visit to an employee at home to present an award, were always interesting and often a lot of fun to watch.
Born in Saskatoon, Sask., Peesker has been a passionate supporter of the Canadian technology industry, offering great support for equity, diversity and creating opportunity for all Canadians. While this new job gives him worldwide responsibilities, he will also be a great ambassador for Canada at Microsoft and around the world. – Jim Love
AJ Fernandez Rivera
AJ Rivera, managing director, Accenture Canada: Rivera’s success in IT and personal experience speak to the new generation. She has spent 25+ years at Accenture, during which she trailblazed her way to a leadership position, despite the challenges of being an openly transgender woman in a male, cis-dominated tech industry.
Rivera was not surrounded by role models, and endeavored to become one by actively empowering queer people to choose tech as a career, by revamping HR policies, and implementing unconscious bias training to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at Accenture, and by providing the right support and network for queer talent to thrive.
However, her main principle is loud and clear – “quality of work is genderless and is what gets you to be known.” Rivera is a visible, out-and-proud voice for queer people who are willing to work hard, get the right certifications and make the right career choices. – Ashee Pamma
Ian Scott, outgoing CEO and chairman, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC): Love him or hate him, during his tenure heading up the CRTC, Ian Scott has made an impact on the industry. A more than 25 year telecom veteran, Scott had previously been a vice president at Telus and executive director of government and regulatory affairs at satellite company, Telesat.
When he took on the CRTC post in September of 2017, he was viewed as being friendlier to the telecom industry than his predecessor, whose approach was more consumer-centric, and controversy ensued over his relationships with the big telcos. Independent internet service provider TekSavvy went so far as to lodge a complaint with the federal Integrity Commissioner, accusing Scott of breaking federal rules by meeting privately with lobbyists and executives from the big telcos.
The CRTC’s rulings around mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), its flip-flopping on internet wholesale rates paid to the giants by smaller companies, and, more recently, its approval of license transfers in the Shaw/Rogers deal have cemented the perception that it is on the side of the incumbents. However, Scott’s legacy also includes overseeing the launch of the Universal Broadband Fund; the development of the Internet Code, a mandatory code of conduct for providers of retail fixed internet-access services; the launch of the 9-8-8 crisis line, a mental health and suicide-prevention service; the investigation of misleading or aggressive sales practices; and he required that carriers implement anti-spam call technology. – Lynn Greiner
Daniel Therrien, former Privacy Commissioner of Canada: Therrien finished an eight-year term in June, and during that time arguably his biggest role was being a highly visible critic of the Liberal government’s proposed overhaul of the current federal private sector law, known as PIPEDA. In fact, he said parts of the proposed Consumer Privacy Protection Act (CPPA) were worse than PIPEDA.
It may have been a co-incidence, but the Trudeau minority government let the bill die on the order paper when the September 2021 federal election was called. The government re-introduced the CPPA with some small changes after Therrien left office. Memorable decisions made by his office included finding that Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, Clearview AI and Tim Hortons violated PIPEDA. A steadfast protector of privacy rights, in his last public speech in May, he repeated his call for the right to privacy to be enshrined in legislation. – Howard Solomon
Kumanan Wilson, chief scientific officer, Bruyere Research Institute: Technology was key to getting us through the Covid-19 pandemic, whether it was with the development of the mRNA vaccine, monitoring cases, hospitalizations, vaccination rates, discovery of new variants of concerns, or providing citizens with tools to monitor their own health. Wilson, working with the Canadian government and other research institutes, was a driver of several of these innovations, including CANImmunize Shield, ClinicFlow for delivering vaccinations, the pan-Canadian public immunization app and more.
Recently, he spoke on the importance of sharing data and integrating our data systems to foster innovation and create a stronger public health infrastructure in Canada. – Ashee Pamma
Maayan Ziv, founder and CEO of AccessNow: Earlier this year, Jake Cohen, the chief operating officer of The Daniels Corporation, a developer currently involved in the refurbishing of Toronto’s Regent Park, Canada’s largest social housing community, stated that the term smart is more than just a buzzword. Smart, he said, “also means intelligent and perceptive practices that address the needs of what really makes communities thrive – people.”
The key to making that happen is an AI-based software offering called AccessNow, developed by Maayan Ziv, the company’s founder and CEO, who was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), a form of Muscular Dystrophy. The teaming up of the two organizations to map, review and rank the accessibility of businesses and public spaces in Regent Park is designed to reveal both the successes and barriers that currently exist for people living with disabilities.
Ziv’s AI-based software is building what she described as “connected ecosystem – empowering people with disabilities globally by connecting consumers, companies, governments, engineers and entrepreneurs with our intelligent, anonymized data resource.”
People sharing information, she said, “remains the heart and soul of what we do, but we can also now leverage that information – that data – to train our AI models to start to understand the world from the perspective of people with disabilities.
“We have image models; we have sensor data models; and we are training them to be able to start to look at spaces without the need of people to be there every single time.” – Paul Barker