The People Behind the Code: Famous Programmers Who Have
Influenced Computer Programming
Ada/Algorithm for the analytical engine (1843)
Daughter of the poet Lord Byron, Ada Lovelace is credited as being the world’s first programmer for her
“analytical engine”, an early mechanical general
Incredible to think how far we’ve come with
hosted exchange 2010
Her notes on the engine are
recognized as the first alg
orithm intended to be processed by a machine .
The Ada programming
language was later named after her.
In almost every computation a great variety of arrangements for the succession of the
processes is possible, and various considerations mu
st influence the selections amongst them for the
purposes of a calculating engine. One essential object is to choose that arrangement which shall tend to
reduce to a minimum the time necessary for completing the calculation.
Turing Machine (19
Alan Turing played a significant role in the creation of the mo
dern computer, formalizing the concept of
algorithm and computation with the
, or as he called it, the “automatic machine”. A
Turing machine can be adapted to simulate the logic of any computer algorithm, and is particularly
useful in explain
ing the functions of a CPU inside a computer.
A computer would deserve to be called intelligent if it could deceive a human into
believing that it was human.
John von Neumann
von Neumann architecture (1945)
John von Neumann, among his other major contributions to a vast range of fields, is the crea
tor of the
von Neumann architecture, which allowed computer programs to be stored in computer memory. This
architecture introduced the use of a central processing unit (CPU) and a single separate storage
structure (“memory”) to hold both instructions and d
Young man, in mathematics you don’t understand things. You just get used to them.
John W. Backus
Prior to FORTRAN, programming was very difficult and computers had to be meticulously “hand
In 1954, Backus assembled a team to define and develop Fortran for the IBM 704 computer. Fortran
became the first high
level programming language to be put to broad use.
Much of my work has come from being lazy. I didn’t like writing programs, and so, when
I was working on the IBM 701, writing programs for computing missile trajectories,
I started work on a
programming system to make it easier to write programs.
Lisp was invented by John McCarthy in 1958 and is the second
level programming language
in widespread use today. McCarthy showed that with a few simple operators and a notation for
functions, one can build a Turing
complete language for algorithms. Turing
completeness means that
the rules followed in sequence, on arbitrary data, can produce the result of any calculation. Today, the
most widely known general
purpose Lisp dialects are
Program designers have a tendency to think of the users as idiots who need to be
controlled. They should rather think of their program as a servant, whose master, the user, should be
able to control it. If designers and programmers think about the appar
ent mental qualities that their
programs will have, they’ll create programs that are easier and pleasanter
TeX (1978) and MMIX
Donald Knuth created the WEB/CWEB computer programming systems designed to encourage and
facilitate literate programming. Knuth is the creator of the
TeX computer typesetting system, which is
noted as one of the most sophisticated digital typographical systems in the world. Knuth also designed
MMIX, a computer intended to illustrate machine
level aspects of programming. He is also the author of
volume work The Art of Computer Programming and has been called the “father” of the
analysis of algorithms.
Let us change our traditional attitude to the construction of programs. Instead of
imagining that our main task is to instruct a com
puter what to do, let us concentrate rather on explaining
to human beings what we want a computer to do.
Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie
Unix (1969), B (1969) and C (1972) programming languages
(Ken Thompson (L) and Dennis Ritchie (R)
Dennis was the original developer of C, one o
f the most popular programming languages of all time and
a core developer on UNIX, alongside Ken Thomson. Thomson is famous for his work with the B
programming language as well as his leading role in the Unix and Plan 9 operating systems. More
ompson was the co
creator of Google’s programming language
Famous Dennis quote:
When I read commentary about suggestions for where C should go, I often
think back and give thank
s that it wasn’t developed under the advice of a worldwide crowd.
Famous Ken quote:
One of my most productive days was throwing away 1000 lines of code.
Bjarne Stroustrup is the designer and original implementer of C++, a general
language that combines both
level and low
level language features. Stroustrup began developing
C++ in 1979 (then called “C with Classes) as an enhancement to C. Over time virtual functions, operator
overloading, templates, and exception handling among other features were added.
C++remains one of
the most popular programming languages ever created.
An organization that treats its programmers as morons will soon have programmers
that are willing and able to act like morons only.
Microsoft Word (1983)
Richard Brodie was the main writer of Microsoft Word and was also Microsoft’
s 77th employee. He has
authored two books:
Virus of the Mind: The New Science of the Meme
Getting Past OK: The Self
Help Book for People Who Don’t Need Help
. He is also a professional poker player.
When the teenage Bill Gates caught the
playing mind virus at Harvard, was that
harmful because it kept it from his studies? Or was it beneficial because it helped sway his decision to
drop out, start Microsoft and become a multi
Virus of the mind: The new Science of the
Emacs editor/Lead architect of the GNU project (1983)
ichard Stallman is an American software freedom activist who launched the GNU Project in order to
create a free Unix
like operating system, essentially to provide a “sufficient body of free software to
software [...] to get along without any software that
is not free.” With the launch of the GNU Project, he
initiated the free software movement. In October 1985 he founded the Free Software Foundation.
If programmers deserve to be rewarded for creating innovative programs, by the same
deserve to be punished if they restrict the use of these programs.
