The past century is the era in which the computer and related technological solutions were born. The 20th century is the age of the technical and scientific revolution, known as 3.0, in which high IT technology perfectly fits. The participation of mathematicians, engineers and programmers in building the theoretical foundations and technical facilities for this initially unnamed field is unquestionable. In this article, we collected 15 famous programmers who, in our opinion, had the biggest impact on the IT world. 

IT specialists are some of the most influential people in the world. While everyone uses software and platforms, developers rarely are in the spotlight in the same way as celebrities. IT also has many nameless authors, members of research, design and standardisation teams. So, we decided to give those people a well deserved spotlight.

We created a list of the most famous and influential IT specialists who have forever changed and shaped the technological landscape of the present world. They are pioneers in their respective fields, and each has brought something that has completely changed the way we communicate with each other and how we access information and media.

Most famous programmers in 3 categories:

MACHINES

1. Alan Turing 1912-1954

15 most famous programmers who changed the IT world forever: 1. Alan Turing 1912-1954

This British computer scientist, mathematician and logician is the creator of a Turing machine that simulates computer algorithms. He was one of the first to write about the possibility of computer intelligence. His machine played a crucial role in deciphering secret German codes from World War II. His participation in this great event has only recently been made public.

Due to his contribution, Turing is considered a hero of World War II and the father of modern computers. Today his name lives on thanks to the Turing Prize, which is the highest award that can be won in the field of computer science. 

2. Philip Don Estridge 1937-1985

15 most famous programmers who changed the IT world forever: 2. Philip Don Estridge 1937-1985

This American engineer is responsible for the creation of the first IBM Personal Computer (PC) in 1983. He is one of the leading creators of this company’s power. His decisions radically changed the computer industry. They resulted in a massive increase in PC sales, creating an entire IBM computer hardware manufacturers industry.

At the time of Don Estridge’s tragic aerial death, IBM ESD, which included the development and production of IBM PCs, PC DOS, PC LAN and TopView, had nearly 10,000 employees and sold over a million computers. 

LANGUAGES/SOFTWARE/SYSTEMS

3. Niklaus Wirth 1934-

15 most famous programmers who changed the IT world forever: 3. Niklaus Wirth 1934-

Niklaus is a swiss computer scientist and the creator of several programming languages. The most famous, created in 1970/1, is PASCAL. He is also known for designing the Euler, Algol W, Modula, Modula-2, Oberon, Oberon-2, and Oberon-07 languages. Moreover, he designed the simple PL/0 programming language to illustrate the compiler design. It formed the basis of many university compiler design classes.

Niklaus previously worked on the part of the Lilith and Oberon operating system design and implementation team and the Lola digital hardware design and simulation system. But it was Pascal that became one of the most popular universal high-level programming languages.

The peak phase of development of subsequent builds, such as Turbo Pascal, fell at the end of the 20th century; with time, in most fields of Pascal’s exploitation, C ++ replaced it. 

4. Dennis Ritchie 1941-2011

15 most famous programmers who changed the IT world forever: 4. Dennis Ritchie 1941-2011

This American computer scientist is credited with shaping and pioneering the digital age. He co-founded the B programming language, developed at Bell Labs in 1969, then on its basis, together with Ken Thompson and Brian Kernighan, he developed the C language, which is still one of the most popular programming languages. It is widely used in embedded hardware programming, open-source software, systems programming, 3D movies and more.

In the years 1969–1970, together with Thompson, he developed the UNIX operating system, which later became the basis for LINUX. It has undoubtedly influenced the way people think about modern programming languages.

For his work, he received the Turing Prize in 1983, the Hamming Medal in 1990, and President Clinton’s National Medal of Technology in 1999. 

5. Brian Wilson Kernighan 1942-

15 most famous programmers who changed the IT world forever: 5. Brian Wilson Kernighan 1942-

He is the Canadian computer scientist who worked at Bell Labs alongside Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie as the co-creator and developer of UNIX. Moreover, he is a co-author of the AWK and AMPL programming languages. Kernighan also became famous for his co-authoring the first book on the C programming language and many UNIX programs such as ditroff and cron for version 7 of Unix.

He is currently a professor and department representative for the undergraduate studies at Princeton University’s Department of Computer Science. His notable works include Pascal’s famous critique of “Why Pascal Isn’t My Favorite Programming Language”.

6. Kenneth Lane Thompson 1943-

15 most famous programmers who changed the IT world forever: 6. Kenneth Lane Thompson 1943-

Thompson is the American co-creator of the B programming language. Together with Dennis Ritchie (who also developed Unix), Thompson rewrote most of UNIX into the C programming language in 1973. Thompson was also involved in the development of the Plan 9 and Inferno operating systems.

This American is also the author of the QED editor for the CTSS system, where for the first time, regular expressions (patterns describing symbol strings) have been used to search for text.

He has been working at Google since 2006, where he also co-created the Go programming language. If that weren’t enough, he also worked on computer chess, which included the creation of end tables and the Belle chess machine, which has reached the championship level of chess. 

7. Bjarne Stroustrup 1950-

15 most famous programmers who changed the IT world forever: 7. Bjarne Stroustrup 1950-

He is a danish IT specialist who is equally passionate about computers and programming, as well as history and philosophy. We know him primarily as the creator of the C++ language, which he developed as an extension of the C language.

