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Rick Cook (author of the Wizadry series) once said, “Programmers are in a race with the Universe to create bigger and better idiot-proof programs, while the Universe is trying to create bigger and better idiots. So far the Universe is winning.”

Programmers make the technologies we use possible, but often get little recognition for their major contributions outside the IT industry. A few months ago, one of our reader’s suggested we do a post on the creators of the most renowned programming languages. By creating this list, I hope to commemorate at least some of the many influential programmers of our time.

Ada Lovelace
Ada/Algorithm for the analytical engine (1843)


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Daughter of the poet Lord Byron, Ada Lovelace is credited as being the world’s first programmer for her work on Charles Babbage’s “analytical engine”, an early mechanical general-purpose computer. Incredible to think how far we’ve come with hosted exchange 2010.  Her notes on the engine are recognized as the first algorithm intended to be processed by a machine .  The Ada programming language was later named after her.

Famous quote: In almost every computation a great variety of arrangements for the succession of the processes is possible, and various considerations must 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.

Alan Turing
Turing Machine (1937)


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Alan Turing played a significant role in the creation of the modern computer, formalizing the concept of algorithm and computation with the Turing machine, or as he called it, the “automoatic machine”. A Turing machine can be adapted to simulate the logic of any computer algorithm, and is particularly useful in explaining the functions of a CPU inside a computer.

Famous quote: 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)


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John von Neumann, among his other major contributions to a vast range of fields, is the creator 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 data.

Famous quote: Young man, in mathematics you don’t understand things. You just get used to them.

John W. Backus
FORTRAN (1954)


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Prior to FORTRAN, programming was very difficult and computers had to be meticulously “hand-coded”. 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.

Famous quote: 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.

John McCarthy
Lisp (1958)


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Lisp was invented by John McCarthy in 1958 and is the second-oldest high-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 Common Lisp and Scheme.

Famous quote: 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 apparent mental qualities that their programs will have, they’ll create programs that are easier and pleasanter — more humane — to deal with.

Donald Knuth
TeX (1978) and MMIX


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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 the multi-volume work The Art of Computer Programming and has been called the “father” of the analysis of algorithms.

Famous quote: Let us change our traditional attitude to the construction of programs. Instead of imagining that our main task is to instruct a computer 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))
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Dennis was the original developer of C, one of 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 recently, Thompson was the co-creator of Google’s programming language Go.

Famous Dennis quote: When I read commentary about suggestions for where C should go, I often think back and give thanks 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
C++ (~1983)


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Bjarne Stroustrup is the designer and original implementer of C++, a general-purpose programming language that combines both high-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.

Famous quote: An organization that treats its programmers as morons will soon have programmers that are willing and able to act like morons only.

Richard Brodie
Microsoft Word (1983)


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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, and Getting Past OK: The Self-Help Book for People Who Don’t Need Help. He is also a professional poker player.

Famous quote: When the teenage Bill Gates caught the poker-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-billionaire? (Virus of the mind: The new Science of the Meme)

Richard Stallman
Emacs editor/Lead architect of the GNU project (1983)


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Richard 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.

Famous Quote: If programmers deserve to be rewarded for creating innovative programs, by the same token they deserve to be punished if they restrict the use of these programs.

Larry Wall
Perl (1987)


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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 contemporary Unix tools, greatly simplifying text file manipulation. Wall is also the author of the rn (Read News) Usenet client and the universally-used patchprogram (a Unix program that updates text files according to instructions contained in a separate file, called a patch file).

Famous quote: 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)
Python (1989)


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Van Rossum is best known as the author of the Python programming language, a general-purpose, high-level programming language 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 employed by Google, he continues to oversee the Python development process, making decisions where necessary.

Famous quote: I would guess that the decision to create a small special purpose language or use an existing general purpose language is one of the toughest decisions that anyone facing the need for a new language must make.

Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau
HTTP, HTML, World Wide Web (1990)


Tim Berners-Lee (L) y Robert Cailliau (R)
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Tim Berners-Lee invented what we know as the World Wide Web with the help of Robert Cailliau and others at the nuclear physics laboratory Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucleaire (CERN). Berners-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 associated 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. Merry Christmas!

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 to solving many problems that humankind faces.

Linus Torvalds
Linux Kernel /Git revision control system (1991)


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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.

Famous quote: If Microsoft ever does applications for Linux it means I’ve won.

John D. Carmack
Co-founder of id Software /Game programmer


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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 Commander Keen 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.”
Famous quote: Story in a game is like a story in a porn movie. It’s expected to be there, but it’s not that important.

Tim Sweeney
Founder of Epic Games/Unreal engine
programmer

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Sweeney is frequently 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 fog, and real-time what-you-see-is-what-you-get 3D level-building tools.

Famous quote: In 100 years, after the last C and C++ programmers are long gone, there will still be LISP enthusiasts. But don’t expect large-scale software development to happen this way.

James Gosling
Java (1995)


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Considered the father of the Java programming language, James Gosling developed Java while working at Sun Microsystems (now a subsidiary of Oracle Corporation). Java was originally designed for interactive 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 architecture.

