Most Influential Programmers in the World: Part 1

| 12 minutes read

In the world of programming, there are many who have helped to pave the way for the programs and languages that we know today. This compilation is to celebrate the many people who have worked hard to create languages and programs that have changed the world. This collection is in no way ranked in particular order, but simply discusses some of the best computer programmers and their accomplishments. We’ll be covering as many of the greats as we possibly can, in hopes we can discover the pattern that ripples across. We would love to hear your comments on notable achievements of these programmers, memorable quotes, and suggestions for our next piece on Most Influential Programmers: Part 2 in our comments.

William Henry “Bill” Gates III

Bill Gates 2004 cr

Bill Gates was born October 28, 1955. In 2011, he was ranked as the wealthiest American and the second wealthiest person in the world. Bill Gates is best known for his work as the chief executive at Microsoft, a company that he co-founded with Paul Allen. In 1975, he and Paul Allen created an interpreter for Altair 4k. This was Microsoft’s very first product and he and Paul went to Ed Roberts to see if he would be interested. Roberts agreed to distribute the interpreter as long as Gates would oversee the production and development. Gates took time away from his education at Harvard and he and Allen created several different versions including 4k BASIC, 8k BASIC, Extended BASIC, Extended ROM BASIC, and Disk BASIC.

Gates is no longer the chief executive of Microsoft, but he remains the largest shareholder in the company. He is an author with several books under his belt and is one of the top entrepreneurs in personal computer technology. He and his wife run the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which was founded in 2000. He continues to work in various charities and has always held the belief that he should give to those in need, having given at least $28 billion dollars of his own wealth to charity.

“Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.”
“It’s fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”
“We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.”

Dennis MacAlistair Ritchie

Ken n dennis

Dennis MacAlistair Ritchie was born in September 9, 1941. He was an American computer scientist who has revolutionized the era of digital computer programming. He was the creator of C programming and the Unix operating system, both of which made huge differences in the world of programming and the languages that programmers use today. Ritchie and his long-time partner worked tirelessly on the C programming language, and Ritchie is the co-author of The C Programming Language. Ritchie worked hand-in-hand with Ken Thompson, who wrote the original Unix. He contributed to Unix by porting it to different machines and different platforms.

Ritchie’s work with C programming is still widely used in many applications and operating systems even today. It is the cornerstone of most of the computer programming language of today’s modern programming languages. Ritchie was found dead in his home on October 12, 2011. He was 70 years old and had been in poor health. Though he died just a week after Steve Jobs, his death did not receive near the recognition. Ascomputer historian Paul Ceruzzi so aptly stated, “Ritchie was under the radar. His name was not a household name at all, but…if you had a microscope and could look in a computer, you’d see his work everywhere inside.” As a scientist and programmer, he will always be remembered for his trailblazing work in C programming.

“Obviously, the person who had most influence on my career was Ken Thompson.”
“UNIX is basically a simple operating system, but you have to be a genius to understand the simplicity.”

Steve Wozniak

Steve Wozniak

Steve Wozniak was born on August 11, 1950. He was the co-founder of Apple Computers along with Steve Jobs and their partner Ronald Wayne. Wozniak created the Apple I shortly after Apple Computers began. With his vast knowledge of electronics, he was a godsend to Jobs’ marketing skills. After the success of Apple I, Wozniak went on to develop the Apple II as the beginnings of Apple’s personal computer line. By this time, Apple was growing by leaps and bounds and had a value of $985 million.

Wozniak has been named as one of Silicone Valley’s most creative engineers. In 1990, he teamed up with Mitchell Kapor to begin the Electronic Frontier Foundation. This foundation was established to provide legal representation to computer hackers who faced prosecution. He was also the founder of Wheels of Zeus or (WoZ). Founded in 2001, this company was started to develop wireless GPS technology. After the closing of his company, WoZ, he wrote his autobiography, iWoz: From Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It.

“Never trust a computer you can’t throw out the window.”
“I think everything I have done in my life, my reason at the time were right no matter how things worked out.”

Anders Hejlsberg

Anders Hejlsberg

Anders Hejlsberg was born in December 1960 and is a Danish software engineer who was the co-designer of many different programming languages. He was the author of Turbo Pascal and the main architect of Delphi. Before joining Microsoft in 1996, Hejlsberg was making a huge impact on the developer world of programming. He had massive achievements with PolyPascal, Turbo Pascal, and Borland Delphi. He is best known for Turbo Pascal, which was the first IDE for an entire generation of developers.

Hejlsberg has been with Microsoft since 1996 and one of his very first achievements was the J++ language and Windows Foundation Classes. He has been honored as a Microsoft Distinguished Engineer and with a Technical Fellow. Hejlsberg currently works as the lead architect in C# and is the core developer on TypeScript. He is credited with helping to make Visual J++ the most popular Java IDE in the nineties. Hejlsberg truly made his mark on the programming world and still is an influence to the programmers of today.

