Famous Programmers That Changed History

Written By: Grant Darling
October 21, 2021

Famous Programmers

Programming has historically been a very individualistic pastime. It is a shame, but coders rarely reap the fame for their accomplishments. Every now and then some really bright minds end up being honored for their work and are recognized for changing the course of history as we know it. In this article, we are going to introduce some of the most famous programmers in the world that changed history. If you are a programmer or interested in the tech world, then read on for some real inspiration!

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace Headshot

Famous For: First Ever Computer Programmer

Ada Lovelace is thought to be the first-ever computer programmer. Writing her first program a century before the computer was even invented! 

Ada’s first program was written after a fellow mathematician by the name of Charles Babbage invented a calculating machine named the Difference Engine. Afterward, Ada had published a piece of work that showcased how the engine could be used to solve complex mathematical calculations. From that moment, programming as a concept was born and the rest became history. 

Lovelace’s accomplishments make her the most important, famous programmer in the world. She has even been given a day of celebration called Ada Lovelace Day. A day to honor the contribution of women in STEM. In 1979, the U.S. Department of Defense also created a language after her called Ada; with a primary goal of superseding the various different languages used by the military at the time. 

Ada Lovelace is a true role model for the creativity and logic she possessed that is needed to become a truly great programmer. She is also a clear example of why we need more women in Computer Science!

Linus Torvalds

Linus Torvald Headshot

Famous For:  Creating Linux & Git

Linus Torvald is a Finnish-American software engineer who is an icon in the programming world. Linus is best known as the creator and primary developer of the Linux kernel and the driving force behind the Linux operating system. The Linux OS has become increasingly popular over the last couple of years. Primarily because of its high customizability and the fact that it is completely free to use.

You can find Linux everywhere in the software world. It is the operating system used to run Android devices and powers the majority of the web since most servers use Linux. Linux can also be found anywhere from supercomputers to data centers.  

When Linus created the Linux kernel, he invited others to add to the project. This sparked interest in thousands of programmers and the operating system began to take shape.

During this process, Linus had such a hard time reviewing and adding suggestions that he knew he needed a version control tool to handle this influx of code contributions. From this, Git was born. The industry standard for version control used by tech companies big and small; including Netflix, Shopify, and Udemy. If you’ve ever worked for a tech company, you’re probably familiar with Git and how much easier it makes our lives as software developers!

Linus is the perfect example of just how powerful open-source projects can be and just how much one man can influence and change the world. If it were not for Linus Torvald, our world would be a very different place. When you think of famous programmers, Linus Torvald should be one of the first that comes to mind!

Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg Headshot

Famous For: Starting Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg is the Harvard dropout that started Facebook; the social platform that changed social media as we know it today. After Facebook acquired many other companies, such as WhatsApp and Instagram, Mark eventually became one of the richest people in the world. 

Zuckerberg wasn’t just the tech entrepreneur that created the most popular social media platform in the world. Mark was also an incredibly talented programmer that wrote most of the initial code for the platform. 

It seems that Mark Zuckerberg is always in the news for controversies. Whether it’s for conducting non-consenting psychological experiments on Facebook users or for his mishandling of data during the infamous Cambridge Analytica scandal. Mark is still one of the most influential and famous programmers in the world. Even being named TIME’s person of the year in 2010.

Regardless of how you view him today, it’s easy to see how the famous programmer Zuck changed our lives forever by providing a social platform that connected the world with the click of a button. 

In case anyone wants to nerd out. Here is a video of a young, not yet so famous, Mark Zuckerberg talking about dealing with his scalability issues with Facebook as they expanded schools and features. It’s actually pretty interesting!

Alan Turing 

Alan Turing Headshot

Famous For: Developing The First Modern Computer, Decoding The Enigma Cipher Machine & Detailing The Turing Test

Alan Turing is one of the most influential figures in computer science and has been acknowledged as one of the most innovative thinkers of the 20th century.

Alan’s most important contribution to society would likely be his designs for the first-ever modern computers, called Universal Turing Machines. These machines were capable of being programmed to do anything. In the 1950s, businesses quickly saw the benefits of this and started to shape our future. 

If you have ever seen The Imitation Game, you likely know how Alan Turing helped crack the Enigma code. Turing’s machines cracked a total of 84,000 enigma messages per month. Playing a significant part in ending the second world war and securing victory for the Allies. 

In addition to these accomplishments, Alan Turing was also a founding father in Artificial Intelligence. Alan theorized that the part of the brain labeled the cerebral cortex was similar to an “unorganized machine”. He believed that as you learn, that unorganization becomes more organized and uniform; which spawned his idea to create the Turing test. A test used to decide whether or not a computer was capable of learning. 

If you’re interested in learning more about Alan, you can check out this resource

Dennis Ritchie

Dennis Ritchie Headshot

Famous For: Creating The C Programming Language, Collaborator of Unix

Dennis Ritchie was a famous programmer and computer scientist that made a great contribution to our technological world, the C programming language. Every true programmer in the world knows about the C language. Sometimes labeled the ‘mother of all languages’.

Whether you know it or not, the C language plays a huge role in the development of today’s software. The development of the vast majority of our most popular programming languages are based on the C programming language, including Python, JavaScript, Perl, PHP, C# & Java. The language is also a top choice for embedded systems and lower-level programming projects, such as operating systems. Without C, the code we write would look very different today! 

In addition to his contribution to programming with the C language, Dennis Ritchie was also a collaborator on the development of the Unix operating system. The OS that Linux and macOS are derived from. 

Bill Gates

Bill Gates Headshot

Famous For: Creating Microsoft

No list of famous programmers would be complete without at least mentioning Bill Gates, the creator of Microsoft and one of the richest men in the world.

Bill Gates made a huge impact on society when he created an operating system that was easy enough for anyone to use. Before computers became commonplace, they were very difficult machines to understand and only trained individuals could use them. Now you have the information of the world in your pocket. It is crazy to think how much has changed in a few years!

In 2000, Bill Gates stepped down as the CEO of Microsoft to focus on his career as a philanthropist. Starting the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and giving out over $45.5 billion dollars to charity foundations. There is no doubt that this famous programmer is also the most generous programmer on this list!

 Tim Berners-Lee

Tim Berner Lee Headshot

Famous For: Creating The World Wide Web

Tim was a British computer scientist that created the World Wide Web in 1989 while working at CERN. Which started as an internet-based hypermedia initiative to share information globally. The first web to client and server were created a few years later in 1990. As a professional web developer, I couldn’t help but add Tim Berners-Lee to this list!

Tim’s contribution to the world is obvious. Without the invention of the web, you wouldn’t even be reading this post! He was also added to Time magazine’s list of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th century. Not to mention likely being the first computer scientist to have been knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. If you want to talk about famous programmers that changed history, Tim Berners-Lee should be at the top of the list.

Final Remarks

That’s pretty much it, some of the most famous programmers in the world that changed history. Think I missed someone? Feel free to leave a comment down below and I can add them to the list! 

If these influential programmers have you inspired and you want to learn how to code, check out my article on becoming a professional web developer. Happy hacking!

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