Tech’s Hottest Rock Stars

16 celebs who can fill an auditorium and attract the paparazzi, too

  • Author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell looks a heck of a lot like Bob Dylan, and he draws similar crowds. Gladwell packed them in at his keynote address at the RSA Conference in April. A writer for the New Yorker and author of popular business books "Blink" and "The Tipping Point," Gladwell this month will release his latest book entitled "Outliers." IT execs lucky enough to attend Gartner's Application Architecture, Development and Integration Summit in December will get to hear him speak about the book.

  • 2008 was the year of the Bill Gates' Farewell Tour. Gates has been filling convention centers for decades, and he did it again this year with his final keynote addresses at the Consumer Electronics Show in January (where he hung out on stage with guitarist Slash) and the TechEd developers' conference in June. But like any true rock star, Gates hasn't given up the limelight altogether, even starring in those short-lived Microsoft commercials with comedian Jerry Seinfeld.

  • Fred Wilson, co-founder of Union Square Ventures and an early investor in Twitter, is one of the nation's hottest venture capitalists. He has a blog that's popular with tech entrepreneurs and financiers. Wilson's well-received keynote at the Web 2.0 conference in September chronicled the growth of New York City's Internet industry, which he claims is more creative and artistic of that in Silicon Valley. A booster of the Big Apple, Wilson urged the crowd to give up the term Silicon Alley and come up with a new moniker for the local new media industry.

  • Nicholas Carr is the intellectual of our list, the Rush of tech industry rock stars. The former executive editor of the Harvard Business Review, Carr is a regular on the speaking circuit. He talked about his new book, "The Big Switch: Rewiring the World from Edison to Google," at the Search Engine Strategies conference in New York in February. He continued giving his cloud computing pitch at other well-attended events throughout the year including the ConnectWise Partner Summit in September. Here's a guy who knows how to get under the tech industry's skin with his bold predictions.

  • When it comes to the future of Web 2.0, techies want to hear the musings of Digg founder Kevin Rose. He was on the closing panel at the AdTech conference in April, which prompted significant blog coverage. And he was a headliner at the Future of Web Applications (FOWA) show in London in October, where he prognosticated about what's next for online news. What everyone in the audience really wants to know is how Digg is generating all that traffic, and how much money Rose is making at it.

  • Amazon CTO Werner Vogels is an A lister - a celebrity with a marquee name who every tech industry event planner wants to book. Vogels has a popular blog entitled All Things Distributed, and he headlined numerous conferences this year including My SQL Conference in April, Structure 08 in June, and the Next Web Conference in July.

  • Who did we miss? Let us know about your other favourites!

  • Gina Bianchini is the face of Ning, the social networking platform she founded in 2004 with Internet visionary Marc Andreessen. Looking like Ann Wilson in her Dreamboat Annie days, Bianchini graced the cover of Fast Company magazine in April. She also gave a well-received keynote address at the Emtech 2008 conference at MIT in October. Expect to see more of Bianchini in 2009.

  • Billionaire Internet entrepreneur, sports mogul and blogger Mark Cuban continues to draw tech-industry crowds a year after he was ousted from "Dancing with the Stars." He conducted a well-received interview with former Disney CEO Michael Eisner about the future of new media at the South by Southwest Conference in March. No stranger to controversy, Cuban proclaimed the Internet dead as an entertainment medium because it can't support high-definition video at a cable industry meeting in Texas in March. No doubt this maverick public speaker will continue to be in the news in 2009.

  • Steve Jobs is the Mick Jagger of the tech industry. He's been around forever, but he can still bring down the house. Or the network, as the case may be. Every speech Jobs delivers is to a full house and is dissected afterwards by the mainstream media and the blogosphere. But his Macworld Expo keynote on January 18 was so well covered by attendees that their tweets brought the Twitter network to its knees.

  • Here's a list of the hottest rock stars in the tech industry. These are the CEOs, analysts, venture capitalists and authors whose opinions are so well respected that they attract standing-room only crowds at conferences. Geeks from around the world hang on their every podcast. Be sure to scalp some tickets to see one of these celebs when the opportunity arises.

  • Bruce Schneier, chief security technology officer at BT, is one of those celebs who is not afraid to insult his fans. That's what happened at this year's RSA Conference in April. With 17,000 attendees, the RSA Conference is the biggest security event of the year. Schneier, nonetheless, predicted that the security industry and the RSA Conference itself will soon begin a rapid decline. It's a sign of the high esteem in which the security industry holds Schneier that his dire warnings haven't diminished his audiences.

  • You can't be a rock star without generating controversy, and Mark Zuckerberg certainly did that in 2008. His March 10 on-stage interview at the South by Southwest conference turned into a fiasco, as the audience started to revolt because of the ill-informed questions asked by reporter Sarah Lacy. Zuckerberg gave other notable speeches in 2008, including a June speech to Harvard University alumni (he's a Harvard drop-out) and the f8 keynote in July, where he outlined the future of the Facebook Platform. Look for more headliners from Zuckerberg in 2009.

  • Mary Meeker is the Sheryl Crow of the US tech scene: She's been around for years but she keeps cranking out the hits. At the Web 2.0 Summit in November, Meeker gave a statistics-laden talk about the economic downturn and its impact on social networking, mobility and other trends. The number cruncher's speech was praised in the blogosphere as is her annual technology trends report. Given how well respected she is, Meeker's presentations are likely to remain popular in 2009 and beyond.

  • Cisco CEO John Chambers is like Bono: He's inescapable, but he's still a superstar. Chambers can pack a room and deliver speeches that are thought-provoking enough to be followed closely by the entire networking industry. In 2008, Chambers gave so many high-profile speeches - the CES Leadership in Technology Dinner in January, a Global Climate Change chat with Al Gore at VoiceCon in March, and a keynote at the Networkers conference in June - that we've lost count. Odds are, you've already heard Chambers more than once, and you're likely to keep listening to him.

  • Looking every bit a long-haired rocker, YouTube co-founder and CEO Chad Hurley gave a much-anticipated opening speech at MIPCOM's first Broadband Video Summit in Cannes in October. Speaking before an audience of TV, film and video content providers, Hurley compared YouTube to the nascent TV industry of the 1940s and said there was no "silver bullet" to profitability for YouTube. Though he's not the most dynamic performer, Hurley is a favorite on the tech scene because he's considered a visionary.

  • Here's a duo that's been around for years but can still sell out an auditorium. The venture capitalists were the headliners at the National Venture Capital Association annual meeting in May, where they attracted an audience of industry movers and shakers. Doerr is a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers and best known for his investments in Google and Amazon. Moritz is a partner at Sequoia Capital and investor in Yahoo and PayPal. Watching these two tech industry legends - and fierce competitors - interview each other was a once-in-a-lifetime event for attendees.

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