Stroustrup invented C++ on his own and extended it by writing its early definitions, creating its first implementation, formulating design criteria, designing all primary objects, processing extension proposals for a standarisation committee, and its standard manual.

He currently works as a professor and head of the Department of Computer Science of the College of Engineering at Texas A&M University. 

8. James Gosling 1955-

15 most famous programmers who changed the IT world forever: 8. James Gosling 1955-

This Canadian has several successes under his belt and has coded many programs. But he is best known as the father of Java, the foundations of which he developed in 1994. In addition, he prepared the first version of the virtual machine.

Gosling is also the creator of the Emacs implementation and contributed to the construction of the NeWS. In 2007 he was awarded the Order of Canada. On top of that, he is also a member of the National Academy of Engineering. He has been working at Google since 2011.

Due to his remarkable achievements, Gosling was elected as a Foreign Associate Member of the US National Academy of Engineering. 

9. Guido van Rossum 1956-

15 most famous programmers who changed the IT world forever: 9. Guido van Rossum 1956-

This Dutch programmer became the author of the popular Python programming language. Python, he says, was born out of boredom – he had too much free time before Christmas in 1989. Rossum took its name from “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” comedy series. Rossum developed Python while working at Google, where he also created Mondrian (the code verification system used internally by Google) and Rietveld.

Currently, Rossum is working at Dropbox. The Dutchman was recognised as an outstanding IT specialist by the Association for Computing Machinery and received the NLUUG award in 2003. 

10. Linus Torvalds 1969- 

15 most famous programmers who changed the IT world forever: 10. Linus Torvalds 1969- 

The Finnish programmer made a significant contribution to free software development. He is known primarily for creating the Linux kernel, which became the kernel for Linux OS, Chrome OS and Android operating systems. Interestingly, he did it in his spare time on his home computer, inspired by the MINIX educational system. The first version of Linux appeared in 1991.

Currently, Torvalds is limited to overseeing the project. In 2012, he was awarded the Millennium Technology Prize by Technology Academy Finland. He is also the author of the Git version control system (2005) as well as Subsurface dive log software. He lives in the USA. 

COMPANIES

11. Tim Berners-Lee 1955-

15 most famous programmers who changed the IT world forever: 11. Tim Berners-Lee 1955-

This British computer scientist (and also a physicist) became famous globally thanks to the invention of the World Wide Web. He envisioned an open platform where people around the globe could share information, access it freely, and collaborate without geographic restrictions.

The breakthrough happened in 1989 when Berners-Lee introduced a worldwide hypertext project and created the first server (HTTPD). He presented the first browser, successfully implementing client-server communication over the Internet. For his pioneering work, he was, among others, one of six members of the World Wide Web Hall of Fame. Morover, he is one of five Internet and Web pioneers to receive the Queen Elizabeth Award for Engineering.

Berners-Lee runs the Founders Chair at the MIT Laboratory of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence. In 1994, he established the W3C organisation, which he manages to this day. 

12. Bill Gates 1955-

15 most famous programmers who changed the IT world forever: 12. Bill Gates 1955-

This American computer scientist is one of the founders and longtime president of Microsoft, which was founded in 1875 together with Paul Allen. Its best-known products are the QDOS operating system (then MS-DOS), the Microsoft Windows family, the Microsoft Office suite, and the Internet Explorer web browser.

Microsoft’s products also include the popular XBOX video game console. The company is also active in other fields, such as the producer of Encarta encyclopedia, MS Flight Simulator, and even computer keyboards and mice.

In addition to Gate’s programming skills, he is valued for his generosity and skilful investment planning but has been heavily criticised for his anti-competitive business tactics.

13. Steve Jobs 1955-2011

15 most famous programmers who changed the IT world forever: 13. Steve Jobs 1955-2011

This American computer scientist and businessman, in 1976, together with Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne, created the Apple Computer company (now Apple Inc.). It is known, e.g. from the production of MacIntosh computers and electronic devices such as iPod, iPad and iPhone. 

14. Larry Page 1973-

15 most famous programmers who changed the IT world forever: 14. Larry Page 1973-

Co-founder of Google (together with Sergey Brin), created the innovative PageRank search algorithm that laid the foundations for the Google search engine. Today, Google is the leading search engine in the world – it provides access to the relevant information to billions of people in the world.

Currently, as the CEO of Alphabet (Google’s parent company), Page continues to oversee cutting-edge companies, including AI and autonomous cars. 

15. Mark Zuckerberg 1984-

15 most famous programmers who changed the IT world forever: 15. Mark Zuckerberg 1984-

Facebook is a topic that can be controversial and usually creates some fuss. However, there is no doubt that Mark Zuckerberg changed the world forever when he invented the world’s first hyperlink to a social network.

Through Facebook, billions of people can communicate with each other for free, regardless of their geographic location. This fantastic achievement has significantly improved global communication and connectivity. 

Summary

We are currently during the fourth industrial revolution with rapid technological development. IT market influences more and more areas of our lives. The number of users of the internet, various types of software and mobile applications grow.

Famous programmers distinguished above started the IT industry in the 20th century and have been developing it until today at a dizzying pace. However, their contribution seems to be just the beginning.

IT is one of the fastest-growing industries that revolutionises today’s world. Solutions like artificial intelligence, machine learning or data science are present in almost every industry. So we are curious how a similar summary will look like in a few years.