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The i-Technology Right Stuff

Searching for the Twenty Top Software People in the World

Related Links:

  • Wanted: 19 More of the Top Software People in the World
  • Sung and Unsung i-Technology Heroes
  • Who's Missing from SYS-CON's i-Technology Top Twenty?"
  • Our search for the Twenty Top Software People in the World is nearing completion. In the SYS-CON tradition of empowering readers, we are leaving the final "cut" to you, so here are the top 40 nominations in alphabetical order.

    Our aim this time round is to whittle this 40 down to our final twenty, not (yet) to arrange those twenty in any order of preference. All you need to do to vote is to go to the Further Details page of any nominee you'd like to see end up in the top half of the poll when we close voting on Christmas Eve, December 24, and cast your vote or votes. To access the Further Details of each nominee just click on their name. Happy voting!


    In alphabetical order the nominees are:


  • Tim Berners-Lee: "Father of the World Wide Web" and expectant father of the Semantic Web
  • Joshua Bloch: Formerly at Sun, where he helped architect Java's core platform; now at Google
  • Grady Booch: One of the original developers of the Unified Modeling Language
  • Adam Bosworth: Famous for Quattro Pro, Microsoft Access, and IE4; then BEA, now Google
  • Don Box: Coauthor of SOAP
  • Stewart Brand: Cofounder in 1984 of the WELL bulletin board
  • Tim Bray: One of the prime movers of XML, now with Sun
  • Dan Bricklin: Cocreator of VisiCalc, the first PC spreadsheet
  • Larry Brilliant: Cofounder in 1984 of the WELL bulletin board
  • Sergey Brin: Son-of-college-math-professor turned cofounder of Google, Inc.
  • Dave Cutler: The brains behind VMS; hired away by Microsoft for Windows NT
  • Don Ferguson: Inventor of the J2EE application server at IBM
  • Roy T. Fielding: Primary architect of HTTP 1.1 and a founder of the Apache Web server
  • Bob Frankston: Cocreator of VisiCalc, the first PC spreadsheet
  • Jon Gay: The "Father of Flash"
  • James Gosling: "Father of Java" (though not its sole parent)
  • Anders Hejlsberg: Genius behind the Turbo Pascal compiler, subsequently "Father of C#"
  • Daniel W. Hillis: VP of R&D at the Walt Disney Company; cofounder, Thinking Machines
  • Miguel de Icaza: Now with Novell, cofounder of Ximian
  • Martin Fowler: Famous for work on refactoring, XP, and UML
  • Bill Joy: Cofounder and former chief scientist of Sun; main author of Berkeley Unix
  • Mitch Kapor: Designer of Lotus 1-2-3, founder of Lotus Development Corporation
  • Brian Kernighan: One of the creators of the AWK and AMPL languages
  • Mitchell Kertzman: Former programmer, founder, and CEO of Powersoft (later Sybase)
  • Klaus Knopper: Prime mover of Knoppix, a Linux distro that runs directly from a CD
  • Craig McClanahan: Of Tomcat, Struts, and JSF fame
  • Nathan Myhrvold: Theoretical and mathematical physicist, former CTO at Microsoft
  • Tim O'Reilly: Publisher, open source advocate; believer that great technology needs great books
  • Jean Paoli: One of the co-creators of the XML 1.0 standard with the W3C; now with Microsoft
  • John Patrick: Former VP of Internet technology at IBM, now "e-tired"
  • Rob Pike: An early developer of Unix and windowing system (GUI) technology
  • Dennis Ritchie: Creator of C and coinventor of Unix
  • Richard Stallman: Free software movement's leading figure; founder of the GNU Project
  • Bjarne Stroustrup: The designer and original implementor of C++
  • Andy Tanenbaum: Professor of computer science, author of Minix
  • Ken Thompson: Coinventor of Unix
  • Linus Torvalds: "Benevolent dictator" of the Linux kernel
  • Alan Turing: Mathematician; author of the 1950 paper "Computing Machinery and Intelligence"
  • Guido van Rossum: Author of the Python programming language
  • Ann Winblad: Former programmer, cofounder of Hummer Winblad Venture Partners

    Do vote, and we'll bring you the full results - including a selection of such additional comments on the nominations as you may care to leave via our feedback system - in the January 2005 issue of JDJ.