“You can see it in the products I’ve built over the years? They strive to be simple. Simplicity is important in the quest for developer productivity. ”
“My particular interest for the past couple of years has been to really think deeply about the big impendence mismatch we have between programming languages, C# in particular, and the database world, like SQL or, for that matter, the XML world, like XQuery and those languages that exist.”

Linus Benedict Torvalds

Linus Torvalds

Linus Torvalds was born December 28, 1969. He is a Finnish-American software engineer and a hacker who was responsible for the Linux Kernel. When Torvalds first developed the Linux Kernel, he wanted to call it Freax, which is a combination of both the words “Free” and “Freak” with a letter X to show its close companionship with Unix. His wishes were not granted when his friend Ari Lemmke, administrator of his FTP server, named the kernel Linux.

At least 2% or more of the Linux Kernel was completely written by Torvalds. While thousands of programmers have contributed to Linux, his percentage is still the largest of the group. Today, Torvalds owns the Linux trademark and still controls all of the new code that is put into the Linux Kernel. He still closely monitors the use of the Linux system and all that it is used for.

In 2010, Linus Torvalds became a United States citizen and was able to vote in his first voting ballot. When asked what political party he affiliated himself with, he was quoted as saying, “I have way too much personal pride to want to be associated with any of them, quite frankly.”

“Most good programmers do programming not because they expect to get paid or get adulation by the public, but because it is fun to program.”
“Really, I’m not out to destroy Microsoft. That will just be a completely unintentional side effect.”

Grace Murray Hopper

Grace Hopper and UNIVAC

Grace Murray Hopper was born on December 9, 1906 and lived until January 1, 1992. She was both a United States Navy officer and a brilliant computer scientist. She was a true pioneer in the world of computer programming and was one of the first programmers for the Harvard Mark I computer. She also developed the very first compiler for computer languages. Through her work, COBOL was developed as one of the very first modern programming languages.

Hopper is still known as creating the term “debugging” to mean fixing computer glitches. She is often referred to as “Amazing Grace” and a US NAVY destroyer is named after her, the USS Hopper. The Cray XE6, nicknamed “Hopper,” is a supercomputer named after her as well.

In 1949, as an employee of Ecker-Mauchly Computer Corporaton as a senior mathmetician, she developed the A compiler under the first version known as A-0. By 1952, she had a working compiler. In response to questions about her compiler she stated, “Nobody believed that. I had a running compiler and nobody would touch it. They told me computers could only do arithmetic.” In 1954, she was named the company’s first director of programming and the department that she worked under finally released her beginning compiler programming languages.
In the Navy, in the years of 1967 to 1977, Hopper worked on COBOL and created its compiler as a standard program for the Navy. She continued her work until late in life and was buried with full honors in Arlington National Cemetery.

“The most important thing I’ve accomplished, other than building the compiler, is training young people. They come to me, you know, and say, “Do you think we can do this?” I say, “Try it.” And I back ’em up. They need that. I keep track of them as they get older and I stir ’em up at intervals so they don’t forget to take chances.”
“If it’s a good idea, go ahead and do it. It’s much easier to apologize than it is to get permission.”

Kenneth Lane Thompson

Ken n dennis

Kenneth Thompson was born February 4, 1943. He is an American pioneer in the world of computer science and is commonly referred to as “Ken” amongst his fellow hackers. Thompson worked with Bell Labs for the majority of his career and is responsible for work with the B programming language and the C language. He is also one of the creators that worked on the Unix and Plan 9 operating systems.

In the 60s, Thompson worked with Dennis Ritchie on the Multics operating system. He created the Bon programming language and both he and Ritchie made a move to Bell Labs. Here they became a team of creators, working on the Unix operating system and the B language that was the predecessor of the C language. Among his many achievements in programming, he is also held with high regard in creating Belle, which was a world championship chess computer. This allowed him to develop the complete class of chess game endings that was released on CD-ROM. In 2000, Thompson retired from Bell and now works at Google as one of their Distinguished Engineers.

“You can’t trust code that you did not create yourself.”
“I am a very bottom-up thinker.”

Bjarne Stroustrup


Bjarne Stroustrup was born on December 30, 1950. A Danish computer scientist, Stroustrup is most wellknown for his development of the C++ programming language. He began working on the C++ language back in 1978. He is also responsible for what many programmers consider the C++ language bible, called The C++ Programming Language. His book has now been revised two times to show the changing language through the work of the C++ standards committee.

Stroustrup holds a master’s degree in both computer science and mathematics. He also holds a Ph.D. in computer science. He was the head of the AT&T Lab’s research department from its inception until 2002. He is currently a distinguished professor at Texas A&M University where he also holds the College of Engineering Endowed Chair in Computer Science.