Perl was created and developed by Larry Wall as a general
purpose Unix scripting language to make
report processing easier. The language provides powerful text processing facilities without the arbitrary
data length limits of many contemporar
y Unix tools, greatly simplifying text file manipulation. Wall is also
the author of the
(Read News) Usenet client and the universally
program (a Unix program
that updates text files according to instructions contained in a separate file, call
ed a patch file).
Many days I don’t write any code at all, and some days I spend all day writing code.
Guido van Rossum a.k.a BDFL (Benevolent Dictator for Life)
Van Rossum is best known as the author of the Python programming language, a general
level programming langua
ge whose design and philosophy centers on code readability. It permits
several styles of programming, so that programmers aren’t forced to adopt a particular style. Van
Rossum is known in the Python community as BDFL because even though he is currently emp
Google, he continues to oversee the Python development process, making decisions where necessary.
I would guess that the decision to create a small special purpose language or use an
existing general purpose language is one of the to
ughest decisions that anyone facing the need for a
new language must make.
Lee and Robert Cailliau
HTTP, HTML, World Wide Web (1990)
Lee (L) y Robert Cailliau (R)
Lee invented what we know as the World Wide Web with the help of Robert Cailliau and
ers at the nuclear physics laboratory Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucleaire (CERN).
Lee first proposed the “WorldWideWeb” project in 1989. He and his team are credited with
inventing the original HTTP protocol along with the HTML and other a
ssociated technology for a web
server and a text
based web browser. On December 25, 1990, with the help of Cailliau, they
implemented the first successful communication between an HTTP client and server via the Internet.
Famous Tim quote:
Anyone who has lost track of time when using a computer knows the propensity to
dream, the urge to make dreams come true and the tendency to miss lunch.
Famous Robert quote
When we have all data online it will be great for humanity. It is a prerequisite t
solving many problems that humankind faces.
Linux Kernel /Git revision control system (1991)
Linus Torvalds is best known for having initiated the development of the Linux kernel and git revision
control system. Linux is one of the most prominent examples of
free and open source software. Torvald
became the chief architect of the Linux kernel, and now acts as the project’s coordinator. About 2% of
the Linux kernel as of 2006 was written by Torvalds himself.
If Microsoft ever does applications for
Linux it means I’ve won
John D. Carmack
founder of id Software /Game programmer
John D. Carmack is a widely recognized guru in the video game industry and was the lead programmer
of id computer games:
Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Quake,
their sequels as well as the
series of games. Carmack released the
source code for Wolfenstein 3D in 1995 and the Doom
source code in 1997. He is an advocate of open source software, and has repeatedly voiced his
opposition to software patents, which he equates to “mugging someone.”
Founder of E
pic Games/Unreal engine
Sweeney is frequ
ently considered the counter
part of John Carmack. Both are industry leaders in game
engine design. He also wrote the original Unreal Engine from 1995
1998, which introduced several
breakthrough technologies including dynamic colored lighting, volumetric f
og, and real
get 3D level
In 100 years, after the last C and C++ programmers are long gone, there will still be
LISP enthusiasts. But do
n’t expect large
scale software development to happen this way.
Considered the father of the Java programming language, James Gosling developed Java while working
(now a subsidiary of Oracle Corporation). Java was originally designed for
ve television, but it was too advanced. The language derives much of its syntax from C and C++
but has a simpler object model and fewer low
level facilities. Java applications are typically compiled to
bytecode (class file) that can run on any Java Virtual
Machine (JVM) regardless of computer
If you come up with a good software development tool, that makes life
easier for the
developers and they can get their job done quicker, then the first thing the manager says is ‘oh you’ve
got free time on your hands. Do this extra thing.
David Heinemeier Hansson
Ruby on Rails (2004)
Ruby on Rails was extracted by David Heinemeier Hansson from his work on Basecamp, a project
management tool by 37signals (now a
web application company). As stated on Heinemeier
“ Ruby on Rails is an open
source web framework that’s optimized for programmer
happiness and sustainable productivity. It lets you write beautifu
l code by favoring convention over
Flexibility is not free. It’s overrated. And if you trade that flexibility in for some
constraints, you get a lot of complexity removed from the equation, you get a lot of productivity back
rom all the stuff you don’t have to do
Turbo Pascal (1981), Delphi (1999), C#(~2000)
Anders Hejlsberg was the architect for all versions of the Turbo Pascal compiler (originally produced for
the NasSys cassette
based operating system of the Nascom microcomputer), and the first three
of Borland Delphi. He currently works for Microsoft as the lead architect of the C# programming
language, a multi
paradigm programming language encompassing imperative, declarative, functional,
based, and component
oriented programming disciplines.
With a lot of programs today, you’re not only saying what you want the program to do,
you are saying in painful detail how you want it done. The way we get to take advantage of all of the
progress in CPUs and memory is offloading some of that
‘how to’ to the infrastructure.
Rasmus Lerdorf is best kn
own as the creator of the PHP programming language, a general
scripting language that was originally designed for web development to produce dynamic web pages.
He authored the first two versions of the language and also contributed to the Apache HT
TP Server and
came up with the LIMIT clause that was added to the mSQL Database in 1995.
PHP is about as exciting as your toothbrush. You use it every day, it does the job, it is a
simple tool, so what? Who would want to read about toothbrush