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The Most Influential Software Programmers of All Time

Updated July 11, 2021 7k votes 1.8k voters 143.1k views55 items

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
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  • 1
    631
    67

    Dennis Ritchie

    Harvard University
    C programming language creator
  • 2
    392
    84

    Linus Torvalds

    University of Helsinki
    Linus kernel creator
  • 3
    260
    58

    Donald Knuth

    California Institute of Technology, Case Institute of Technology
    Father of the analysis of algorithms
  • 4
    257
    54

    Bjarne Stroustrup

    University of Cambridge, Churchill College
    C++ creator
  • 5
    285
    37

    Ken Thompson

    University of California, Berkeley
    UNIX co-creator
  • 6
    257
    57

    Tim Berners-Lee

    Emanuel School, The Queen's College
    HTML and world wide web inventor
  • 7
    186
    61

    Guido van Rossum

    Universiteit van Amsterdam
    Python creator
  • 8
    202
    77

    Ada Lovelace

    University of London
    World's first computer programmer
  • 9
    204
    39

    Brian Kernighan

    University of Toronto, Princeton University
    UNIX co-creator
  • 10
    206
    53

    Richard Stallman

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University
    GNU Project creator
  • 11
    161
    52

    James Gosling

    University of Calgary, Carnegie Mellon University
    Java creator
  • 12
    128
    29
    J.l.Quelch added

    Grace Hopper

    Wardlaw-Hartridge School, Yale University

    COBOL creator

  • 13
    84
    34

    Larry Wall

    Seattle Pacific University, University of California
    Perl creator
  • 14
    91
    20
    JeffDarcy added

    Edsger W. Dijkstra

    Leiden University, Gymnasium Erasmianum
  • 15
    76
    25

    John Backus

    The Hill School, Columbia University
    FORTRAN creator
  • 16
    57
    24

    Anders Hejlsberg

    Technical University of Denmark
    Turbo Pascal author
  • 17
    89
    28

    Niklaus Wirth

    ETH Zurich, University of California
    Pascal designer
  • 18
    144
    96

    Larry Page

    Stanford University, University of Michigan
    Google co-founder
  • 19
    79
    29

    Bram Cohen

    Stuyvesant High School, University at Buffalo
    BitTorrent creator
  • 20
    88
    38

    Brendan Eich

    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Santa Clara University
    JavaScript creator
  • 21
    75
    37

    Rasmus Lerdorf

    University of Waterloo, King City Secondary School
    PHP creator
  • 22
    76
    35

    John D. Carmack

    Shawnee Mission East High School, University of Missouri–Kansas City
    id Software co-founder
  • 23
    44
    13
    JeffDarcy added

    John McCarthy

    California Institute of Technology, Princeton University
  • 24
    59
    20
    evilgrin32 added

    Phil Katz

    Nicolet High School, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
    Creator of the ZIP archive format
     
  • 25
    96
    70

    Sergey Brin

    University of Maryland, College Park
    Google co-founder
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