    Related Links:
  • Wanted: 19 More of the Top Software People in the World
  • Sung and Unsung i-Technology Heroes
  • Who's Missing from SYS-CON's i-Technology Top Twenty?"
  • More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

    Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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    Most Recent Comments
    Dick Morley 02/22/05 03:09:34 PM EST

    re greatest software heros.

    The list concentrates on the desktop toys of the academics. where is CNC, Radar, embedded, Word processing etc


    jim scandale 01/18/05 10:59:21 PM EST

    For a list labeled "top 20 Software People" there are an awful lot of what I would call purely hardware people. No doubt that they contributed greatly but "software people" they're not.
    And Fred Brooks seems to have fallen off of the list. And Tony Hoare and Kernighan and Ritchie and Corbato etc. etc.

    Anonymous Fielding Fan 01/07/05 01:49:11 PM EST

    Roy Fielding was key in giving us the internet we know today. His contributions to HTTP and URI, REST, etc., open source Apache and in helping establish as we know it, he has helped countless open source projects from both technical and legal means. He was key in creating the technology environment that not only allowed the WEB to grow, but also open source. Roy's work in Web Arch. in particular REST is proving to help sanity check current WebService efforts and fix huge flaws in SOAP:

    conscientious objector 12/15/04 01:08:25 PM EST

    Donald Knuth
    Edsger Dykstra
    Nicklaus Wirth
    Leon Post
    Noam Chomsky
    on and on...

    conscientious objector 12/15/04 01:02:06 PM EST

    This reminds me of the VH1 top muscian lists.

    So many credible names left off the list and the inclusion of more recent popular names that this effort has no credibility at all.

    KarenAnne 12/14/04 05:07:35 AM EST

    Butler Lampson, and any number of other people from PARC. Ada, Lady Lovelace. You seem to think history started 20 years ago.

    Chiew Lee 12/13/04 02:29:04 PM EST

    how abt Richard Stevens ?

    he deserved to be on the list. everything is based on TCP/IP.



    John Smith 12/13/04 09:11:27 AM EST

    <>Where is Warnock?

    Jenda 12/13/04 07:19:56 AM EST

    I wish these people at least fixed the bugs in their JavaScript. I get an error each time I submit some feedback. Guess they don't expect anyone to browse with JavaScript error popups turned on.

    Jenda 12/13/04 07:15:05 AM EST

    Mr A said: Not only did they put Turing side by side with, say, "Ann Winblad: Former programmer, cofounder of Hummer Winblad Venture Partners" (???) -- he's not even getting the most votes!

    That's obvious. Most CS professionals refuse to vote for anyone in this poll.

    Jenda 12/13/04 07:10:57 AM EST

    anon babbled: Knuth, like a lot of these "top twenty", are just Ivory Tower academics with no real applications in industry.

    Yep, sure. Noone ever used Tex. Noone used the algorithms from that when writing their own DTP software. And most importantly noone ever learned programming from his "programming bible".

    You may be great in Quake, but you aparently know very little about programming and CS history. Back to the school boy!

    harshr 12/13/04 05:09:24 AM EST

    >>>I would challenge Tim Berners-Lee's positin
    >>>on this list since it is HTML that has also
    >>>brought us the Browser Wars, and the subsequent
    >>>HTML writer's hell of trying to get a page to
    >>>display properly on all the popular browsers,
    >>>and all versions thereof.

    It would be harsh to exclude Berners-lee just because HTML ain't perfect, IMO - without it we'd not be in a positin to be voting on these guys anyhow!

    HTMHell 12/13/04 03:36:06 AM EST

    I would challenge Tim Berners-Lee's positin on this list since it is HTML that has also brought us the Browser Wars, and the subsequent HTML writer's hell of trying to get a page to display properly on all the popular browsers, and all versions thereof.

