Top 10 Most Influential Software Programmers of All Time

A programmer can create and modify computer programs. These programmers all contribute something to society no matter how small their part is in what they’ve created or changed. There are some who created huge benefits to society beyond that which a simple programmer has given us. When the contribution is rated this high, society regards them as pioneers in whichever area or field they are working in. To be regarded this way, their contribution has to create a complete change in the way a human accesses the information. These are the top 10 most influential software programmers of all time and how they have benefited our way of life.

List of Top 10 Most Influential Software Programmers of All Time until 2017

10. Niklaus Wirth

niklaus wirth, Top 10 Most Influential Software Programmers of All Time 2017

Swiss computer scientist, Niklaus Wirth is a pioneer in computer programming as well as in software engineering. Some of the great designs he is credited for include; Modula, Modula-2, Oberon-2, Oberon-7, Pascal, Euler, and Algol. These are all programming languages and he also designed the simple programming language PL/O that illustrates compiler design. His compiler design was used to form many University compiler design classes.
Wirth won the Turing Award in 1984 which is regarded as the highest distinction in computer science. He won this for his development of a sequence in innovative computer languages. His education began in Switzerland where he earned a degree in 1959 in Electronics Engineering from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. Later, in 1963, he earned his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the California University of Berkley. The year 2004 saw Wirth making fellowship with the Computer History Museum for his seminal work in programming languages and algorithms.

9. James Gosling


Canadian computer scientist, James Gosling has coded a large number of programs. He is most known for his creation of the extremely successful and commonly used Java programming language. With the Java programming language, he also created its original virtual machine and compiler. Gosling says he was inspired for his creation from his graduate student days where he created a p-code virtual machine for the lab’s DEC VAX computer. He put this together to enable his professor to run UCSD Pascal programs. This creation gave him the insight that the architecture-neutral execution for more widely used programs could be achieved with this similar technique.
James began his education at the University of Calgary where he received his Bachelor of Science degree. He is credited for writing a version of Emacs called Gosling Emacs while he was working towards his doctorate. He also built a multiprocessor version of Unix for a 16-way computer system and has also developed several compilers and mail systems.

8. Ken Thompson


An American pioneer of computer science, Ken Thompson has designed and implemented the original Unix operating system. Thompson also invented the B programming language and is credited as being one of the early developers of the Plan 9 operating system. Thompson was the co-inventor of the GO programming language while he worked at Google. He has other contributions to society with his work on regular expressions, the definition of the UTF-8 encoding and even the creation of endgame tablebases and works on computer chess, specifically his work on the chess machine Belle.

Thompson’s education began with his Bachelor of Science degree and his Master’s in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the University of California, Berkeley. He began working at Bell Labs where he worked on the Multics operating system. While he was working on this system, he created the Bon programming language and a video game called, Space Travel.

7. Brian Kernighan


A Canadian computer scientist, Brian Wilson Kernighan is the co-creator and developer of UNIX. He worked alongside Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie at the Bell Labs and is the co-author of the AWK and AMPL programming languages. Kernighan is a Professor and an Undergraduate Department Representative at the Computer Science Department of Princeton University. He gained his fame when he co-authored the first book on the C programming language and as the author of many UNIX programs. Some of the programs he wrote on were Version 7 Unix and ditroff. Kernighan’s other notable works include his criticisms for Pascal in, Why Pascal is Not My Favorite Programming Language.

Kernighan began his education at the University of Toronto where he earned his Bachelor’s degree in engineering physics. He also earned his PhD in electrical engineering from Princeton University where he later held a professor position in the computer science department.

6. Bjarne Stroustrup


A Danish computer scientist, Bjarne Stroustrup created and developed the widely used and extremely successful C++ programming language. Stroustrup didn’t just create this, he evolved it by himself. He wrote its early definitions, produced its first implementation, formulated its design by designing all major facilities, and processed extension proposals for the standards committee. He is now a Professor and holds a chair at the College of Engineering in Computer Science at Texas A&M University.

