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The i-Technology Right Stuff

Searching for the Twenty Top Software People in the World

 

Stewart Brand

 

Brief Description: Cofounder in 1984 of the WELL bulletin board

Further Details:

Famous for coining the phrase "Information wants to be free," Stewart Brand founded, edited, and published the original Whole Earth Catalog (1968-72).

A typical Brand approach to things was demonstrated in 1971, when he designed and co-organized with Scott Beach the "Demise Party," which celebrated the end of Whole Earth Catalog with 1,500 guests at the (then) new Exploratorium in San Francisco, and turned over $20,000 in cash to the audience to do good with. Debate lasted till dawn.

The Last Whole Earth Catalog, published by Random House, sold 1.5 million copies and received a National Book Award.

 

Brand, who had graduated in 1960 (in Biology) from Stanford, moved effortlessly from the world of print to the world of online when in 1984 with Larry Brilliant he founded The WELL (standing for "Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link"), a computer teleconference system for the San Francisco Bay Area that is now owned by SALON. It now has 9,000 active users worldwide and is considered a bellwether of the genre (others involved in starting The WELL were Larry Brilliant, Matthew McClure, and Kevin Kelly.)

Far from done with innovating, in 1988 he co-founded the Global Business Network with Peter Schwartz, Jay Ogilvy, Napier Collyns, and Lawrence Wilkinson. GBN explores global futures and business strategy for 90 multinationals such as Ford, Bechtel, Shell, Morgan Stanley, Hewlett Packard, Swedbank, Dupont, Federal Express, along with government clients such as DARPA.

From 1990-1994 Brand was a member of the Board of Directors of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization which supports civil rights and responsibilities in electronic media. He is currently the president of The Long Now Foundation (which is building a 10,000-year Clock and Library).

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

Sigh

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 Apache.org 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:
http://www.ics.uci.edu/~fielding/talks/webarch_9805/
http://www.xfront.com/REST-Web-Services.html
http://www.xml.com/pub/a/2004/03/17/udell.html
http://www.xml.com/pub/a/2004/12/01/restful-web.html

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.

cheers.

chiew

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 (http://www.forth.com)

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 DXTuners.com - 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
seconds...to 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.

-r

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": http://www.acm.org/classics/nov95/toc.html

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

[email protected] 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 http://sloan.stanford.edu/MouseSite/1968Demo.html. 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.

Thanks

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.

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/19/business/yourmoney/19WORL.html

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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