    The name HTML - Hyper Text Markup Language, implies a rich set of features that don't exist in reality

    suggestion 12/13/04 03:03:48 AM EST

    The list would be enhanced by the addition of Chuck Moore, inventor of the ForthLanguage (

    kai jones 12/13/04 12:52:52 AM EST

    In regard to your top twenty programmers, I am recommending Kjell
    Lindman of Lindman IT AB, Sweden.
    Kjell, or Kelly as he's known to his English speaking friends, is the
    architect behind - a live, real time streaming radio site
    where you can control one of more than 50 radio's anywhere in the world,
    from the comfort of you own home.

    He designed and built the software platform himself and lately has
    expendaded the idea from being receivers only to having recently
    designed a control interface for a live internet transceiver using GSM
    audio encoding technology to reduce audio delays from around 30 less than 2 seconds.

    Shenme 12/13/04 12:49:47 AM EST

    Perhaps the only 'save' the publishers have is to promise an installment of "The Top-20 Software People We Wish We Didn't Think Of - And Why". Which of course would then somewhat expose whatever biases/prejudices/deadlines they had in coming up with this abortive list. No Larry Wall has me scratching my head. What were you scratching?

    Second that!! 12/12/04 05:38:03 PM EST

    >>I'm not sure what defines a top person in the software
    >>world according to this list. ... Feels like there
    >>should be more people on here who aren't just well
    >>known, but are solving hard problems.

    I'll second that. Seems that the idea stemmed from a remark about *living* "software people" whereas many of the suggestions here are of historical figures. There might be multiple lists needed to 'map' i-Technology properly/thoroughly

    Junks Jersey 12/12/04 05:34:53 PM EST

    I'm not sure what defines a top person in the software world according to this list. Grady Booch defined UML, which is much loved and much hated, but I'd hardly call that a reason to be a top person. Miguel of Ximian fame is there, though I'm hard pressed to think of why. He's proven to be much more of a self-promoter and follower than a leader or innovator (Gnome, Mono).

    Feels like there should be more people on here who aren't just well known, but are solving hard problems. Should writing a famous and influential piece of software 20 or 30 years ago count? (If so, where are Ken Iverson and Ivan Sutherland?) Should writing something that becames popular count, even if it isn't necessarily all that good or relevant these days?

    Toby 12/12/04 05:28:11 PM EST

    No, Warnock belongs on technical merit. Many of the listed entrepreneurs aren't inventors, or at least, they keep it quiet. Certainly Warnock's invention has affected almost everyone. Certainly everyone who reads newspapers, or books, or uses a printer. PostScript is -still- underrated as a general purpose programming language, which also adds a dimension to Gosling's nomination, for his work on Sun NeWS.

    No $$$ at all 12/12/04 04:56:55 PM EST

    >>Where is William Kahan (IEEE 754)? Adele Goldberg
    >>(Smalltalk-80)? John Warnock (PostScript)? Wirth
    >>(innumerable things)? I also second Dijkstra, Stephen
    >>Wolfram, Andy Hertzfeld. Delete most of the entrepreneurs.

    But if the entrepreneurs are to be deleted, doesn't that mean Warnock has to go - he's CEO of Adobe, that exploits PostScript commercially?

    Toby 12/12/04 04:28:05 PM EST

    Where is William Kahan (IEEE 754)? Adele Goldberg (Smalltalk-80)? John Warnock (PostScript)? Wirth (innumerable things)? I also second Dijkstra, Stephen Wolfram, Andy Hertzfeld. Delete most of the entrepreneurs. Knuth should appear twice.

    Update3 12/12/04 03:01:48 PM EST

    Here's an update on the current top 20 rankings:

    1 457 Torvalds
    2 385 Turing
    3 301 Stroustrup
    4 282 Stallman
    5 255 Ritchie
    6 213 Berners-Lee
    7 180 Thompson
    8 130 Van Rossum
    9= 119 Joy
    9= 119 Kernighan
    11 100 Gosling
    12 95 Tanenbaum
    13 93 Hejlsberg
    14 86 O'reilly
    15 78 Cutler
    16 67 Fielding
    17 66 Pike
    18= 59 Brin
    18= 59 Booch
    20 56 Fowler

    Jenda 12/12/04 02:47:47 PM EST

    A little biased aren't we? Inventor of Java this, inventor of Java that ... noone'd give a damn about Java if Sun did not pump $millions into the marketing. Including several peole from the Java camp and omitting Perl altogether is telling. Telling about the maker of the list.