Famous quote: 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)


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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 Hansson’s site “ Ruby on Rails is an open-source web framework that’s optimized for programmer happiness and sustainable productivity. It lets you write beautiful code by favoring convention over configuration”.

Famous quote: 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 from all the stuff you don’t have to do.

***UPDATE***

Anders Hejlsberg
Turbo Pascal (1981), Delphi (1999), C#(~2000)


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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 versions 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, class-based, and component-oriented programming disciplines.

Famous quote: 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
PHP


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Rasmus Lerdorf is best known as the creator of the PHP programming language, a general-purpose 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 HTTP Server and came up with the LIMIT clause that was added to the mSQL Database in 1995.

Famous quote: 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 toothbrushes?

53 comments

Posted by Raf at 11:06 am at 15. September 2010

Among a lot of things, like Microsoft Word and Linux, Ruby on Rails is not a programming language.

Ruby on Rails = MVC framework
Ruby = programming language

Posted by Serabe at 11:18 am at 15. September 2010

You don’t really know what a programming language is, do you?

Posted by mycall at 11:52 am at 15. September 2010

What about BASIC?? Designed in 1964 by John George Kemeny and Thomas Eugene Kurtz at Dartmouth College, popularized by Bill Gates and Paul Allen in the 70s/80s, as of 2006, 59% of developers for the .NET platform used Visual Basic .NET as their only language (more popular than C#).

Turbo Pascal, Delphi, F++ and C# should also thank Anders Hejlsberg.

Posted by tim sweeney at 12:18 pm at 15. September 2010

Thats not me.

Posted by Alex at 12:24 pm at 15. September 2010

Errr… Ruby on Rails?? That’s not language, it’s a framework! Even PHP (which is ultimately a framework language built in C) qualifies to be on this list more than Ruby on Rails does!!

Posted by Where is the PHP bro at 12:26 pm at 15. September 2010

OK then…. where is PHP

Posted by Dave at 12:31 pm at 15. September 2010

Ummm…..PHP?

Posted by Patrick at 12:42 pm at 15. September 2010

Umm…where’s COBOL? I know that some people think it’s great and some people think it’s terrible, but you’ve got to admit it was a HUGE piece of bringing computers into business.

Posted by Mary at 12:52 pm at 15. September 2010

@tim sweeney Updated. thanks!

I realize that the title of the post does not accurately reflect the article’s content. My intention was to outline some of the most notable programmers who have greatly shaped world of programming. Thanks for the feedback!

I will change the title.

Posted by Shane at 1:18 pm at 15. September 2010

For the people who commented negatively above…

The title of the article is “Famous Programmers Who Have Influenced Computer Programming”, not “Obscure People Who Have Created Programming Languages”.

Ruby on Rails is not a programming language, true… but I think it is a valid argument that DHH is a famous programmer who is influencing programming.

MS Word is not a programming language, but certainly the work done on it (and in it) have influenced programming.

Read the title…

Posted by Junaid at 1:24 pm at 15. September 2010

@Patrick they can’t emerge all the languages in a single post. this is just outline

and we should salute to these people.. and especially to those who worked on 0 and 1 only (the earlier programmers)

Posted by Serabe at 1:25 pm at 15. September 2010

Dear Shane,

Mary has edited it without any notice, but you can still see the original title in the URL and in Reddit ( http://www.reddit.com/r/programming/comments/de6ru/the_men_behind_the_code_creators_of_famous/ ). The original title was:

The Men Behind the Code: Creators of Famous Programming Languages

Dear Mary,

you are a bad, bad girl. A notice would be really appreaciated.

Posted by Mary at 1:44 pm at 15. September 2010

@Serabe I posted a comment above Shane’s post saying that I was changing the title. I was not trying to deceive anyone and apologize for the confusion.

Thanks for the comment

Posted by Kevin at 1:53 pm at 15. September 2010

@Shane, MS Word doesn’t influence programming, it influences office work.

Posted by Serabe at 2:01 pm at 15. September 2010

@Mary, sorry, I was following the comments on mail and I didn’t get yours.

I’m really sorry.

Posted by Mary at 2:12 pm at 15. September 2010

@Serabe Apology accepted ;) Thanks!

Posted by hngrydavinci at 2:45 pm at 15. September 2010

Programming aside, Linus Torvalds looks like he attends some interesting masquerade parties. These eyes are wide OPEN, Torvalds…

Posted by Mike at 3:04 pm at 15. September 2010

Please also add Anders Hejlsberg, the creator of Delphi and C#

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anders_Hejlsberg

Posted by Jzilla at 3:47 pm at 15. September 2010
Posted by Jzilla at 3:48 pm at 15. September 2010
Posted by mike at 3:59 pm at 15. September 2010

add MATZ for ruby then

Posted by hapdaniel at 5:06 pm at 15. September 2010

As other have mentioned, BASIC, COBOL and PASCAL inventors should be mentioned.

Posted by Shane at 5:13 pm at 15. September 2010

@Serabe, my bad…

@Kevin, I don’t agree. The development of Microsoft Word and the entire MS Office suite has undoubtedly had an impact on programming at large. These are enormous and complex programs that millions of people use everyday. I am not saying that the impact has been all positive, or that Word is good, just that it exists and has had an impact. I personally can’t stand Word, but I can see how it’s development has influenced programming.

