There aren’t many computer programmers who have to fear paparazzi like Mark Zuckerberg or can stir up a controversy like Bill Gates, but there are a handful of others whose work has influenced the way we live our lives and conduct business in the modern world just as much. You may simply not know their names.
Computer programming, a field that has been around for about 60 years, is now an increasingly popular college degree path and was ranked as the third most valuable college major when it comes to scoring a top-paying job out of college, according to a recent article by Forbes.
While only a handful of computer programmers have gone on to become household names like Zuckerberg and Gates, there are programmers famous in the tech world who are thought to have made some of the greatest technological innovations of the past 50 years. Their contributions range from inventing the World Wide Web and first-person shooter video games, to creating a vehicle by which thousands of new websites are created daily.
Here are six famous computer programmers you may not have heard of, but should know about.
“You would be hard-pressed to find a programmer who does not consider him the discipline’s Obi-Wan Kenobi,” journalist Kara Platoni wrote in a Stanford Alumni profile about Knuth.
Knuth was a college student when he saw his first computer in 1957, an IBM 650, one of the earliest mass-produced computers. With a background in physics and math, he went on to develop algorithms that became building blocks for innovations such as Facebook’s news feed and Amazon’s suggestions.
“He was basically the first great mathematician to take computer science seriously,” Christos Papadimitriou, one of Knuth’s colleagues, said in the article.
Another of Knuth’s important contributions was his focus on literate programming – a methodology that developed programs that are easier to maintain and are more accessible for people who don’t know high-level computer language.
After years of studying font styles, he developed a program called TeX, which allows users to include different fonts, tables, math notations and graphics in a document. He is also the author of “The Art of Computer Programming,” a four-volume series regarded as the bible of all fundamental algorithms.
A programmer turned entrepreneur, Cohen developed BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer (P2P) program in which large files are broken up and shared among many users rather than an entire file being downloaded by a single source.
Cohen’s company, BitTorrent, reports that it has more than 170 million users each month and is responsible for up to 40% of the world’s daily Internet traffic. The program has been used by Facebook and Twitter as well as the online video game World of Warcraft to distribute large files.
Now, BitTorrent is influencing video-streaming services like Netflix, which are looking at the possibility of using the company’s P2P technology to improve buffering and download issues experienced by their users.
John Carmack is a pioneer in the gaming world and remains at the helm of innovation. His work on first-person shooter games, including Wolfenstein 3D, DOOM and Quake, proved to be revolutionary in the video game industry. Carmack is credited with inventing surface caching and Carmack’s Reverse, which involved shadows and light in making game graphics increasingly realistic.
As the Chief Technology Officer for Oculus VR, Carmack developed a virtual reality headset device that could drastically change the world of video games yet again.
In 2000, Carmack founded Armadillo Aerospace, developing rocket-powered vehicles. He has also worked with NASA and the U.S. Air Force.
Gosling was the leader of a group of engineers who invented Java, the widely used computer programming language that launched in 1995 through the Netscape Navigator Internet browser and is now used in mobile devices, games, navigation systems and more.
A report by Computerworld found Java to be the second most important programming language needed to get hired in the computer programming world. Gosling’s early work in creating text editors has been credited with influencing the development of Microsoft Windows.
After a brief stint working for Google, Gosling moved on to become Chief Software Architect for Liquid Robotics. “These days I hack the control software of autonomous ocean-going robots,” his LinkedIn page says.
In 1980, Oxford graduate and physicist Berners-Lee was hired as an independent contractor at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research’s physics laboratory. He developed a program that would share information electronically.
Although the Internet had been transferring data between computers since the 1960s, Berners-Lee incorporated Internet nodes with domains and hypertext. In 1990, he launched the World Wide Web, a web browser and web server. Nothing about how we understand computers or interact with them has been the same since.
In 2003, Mullenweg co-founded WordPress, a blogging platform aimed at simplifying online publishing. According to the company’s website, WordPress has done this so effectively that there are more than 409 million viewers on more than 15.5 billion pages managed by WordPress each month.
Two years later, Mullenweg founded Automattic, which seeks to provide services to “the WordPress ecosystem,” according to his LinkedIn page. For anyone looking to design a website and get it noticed, few tools have been as effective and user friendly as Mullenweg’s creations.