    Objective C 12/12/04 02:32:25 PM EST

    >>Where is the father of Objective-C? :: Brian Cox

    I think you mean Brad Cox

    rwerezak 12/12/04 01:48:37 PM EST

    How about Dr. Knuth?

    Besides the "Art of Programming" and TeX, he pioneered the idea that
    complex software could indeed be correct --- a concept sorely lacking in
    some quarters today. TeX and its army of aficionados were an early example
    of the open source movement that we have today.


    Java=CoCreation 12/12/04 11:19:42 AM EST

    >>Other than the great Alan Turing... What happened to <>>>other greats like Edsger Dijkstra, or John Backus? <>>>These are the real greats of software.

    Compared to these, where does James Gosling rank here, is he Top 10 material - or Top 20? - and what about the others involved in the original Green project before their baby, Oak, became "Java" - folks like Patrick Naughton and Mike Sheridan, did they just disappear into technology history's forgotten corner?

    beelsebob 12/12/04 11:14:30 AM EST

    Other than the great Alan Turing... What happened to other greats like Edsger Dijkstra, or John Backus? These are the real greats of software.

    Duty Editor 12/12/04 09:28:07 AM EST

    >The blurbs are also careless. For example, Kernighan's<>
    >blurb doesn't say *anything* about C.<>

    thanks for your feedback Jonadab...the problem is, like a good many folks, you seem to be under the misapprehension that Kernighan perhaps *wrote* C. Many make this same mistake, probably because he and Ritchie co-wrote the 'bible' of C, The C Programming Language. But C is all Ritchie's work.

    Here's Dennis Ritchie on C:

    "Early in the development of Unix, I added data types and new syntax to Thompson's B language, thus producing the new language C. C was the foundation for the portability of Unix, but it has become widely used in other contexts as well; much application and system development for computers of all sizes, from hand-held to supercomputer, uses it. There are unified U.S. and international standards for the language, and it is the basis for Stroustrup's work on its descendant C++."

    And here's Brian Kernighan: the following is excerpt from an interview he gave:

    Q: What was your part in the birth and destiny of the C language?
    A: I had no part in the birth of C, period. It's entirely Dennis Ritchie's work. I wrote a tutorial on how to use C for people at Bell Labs, and I twisted Dennis's arm into writing a book with me. But, if he had been so motivated, he certainly could have done it without help. He's a superb writer, as one can tell from the C reference manuals, which are his prose, untouched. I've profited a great deal from being part of the book, and I treasure Dennis as a friend, but I didn't have anything to do with C.

    Thanks for the feedback. Keep it coming.

    FromTokyo 12/12/04 07:25:22 AM EST

    I'm surprised no one mentioned Noam Chomsky.
    Isn't his work on generative grammars the basis of all parsers
    and compilers?

    Jonadab the Unsightly One 12/12/04 06:47:17 AM EST

    > how does any list of this type not include Bill Gates

    The same way it doesn't include Donald Knuth or Larry Wall.
    It clearly wasn't very well thought through. (Knuth is IMO
    the most glaring omission; probably three-quarters of the
    people on the list learned to program from reading his
    books on the subject. He also created TeX among other
    things. Wall is also fairly key, having created quite a
    number of things, most significantly patch and Perl.)

    The blurbs are also careless. For example, Kernighan's
    blurb doesn't say *anything* about C.

    m0rphin3 12/12/04 06:33:07 AM EST

    Nygaard and Dahl? Why on earth aren't they on the list?
    60% of the others wouldn't be there, if it wasn't for them.

    erik_norgaard 12/12/04 05:21:07 AM EST

    Edgar (Ted) Codd: Father of SQL and mathematician, published in the 70s his paper "A relational model of data for large Shared Data Banks":

    SQL was then developed by Chamberlin and Ray Boyce. I see them all absent from the list.

