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1.8k voters

The Most Influential Software Programmers of All Time

Updated October 26, 2019 7.6k votes 1.8k voters 142.5k views52 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
    Dennis Ritchie
    657
    72

    Dennis Ritchie

    Harvard University
    C programming language creator
  • 2
    Linus Torvalds
    399
    82

    Linus Torvalds

    University of Helsinki
    Linus kernel creator
  • 3
    Donald Knuth
    276
    58

    Donald Knuth

    California Institute of Technology, Case Institute of Technology
    Father of the analysis of algorithms
  • 4
    Bjarne Stroustrup
    270
    54

    Bjarne Stroustrup

    University of Cambridge, Churchill College
    C++ creator
  • 5
    Ken Thompson
    292
    42

    Ken Thompson

    University of California, Berkeley
    UNIX co-creator
  • 6
    Tim Berners-Lee
    260
    58

    Tim Berners-Lee

    Emanuel School, The Queen's College
    HTML and world wide web inventor
  • 7
    Ada Lovelace
    205
    73

    Ada Lovelace

    University of London
    World's first computer programmer
  • 8
    Brian Kernighan
    206
    44

    Brian Kernighan

    University of Toronto, Princeton University
    UNIX co-creator
  • 9
    Guido van Rossum
    189
    65

    Guido van Rossum

    Universiteit van Amsterdam
    Python creator
  • 10
    Richard Stallman
    212
    57

    Richard Stallman

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University
    GNU Project creator
  • 11
    Grace Hopper
    137
    27

    Grace Hopper

    Wardlaw-Hartridge School, Yale University

    COBOL creator

  • 12
    Larry Wall
    91
    35

    Larry Wall

    Seattle Pacific University, University of California
    Perl creator
  • 13
    James Gosling
    168
    57

    James Gosling

    University of Calgary, Carnegie Mellon University
    Java creator
  • 14
    Larry Page
    148
    96

    Larry Page

    Stanford University, University of Michigan
    Google co-founder
  • 15
    Elon Musk
    80
    87

    Elon Musk

    Queen's University, Stanford University
    Paypal creator
     
  • 16
    Edsger W. Dijkstra
    97
    21

    Edsger W. Dijkstra

    Leiden University, Gymnasium Erasmianum
  • 17
    Rasmus Lerdorf
    77
    40

    Rasmus Lerdorf

    University of Waterloo, King City Secondary School
    PHP creator
  • 18
    Brendan Eich
    92
    41

    Brendan Eich

    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Santa Clara University
    JavaScript creator
  • 19
    Martin Fowler
    39
    17

    Martin Fowler

    University College London
  • 20
    Phil Katz
    63
    23

    Phil Katz

    Nicolet High School, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
    Creator of the ZIP archive format
     
  • 21
    Sergey Brin
    102
    73

    Sergey Brin

    University of Maryland, College Park
    Google co-founder
  • 22
    Alan Cooper
    35
    32

    Alan Cooper

    College of Marin
    Visual Basic pioneer
  • 23
    John D. Carmack
    76
    38

    John D. Carmack

    Shawnee Mission East High School, University of Missouri–Kansas City
    id Software co-founder
  • 24
    John McCarthy
    46
    37

    John McCarthy

    California Institute of Technology, Princeton University
  • 25
    Yukihiro Matsumoto
    48
    28

    Yukihiro Matsumoto

    University of Tsukuba
    Yukihiro "Matz" Matsumoto is the creator of the Ruby language.