“Design and programming are human activities; forget that and all is lost.”
“Anybody who comes to you and says he has a perfect language is either naÏve or a salesman.”

Dr. James A. Gosling

James Gosling 2008

Dr. James Gosling was born on May 19, 1955. He is a Canadian computer scientist who is known as the father of the Java programming language. He began his career in 1977 when he received a B.Sc inComputer Science. He also later earned a Ph.D. in Computer Science. Between the years of 1984 and 2010, Gosling worked with Sun Microsystems. In 1994, he created the Java programming language by creating the original design, the compiler, and the virtual machine.

In March of 2011, Gosling announced, via his blog, that he was making a move to work with Google. Around five months later, he also announced that he was joining a company called Liquid Robotics. Dr. Gosling is also listed as an advisor at the Scala company that was started in May of 2011.

“A lot of [developers] have an amazingly weak grasp of physics. We’ve become a much more connected world and there’s a lot more to program for than web services.”
“People think of security as a noun, something you go buy. It’s an abstract concept like happiness. Openness is unbelievably helpful to security.”

Guido van Rossum

Guido van Rossum

Guido van Rossum was born on January 31, 1956. He is a Dutch computer programmer who is best known for creating the Python programming language. He grew up in the Netherlands where he received a master’s degree in both computer science and mathematics. In 1996, he began working on Python, which would be a continuum to the ABC programming language. He wanted to create a language that would appeal to the Unix hackers. He chose the name of Python because he is a big fan of the Monty Python Flying Circus and was in a rather irreverent mood upon its creation.

In December of 2005, Van Rossum was hired by Google where he created a web-based tool for Google in Python. He continues as the Benevolent Dictator for Life over Python, meaning that he still holds controlling interest in the program. While still being employed by Google, he spends much of his time working on and developing Python.

“I have this hope that there is a better way. Higher-level tools that actually let you see the structure of the software more clearly will be of tremendous value. ”
“If you decide to design your own language, there are thousands of amateur language designer pitfalls.”

Yukihiro Matsumoto

Yukihiro Matsumoto EuRuKo 2011

Yukihiro Matsumoto, known as Matz, was born on April 14, 1965. He is a Japanese software programmer and computer scientist who is renowned as the chief designer and author of the Ruby programming language. Matsumoto was born in Osaka and later moved to Tottori when he was four. With no formal education in the beginning, he was a self-taught programmer through High School.

He released the very first version of Ruby in December of 1995. He is still the lead developer of the program language and oversees the development of the Matz Ruby Implementation that is often called MRI. In 2012, he worked on a new implementation of Ruby called mruby. This program was created to allow developers to embed Ruby into many other programs without compromising the memory or performance of the program. He continues to work on the Ruby programming language to improve it as programming languages change and develop.

“I didn’t work hard to make Ruby perfect for everyone, because you feel differently from me. No language can be perfect for everyone. I tried to make Ruby perfect for me, but maybe it’s not perfect for you. The perfect language for Guido van Rossum is probably Python.”
“People are different. People choose different criteria. But if there is a better way among many alternatives, I want to encourage that way by making it comfortable so that’s what I’ve tried to do.”

Larry Wall

Larry Wall YAPC 2007

Larry Wall was born on September 27, 1954. He is a computer programmer and an author who is most renowned for being the creator of the Perl programming language. He created Perl in 1987 while working for Unisys. His Christian faith has been his driving force over the years and why he uses much of the terminology that he does. By referring to his program as Perl, he gave homage to the Biblical passage of “pearl of great price” that is found in the book of Matthew.

He is also an author who co-wrote Programming Perl. This book is considered the go-to book for all things Perl. Wall also edited the Perl Cookbook. He continues to work with Perl and oversees its further development and serves as the Benevolent Dictator for Life of the Perl programming project. His sense of humor and wit make him liked by those he works with and his cunning programming skills continue to show him as a master at his craft.

“The three chief virtues of a programmer are: Laziness, Impatience, and Hubris.”
“For me, writing is a love-hate relationship.”

John McCarthy

John McCarthy Stanford

John McCarthy was born on September 4, 1927 and lived until October 24, 2011. He was an American cognitive scientist and computer scientist. He was the inventor of the term “artificial intelligence.” He developed the Lisp programming language, which became very influential in the very early stages of the development of AI.
He was a champion for artificial intelligence and in 1956 organized and headed the first international conference to speak on AI. Through his work and development with Lisp, it quickly became the programming language associated with artificial intelligence during 1960.

Among his achievements is the creation of a series of computer chess games that was used to go against the Soviet Union. He also worked on the idea of the space fountain in 1982. McCarthy was a prolific reader and often voiced his opinions on world affairs. Later in his life, he wrote the short story entitled, The Robot and the Baby.

“Foolishness is rarely a matter of a lack of intelligence or even a lack of information.”
“If you want to do good, work on the technology, not on getting power.”

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