    LadyBug@FI 12/12/04 05:17:10 AM EST

    Where is Donald Knuth? TeX guru!

    ynotds 12/12/04 05:14:52 AM EST

    >>Alan Kay, Steve Wozniak, Bill Atkinson, Bud Tribble,<>
    >> Avie Tevanian, Richard Feynman, John Warnock, Evans & <>>>Sutherland?

    I was gonna mention half your list before I saw it.

    Some of the guys from the initial Mac development team set a standard that may never have been matched for internalising a complex code base.

    But the Mac's very survival owed a lot to Quark who have done more to get print content computerised than any, depite being a difficult company.

    Wolfram too doesn't do much to endear himself to list makers, but if you actually look at his programming as a body of work, he has no peers.

    Of course I agree with other popular suggestions like Knuth, Wall and Engelbart, so maybe they'd be better trying to go from 40 to 100 rather than 40 to 20.

    Games aren't my department, but the genre has had enuf influence to include 20% games programmers, starting with Crowther and Woods.

    Kupek 12/12/04 05:13:43 AM EST

    >>Alan Kay, Steve Wozniak, Bill Atkinson, Bud Tribble,<>
    >> Avie Tevanian, Richard Feynman, John Warnock, Evans & <>>>Sutherland?

    Richard Feynman? I have an enormous amount of respect for the man, but he was not a software person, or even anything close to a CS person.

    jcr 12/12/04 05:12:48 AM EST

    Alan Kay, Steve Wozniak, Bill Atkinson, Bud Tribble, Avie Tevanian, Richard Feynman, John Warnock, Evans & Sutherland?

    ajayvb 12/12/04 05:10:32 AM EST

    Vincent Cerf and Bob Kahn? The glue on which this Internet is built is the TCP/IP suite.

    abhorrent C 12/12/04 03:35:27 AM EST

    Bjarne Stroustrup created the most hideous of languages, and is indirectly responsible for the tremendous amount of abhorrent software plaguing us today.

    Yet, the author of the fine language that is Objective C, doesn't even make the list. Unbelievable.

    C is a hundred times the language that C++ is, and it pains me to see these people shed in the same light.

    brfisher 12/12/04 03:29:35 AM EST

    Not to mention windows (tiled), CSCW with video conference, hyperlink implementation (Vannevar Bush gave us the concept, ans later Ted Nelson advanced it), and probably most importantly an implementation that had as a goal the augmentation of human intelligence. Basically, all of our human-computer interaction can be seen in But evidently the list have some other criteria for success, not sure what that might be.

    Khuffie 12/12/04 03:28:36 AM EST

    Doug Engelbart? He may not have been that much of a programmer, but he gave us the mouse...

    tyrione 12/12/04 03:25:32 AM EST

    Where is the father of Objective-C? :: Brian Cox

    Without him NeXTSTEP would have not been. Tim Berner's Lee would have had one hell of a time developing the first WWW Browser.

    All the advancements that people are wooing about in Linux, Java and IDE Development Tools were commonplace in NeXTSTEP and its development tools.

    listmaking advice 12/12/04 03:23:59 AM EST

    Heh the Knoppix guy is a good example of flavor of the month. I notice this in sports lists too... half of the greatest players/teams/plays seem to have played or happened in the last 20 years.

    A rule of thumb for every all time list maker should be: first construct the entire list ignoring everything that happened in the last ten years. Then make a list of recent additions, and figure out who should be removed from the original list to accomodate each one.

    Where's Serf 12/12/04 02:34:29 AM EST

    Where's Vincent Serf? One of the *real* fathers of the Internet.

    And what about the two Dartmouth profs who invented BASIC?

    Should get Tim Bray and the other XML guy out of there. They did a lot of good work but XML was far from revolutionary - it was a pragmatic tailoring of SGML for the growing needs of the Web.

    andrew stuart 12/12/04 02:23:10 AM EST

    Interesting article thank-you.

    I am far from being a Microsoft (or any other sort of) bigot. For me IT is
    all about pragmatism - horses for courses. At home and work I run Windows,
    OpenBSD, Linux and NetBSD and they are all valued and have their own place.
    I set this context for my comment about your article.