Posted by John Wooten at 5:14 pm at 15. September 2010

Definitely should add one of most used in the world
“Objective-C” by Dr. Tom Love and Brad Cox.
Used to create iPhone, iPad, Mac, etc. apps and
Much of the OS. They are in Masterminds of
Programming.

Posted by Alexander Vassbotn Røyne at 5:14 pm at 15. September 2010

You forgot Simula, a norwegian programming language, actually, the programming language that defined object oriented programming first ;)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simula

Posted by Robert Archer at 5:28 pm at 15. September 2010

I enjoyed reading the article.

Posted by tater at 9:06 pm at 15. September 2010

TCL?

Posted by Katie at 1:40 am at 16. September 2010

Many of these have done a great work even after their creation (invention) but many are truly wasting their talent working for giants now. Their work constitutes taking lectures and sitting idle.

What the heck Ramsus doing in Yahoo and Guido Van doing in Google. Wasting Talent .. Yes they are.

Posted by Harleqin at 7:41 am at 16. September 2010

Regarding Python/van Rossum: “It permits several styles of programming, so that programmers aren’t forced to adopt a particular style.”

Is that a joke?

Posted by SeanJA at 1:29 pm at 16. September 2010

Really? RoR and no plain old Ruby?

Posted by Tony at 11:23 pm at 16. September 2010

You simply can’t write an article like that: mention a couple of greats and not-so-greats and not put Bill Gates somewhere in there. That’s just plain silly.

Posted by Web design Brisbane Adriana at 1:09 am at 17. September 2010

Great selection, but there are some important people missing in this list. I agree with Alexander, Simula MUST be in this list!

Posted by ENRIQUE at 2:51 pm at 17. September 2010

Where is Niklaus Wirth?

Posted by chuck at 3:29 pm at 17. September 2010

I second Niklaus Wirth, creator of Pascal, and propose Yukihiro “Matz” Matsumoto, creator of Ruby, Grace Murray Hopper for COBOL, Edsger Dijkstra for his influence on just about every modern programing language.

Posted by Erik Straub at 5:19 pm at 18. September 2010
Posted by Norlan at 8:02 pm at 18. September 2010

How come the ruby web development framework inventor is mentioned but not the language inventor himself? I don’t think rails would be great if not for ruby.

Posted by Pedro Costa at 2:17 pm at 23. September 2010

I find really hilarious the inclusion of David Heinemeier Hansson with Ruby on Rails while not including, for example, Niklaus Wirth for Pascal Language.

Ruby on Rails is not a programming language! Its a Framework and like it there are many others and many that, at their time, had a lot more impact, like Apache Struts!!!

Posted by Piero at 12:27 am at 18. December 2010

Nice overview

A Fortranprogrammerfromthe80s

Posted by MsC at 2:22 am at 16. January 2011

Andrew S. Tanenbaum!!!!!!!!!!!! creator of minix

Posted by Jesse at 4:46 pm at 5. May 2011

I would recommend removing Rasmus Lerdorf, as he has stated many times over that he is not a programmer, not a real programmer, hates programming etc. That quote you have about him is actually part of a discussion where he wonders why anyone cares about PHP internals.

Posted by Shadab Durrani at 4:24 pm at 1. January 2012

A Japanese guy did Ruby on rails.

Posted by Serabe at 4:26 pm at 1. January 2012

Wrong. Yukihiro Matsumoto created Ruby. David Heinemeier created Ruby on Rails. Check your facts.

Posted by Open at 6:48 am at 6. January 2012

why all these people are either Americans or Europeans?
where are all those Japanese,Chinese, Korean, Indian, great programmers.
you simply forget 0 was invented by an Indian mathematician so at least this list should have an Indian. in fact if you put Ruby on Rail why the heck u didn’t include Ruby’s creator.
that’s because he is a Japanese? wow this article seems racist to me. only whites no Asians or Blacks.

Posted by Alex Russell at 6:49 am at 12. January 2012

Hmmmmm!
A sort of fight going on on the title of this post…..Whether programming language or Framework, the writer just wanted to present the faces behind what we are using today. I appreciate his/her wonderful effort…Those who really want to ensure the nature of PHP or Ruby, should buy books or visit Wikipedia :-)

Happy New year to all of you.
Alex

Posted by Alex Russell at 10:52 am at 20. January 2012

Can anybody tell me on what profile has Guido van Rossum been appointed by Google? My younger brother calls him the Hitler of Opensource world and says that he is very good at interfering and making diktat on new and budding programmers.. If he spends hell lot many hours on Python.Org, then how come he is a full time employee of Google…I should not burn my as*…None of my business though!
Great to join you once again :-)

Posted by Busayo at 5:56 pm at 30. January 2012

really great post!!.. thought provoking too

Posted by Jackson Hill at 2:13 pm at 10. September 2012

I would read about a toothbrush

Posted by x at 7:50 am at 30. December 2013

dhh and rasmus lerdof have nothing to do in this list.
who is next. matt mullenweg?

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