The Most Influential Software Programmers of All Time

The most influential software programmers of all time are the innovative and brilliant men and women who each contributed something ground-breaking to the software programming world. These are the pioneers of programming all having created, evolved or improved upon the foundations of modern computer programming. Plain and simple, without these software programming legends, computers, the Internet and many of your favorite programs would never exist.

Selecting which software programmer is the absolute most influential is often a chicken and egg conundrum. Without the early programming languages like FORTRAN, created by John Backus, or the C programming language, created by Dennis Ritchie, newer languages would never exist. But newer programmers, such as Tim Berners-Lee, who created HTML, James Gosling, who created Java, or Rasmus Lerdorf, who created PHP, improved upon those early innovations to create bigger and better things.

Others might argue that it's not the programming language authors that should be considered the most influential but those who used programming to make computer science accessible to the average person. Microsoft, co-founded by the famous Bill Gates, changed the world, as did Google, created by the team of Larry Page and Sergey Brin. But is their influence on the tech world more important than that of the software language creators? Are they among the greatest programmers of all time?

Who are the most famous computer programmers? In the end, software programming and the Internet was not created overnight and certainly not by one person or company. It's a combination of each software programmer's innovations that has brought us to where we are today. The great thing about programming is that it's always evolving and improving. Who knows, maybe the most influential software programmer ever hasn't even discovered his or her big thing yet. Until then, vote on which notable software programmer you think is the most influential of all time.

Check out more lists like the top game programmers, the best hackers of all time, and the most influential tech bloggers
Ranked by
  • Dennis Ritchie
    959 votes

    Dennis Ritchie

    Harvard University
    C programming language creator
  • Ken Thompson
    440 votes
    University of California, Berkeley
    UNIX co-creator
  • Linus Torvalds
    674 votes
    University of Helsinki
    Linus kernel creator
  • Tim Berners-Lee
    451 votes
    Emanuel School, The Queen's College, Oxford
    HTML and world wide web inventor
  • Brian Kernighan
    355 votes
    University of Toronto, Princeton University
    UNIX co-creator
  • Donald Knuth
    445 votes

    Donald Knuth

    California Institute of Technology, Case Institute of Technology
    Father of the analysis of algorithms