Stroustrup began his education by earning his Master’s degree in mathematics and computer science at the Aarhus University in Denmark. He also received his PhD in computer science at the University of Cambridge in England.

5. Dennis Ritchie


An American computer scientist, Dennis Ritchie is credited for pioneering the digital era. C Programming is the most commonly used program and Ritchie is responsible for this creation. It is the computer language used in many software applications, operating systems, and embedded system development. Ritchie is credited for influencing most of the modern day programming languages.

Ritchie’s father was a scientist at Bell Labs and co-authored a book on switching circuit theory. Dennis himself graduated from Summit High School in Summit, New Jersey and then went on to Harvard University where he earned a degree in physics and applied mathematics. He followed in his father’s footsteps and began working with Bell Labs in 1967. While he never officially received a PhD, Ritchie is known as one of the most influential software programmers for his development of the C programming language.

4. Linus Torvalds


A Finnish American software engineer, Linus Torvalds was the driving force behind developing the Linux kernel. He has been recognized for most of the creation and since was appointed chief architect of the Linux kernel where he now the coordinator of the project. Torvalds was honored in 2012 with the Millennium Technology Prize by Finland’s Technology Academy as the creation of the new open source operating system for computers led the use of the Linux kernel to be widely spread.

Linus Torvalds was born in Helsinki, Finland to two journalist parents who were known as campus radicals in the 1960’s. He attended the University of Helsinki and earned his master’s degree in computer science from the NODES research group. He attributes his interest in computers to the Commodore VIC-20 he was introduced to when he was only eleven years old.

3. Tim Berners-Lee


A British computer scientist, Tim Berners-Lee is known across the globe for his creation of the World Wide Web. He was the first to successfully communicate between a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) client and server through the internet in 1989. He has earned numerous awards for pioneering such an ingenious system and is one of only six members making up the World Wide Web Hall of Fame. Berners-Lee is now a holder of the Founders Chair with MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.
Tim Berners-Lee studied at The Queen’s College in Oxford and received a first-class Bachelor of Arts degree in physics. He went on to become an engineer at the telecommunication company in Dorset. It was in June of 1980 when he was working as an independent contractor for CERN that he first proposed a project on the concept of hypertext so researchers could share and update information with each other. It wouldn’t be until 1989 when he saw the opportunity to implement his ideas.

2. Donald Knuth


An American computer scientist and mathematician, Donald Knuth has been named, Father of the Analysis of Algorithms. He was instrumental in the development of the rigorous analysis of the computational complexity of algorithms. He also made popular the asymptotic notation and is the creator of the TeX computer typesetting system. Knuth’s contribution to the computer world doesn’t end there; he is also known for his creation of several branches of theoretical computer science and created the Computer Modern family of typefaces.
Donald Knuth’s education began as a choice between music and physics. While he was studying physics at the Case Institute of Technology, he was introduced to the IBM 650 which was one of the earliest mainframes. He decided to rewrite the assembly and compiler codes for it as he felt it could do better. When he received his PhD, Knuth joined Caltech’s faculty and accepted a commission to write a book on computer programming language compilers. This ended up becoming a series of seven books with the first volume published in 1968.

1. Guido van Rossum


A Dutch computer programmer, Guido van Rossum is the author of the popular Python programming language. This creation led him to be called a Benevolent Dictator For Life as he continues to oversee its development process and making changes or decisions when he sees they are needed. It was while he was working at Google that he developed Python and Mondrian which is a review system internally used by Google as well as Rietveld.
Guido van Rossum received his master’s degree in mathematics and computer science at the University of Amsterdam. He later worked for different research institutes including United States National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica. Rossum also gained notable recognition for his work in developing the ABC programming language.

The men behind almost every keystroke you perform on your computer are often unknown. While they may receive awards and have reputations in the computer science field, the ordinary person seldom hears about the person behind making computers function the way they do. These are top 10 most influential software programmers of all time who have made your computer the incredible machine it is.

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