Fame, notoriety, notability – it’s all relative. Besides a few very prominent names, like the Bill Gateses and Mark Zuckerbergs of the world, there aren’t exactly what one could call celebrity programmers, and most people really don’t care who invented the internet, as long as it works. But when you’re in the business, you know that there just are some names that will always be revered, spoken of in hushed and hallowed tones, geeked out over and idolised; even if it is only among a niche audience. And we know just how important those people really have been to the way the world works today.
For most programmers, we didn’t get into this because we wanted to be famous, we got into it because it’s what gets us excited in a way that few people understand. And rest assured, there are some very deep footsteps we’re following in. Here’s our round-up of the world’s greatest programmers – the people who paved the way to a brave new world.
As the world’s first computer programmer, Lovelace recognised in the mid-1800s that a machine could have applications beyond pure calculation, and created the first algorithm. That’s why she is often regarded as the first person to recognise the full potential of a computing machine. She understood that a computer could do anything that could be noted logically, and was enormously advanced in her understanding of the capabilities of the computer. Ada Lovelace was a mind far ahead of her time.
As the inventor of the world wide web, Berners-Lee was the first person to get an HTTP client and server talking to each other via the net. In March 1989, he developed his proposal for an information management system, which came to life with the first successful HTTP client-server communication just a few months later, in November 1989.
Thompson co-created the original Unix operating system with Dennis Ritchie. He is also the inventor of the B programming language, which preceded C programming. Fellow-programmer Pete Prokopowicz said of Thompson, “he’s probably the most accomplished programmer ever. Unix kernel, Unix tools, world-champion chess program Belle, Plan 9, Go Language (often referred to as GoLang).” Thompson’s influence stretches as far as today (and beyond), with recent AI developments in the link between Go and AlphaGo relating to AlphaGoZero.
Ritchie, co-creator of Unix with Ken Thompson, also birthed the C programming language and, along with Thompson, received several awards, including the Turing Award from the ACM in 1983, the Hamming Medal from the IEEE in 1990 and the National Medal of Technology from American President Clinton in 1999.
One of the few names that have permeated popular culture, this Finnish-American programmer was the chief architect of the Linux kernel. Torvalds won the 2012 Millennium Technology Prize from the Technology Academy Finland, in recognition of the widespread use of Linux. He also created the distributed version control system, Git, which has become the standard developer collaboration platform in 2005.
Known as the Father of Java, Gosling invented the Java programming language while working at Sun Microsystems, which was purchased by Oracle in 2010. Gosling has also been credited with helping to create other software systems, like NeWS and Gosling Emacs. Thanks to his achievements over the years, Gosling was elected as Foreign Associate Member of the United States National Academy of Engineering.
Danish software-engineer, Hejlsberg, was credited with co-creating and designing several systems, the most well-known of which was the C# programming language. He is also the original author of Turbo Pascal and chief architect of Delphi. He currently works for Microsoft as the lead architect of C# and core developers on TypeScript. Stefan Kiryazov, the founder of lexicum.net, has said of Hejlsberg, “he created the development tools that were my favourite through three key periods along my path to becoming a professional software engineer.”
Knuth should be called the Grandfather of Programming – he is the author of the first and most definitive book on programming, The Art of Programming. He has been praised for his brilliance in analysing algorithms and is a scientist, mathematician and Professor Emeritus at Stanford University. According to IM Programmer, “he contributed to the development of the rigorous analysis of the computational complexity of algorithms and systematised formal mathematical techniques for it. Knuth is the creator of the TeX computer typesetting system, the related Metafont font definition language and rendering system and the Computer Modern family of typefaces.”
Considered as the badass brains behind Apollo’s flight control software, Hamilton was responsible for the code that led to the first successful lunar landing. As the Director of the Software Engineering Division at the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, Hamilton headed up the team which designed and built the onboard flight control software for NASA’s Apollo and Skylab missions. She coined the term software engineering and was the recipient of the Augusta Ada Lovelace Award in 1986, as well as NASA’s Exceptional Space Award in 2003.
Anyone who has ever had the pleasure of working in COBOL will be familiar with the work of this US Navy rear admiral and computer scientist, affectionately known as Amazing Grace. Her accomplishments are some of the most impressive – and nostalgic – in programming history, having worked on the team that designed UNIVAC I and leading the release of FLOW-MATIC, among other languages. She’s also the only programmer on the list to have a guided-missile destroyer named after her. She was awarded a staggering 40 honorary degrees during her lifetime and has a college at Yale University named after her.
Do you aspire to see your name on the list of greatest programmers ever? Do you just need the right environment to shine in? Add your CV to our database and let us help make your brilliance known.