    It seems very odd to me not to have Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer and Steve Jobs
    included in your list.  Even if people don;t like what they have done, the
    fact is that these guys have defined either directly or indirectly (via
    people acting against their success) what computing is today.


    Esteban Gutierrez 12/12/04 12:51:19 AM EST

    Even Miguel de Icaza has done an excellent job promoting open source software in Mexico. It is good to make clear that his proposal for eMexico project was rejected by the Mexican President Vicente Fox due to his commitment to Microsoft in many projects, like enciclomedia (a multimedia classroom project that relies heavily on encarta 2004) or the core of eMexico project.

    MHedman 12/11/04 11:08:54 PM EST

    I would have liked to have seen Steve McConnell included - no other person has affected the software I write as positively as McConnell.

    Mr A 12/11/04 11:04:16 PM EST

    This list is beyond ridiculous. Not only did they put Turing side by side with, say, "Ann Winblad: Former programmer, cofounder of Hummer Winblad Venture Partners" (???) -- he's not even getting the most votes!

    I mean, how could anyone seriously put up a list that doesn't include Babbage, von Neumann, Church, etc. but which _does_ include Knopper, Ferguson and Gay? I know I am a complete dork for getting pissed off at something like this, but I can't help it. This list is an insult to ever programmer, living and dead.

    Reader 12/11/04 10:27:06 PM EST

    Why E. F. Codd, who was father of relational database, is not on the list? RDBMS is one of the most important software in computing history. It has changed commerce and society forever.

    ashley 12/11/04 10:09:57 PM EST

    I agree about Knuth and Wall. Without Knuth, the list is difficult to take seriously and there are a couple on there who have made a dramatically lesser impact on open source and the internet at large than Larry Wall has.

    nate 12/11/04 06:39:08 PM EST

    Ah very lovely, the Python vs. Perl war begins again. All I'll say is that Larry Wall should obviously be on this list if Guido van Rossum is to be listed. :)

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    It is with great pleasure that I am able to announce that Jesse Proudman, Blue Box CTO, has been appointed to the position of IBM Distinguished Engineer. Jesse is the first employee at Blue Box to receive this honor, and I’m quite confident there will be more to follow given the amazing talent at Blue Box with whom I have had the pleasure to collaborate. I’d like to provide an overview of what it means to become an IBM Distinguished Engineer.
    The cloud has reached mainstream IT. Those 18.7 million data centers out there (server closets to corporate data centers to colocation deployments) are moving to the cloud. In his session at 17th Cloud Expo, Achim Weiss, CEO & co-founder of ProfitBricks, will share how two companies – one in the U.S. and one in Germany – are achieving their goals with cloud infrastructure. More than a case study, he will share the details of how they prioritized their cloud computing infrastructure deployments ...
    Ten years ago, there may have been only a single application that talked directly to the database and spit out HTML; customer service, sales - most of the organizations I work with have been moving toward a design philosophy more like unix, where each application consists of a series of small tools stitched together. In web example above, that likely means a login service combines with webpages that call other services - like enter and update record. That allows the customer service team to writ...
    As we increasingly rely on technology to improve the quality and efficiency of our personal and professional lives, software has become the key business differentiator. Organizations must release software faster, as well as ensure the safety, security, and reliability of their applications. The option to make trade-offs between time and quality no longer exists—software teams must deliver quality and speed. To meet these expectations, businesses have shifted from more traditional approaches of d...
    Between the compelling mockups and specs produced by analysts, and resulting applications built by developers, there exists a gulf where projects fail, costs spiral, and applications disappoint. Methodologies like Agile attempt to address this with intensified communication, with partial success but many limitations. In his session at DevOps Summit, Charles Kendrick, CTO and Chief Architect at Isomorphic Software, will present a revolutionary model enabled by new technologies. Learn how busine...
    If you are new to Python, you might be confused about the different versions that are available. Although Python 3 is the latest generation of the language, many programmers still use Python 2.7, the final update to Python 2, which was released in 2010. There is currently no clear-cut answer to the question of which version of Python you should use; the decision depends on what you want to achieve. While Python 3 is clearly the future of the language, some programmers choose to remain with Py...