In the digital space, it's not only the data that moves fast--it's the talent. Below are five trendsetters and groundbreakers anyone interested in tech should keep up with. To be clear, I am aware that none of them need help in getting noticed. So consider this a fan letter.

The Prime Mover: Elon Musk (@elonmusk)

Musk is a Renaissance Man for the Space Age. He starts companies, he leads companies, he invents products, he designs products. And he zips back and forth between industries as effortlessly as other people change clothes. One of his earliest big hits, PayPal, remains the gold standard of online payments. Musk transitioned from money to motion with his visionary work at both electric-car producer Tesla and rocket-launcher SpaceX. He tries to actively generate competition for Tesla to increase the market for electric vehicles. His environmental bent continued with SolarCity, now one of the country's leading providers of solar power systems. His ideas and claims are polarizing at times (recently forecast that Tesla's market cap will rival Apple's within a decade), but he's proven that he can back up big thinking with big action.

The Entertaining Engineer: Harry Heymann (@harryh)

The first hire at Foursquare, Heymann is not an engineer who lingers in the background. He'd already clocked time at Intel, Microsoft, and Google before joining the social search app in 2009. Most recently the company's SVP of engineering, he's recently moved on to parts as-yet unrevealed (the opposite of what Foursquare users do). Given that his coding skill is equal to his reputation for hard work, he immediately began attracting other engineering talent to his new venture, though insiders predict it will be in the white-hot location space. Also a draw: wherever he goes, he'll surely bring his eclectic sense of humor there, too.

The Heat Visionary: Tony Fadell (@tfadell)

Being a central designer of the iPod is a lifetime achievement, but for Fadell, only the beginning. He has an eye for tech that needs a makeover--and he has the mind to do it himself. He's a regular on Best/Most/Top lists (from TIME's "100 Most Influential People in the World" to CNBC's "Top 50 Disruptors"), but probably too busy to notice. He reinvented the previously dull thermostat for the 21st century; four years after launching Nest in 2010, the company sold to Google for $3.2 billion. Next he's set his sights on sight; he recently took over Google Glass. Though the product's future is uncertain, one thing is clear: if anyone can bring its potential into focus, it's Fadell.

The Trend Oracle: Mary Meeker

A partner at the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Meeker is savvy in all kinds of directions. When she's not making deals, she's predicting them; Forbes called her "the Internet's most analytical historian." Another nickname is catchier: "Queen of the Net." She tracks web trends, which means any self-respecting webhead should track her. Her highly anticipated annual report on the state of the net routinely sets the digital community ablaze with debate. When she slings the stats, the industry bends to her wisdom.

The Box Buster: Otto Berkes (@OttoBerkes)

Berkes doesn't just think outside the box. He redefines it--literally. He helped originate the Xbox at Microsoft, where he put in 18 years (during which time he built a prototype for a touchscreen that Bill Gates showed at a conference in 2005...five years before the iPad). Then he moved to "the box" itself--TV. Specifically, he served as the chief technology officer at HBO until his resignation in late 2014. That cut short his intended role to stream HBO's programming for people who don't have premium cable. His memo announcing the transition indicated that he plans to continue pursuing "his passion building world-class technology teams, products, and businesses."

Published on: Mar 16, 2015
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