20 Most Influential Living Computer Scientists

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The modern history of computer science stretches from the early 1930s to the present and there are many influential figures. There are still many of the legends of computer science still working in the field and this list covers 20 of the most influential alive today. The list consists of both new innovators, and old school inventors, all of whom boast an influence of a historic nature. These men will be remembered as the giants upon which future generations stand, much like Darwin, and Newton are remembered as such now. Our generation has the chance to watch these men make history by changing the present, and the future. They come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Some have graduate degrees, others are college dropouts. What they all have in common is passion, tenacity, and curiosity. Read about these men’s inspirational lives. Computer Science is a wide open field–anybody can help create humanity’s next great technological leap.

#20. Donald Knuth

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This American computer scientist is considered to be the father of Analysis of Algorithms, one of the most complex principles underlying modern computer science. Knuth has contributed to several areas of research in theoretical computer science and is one of the most innovative and influential thinkers on the subject. Knuth received a Turing Award in 1974 for “The Art of Computer Programming,” a continuous series consisting of several volumes with the same name.

#19. Guy Lewis Steele Jr.

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This American computer scientist has played a role in the development of many computer programming languages including: Lisp, Scheme, C, and Fortran. Guy also designed the original command set of Emacs, an important tool for computer scientists and application developers.

#18. Harold Abelson

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A graduate of MIT and Princeton, Harold Abelson was the founding director of the Creative Commons and the Free Software Foundation. These two movements have been incredibly influential in their spheres. The Free Software Foundation is a foundation that supports the development of open source operating systems like Linux, and the open source applications that run on those systems, as well as open source programs that run on the Macintosh and Windows systems. Abelson is a visiting faculty member at Google, a professor at MIT, and has been recognized by ACM and IEEE for outstanding contributions to computer science education.

#17. John Carmack

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One of the most influential innovations to come along with computers is the rise of modern video games. John Carmack founded id Software, and created some of the most influential video games in what is the fastest growing entertainment medium in the United States. In 2011 the video game industry as a whole was valued at $65 billion. Carmack’s influence on this industry has been widespread as id Software’s Wolfenstein 3d set codified the first person shooter genre (one of the most popular video game genres) in 1992.

#16. John Resig

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This American Computer Scientist and graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology is best known for the invention of the jQuery Javascript Library. This is a collection of established pre-written scripts that save developers time by allowing them to simply implement the script without having to code it all by hand. Resig is now an application developer for Khan Academy, a free internet education initiative that strives to provide free education by posting brief video lessons on a wide variety of subjects.

#15. Bram Cohen

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This American computer scientist created the first Peer to Peer sharing program to use the BitTorrent protocol. College could not hold his attention so he dropped out to focus on projects he was passionate about. He worked for several startups during the dot com boom. BitTorrent is famous for its less legitimate applications, namely the ability of users to use the program to illegally download pirated content. But the true purpose of the program was to provide a distribution platform for anybody wishing to distribute files outside the established distribution channels controlled by retail establishments, major content producers, and software developers. BitTorrent was one of the first programs to begin to open up the full potential of the internet as a distribution channel and the overall impact of the program has forced businesses to rethink their business models.

#14. Bjarne Stroustrup

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This Danish computer scientist earned his Ph.D. from Cambridge and is the inventor of the C++ programming language. C++ is one of the most widely used, powerful programming languages in the world. Stroustrup was the head of AT&T Lab’s programming research and development wing from its inception until the year 2002. He is a fellow of both ACM and IEEE, and a Distinguished Professor at Texas A&M University.

#13. Brendan Eich

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This American computer scientist attended the University of Illinois Urbana-Champagne and is the inventor of the JavaScript scripting language. JavaScript is one of the most widely used scripting languages on the internet. The language was originally developed within Netscape while they were competing with Microsoft for control over the internet. While Netscape has fallen by the wayside, its successor Mozilla lives on as one of the most widely used web browsers in the world. JavaScript was standardized in 1997 and since has changed the way the internet works.

#12. James Gosling

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This canadian Computer Scientist is considered the father of the JAVA programming language, which is one of the most powerful programing languages in the world, and has had an impact on both standard computing and the internet. Gosling earned his bachelor degree from the University of Calgary and began working with Sun Microsystems in 1984. Gosling created several UNIX compilers as well as early electronic mail systems. While earning his Ph.D. in Computer Science from Carnegie Mellon University. Gosling invented Java in 1994 while working for Sun Microsystems. He left Sun in 2010 and in 2011 stated that he had been hired by Google, though five months later he joined a Startup called Liquid Robotics.

#11. Rasmus Lerdorf

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This Danish/Canadian computer scientist invented the PHP scripting program language. PHP is a hypertext processing language and one of the most powerful tools available for website creation. To give you a sense of the scale of the impact of PHP, it is used by 80.5% of websites. Lerdorf graduated from the University of Waterloo, and went on to contribute to the Apache HTTP server in the ‘90s which is to this day one of the most widely used HTTP servers in the world. In 2003 he was named to MIT Technology Review’s top 100 most influential innovators under 35. Since then his innovations have only grown in impact.

#10. Ken Thompson

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This computer scientist got his start working at Bell Labs after graduating from the University of California Berkeley. Ken invented the B programing language which was the predecessor of the C programming language. Ken Thompson was the lead designer of the UNIX operating system. He worked for Bell Labs from the 1960s until the year 2000. After a few years as a fellow at Entrisphere, he was hired on to Google as a Distinguished Engineer.

#9. Brian Kernighan

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Kernighan is an old school computer scientist. He worked at Bell Labs where he contributed to the development of UNIX, which later became the basis for everything from Linus Torvald’s Linux, to Apple’s O.S. X. Kernighan attended the University of Toronto where he earned a bachelor degree in engineering and physics. He currently teaches at Princeton University. Kernighan also co-wrote the definitive work on the C programming language with the language’s creator Dennis Ritchie, called “The C Programing Language.”

#8. Matt Mullenweg

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Matt Mullenweg is the inventor of the open source WordPress platform, which has made activities such as blogging, and website creation accessible to the average person. WordPress is a simple, but deep platform that is easy to customize. Users can start knowing nothing, and grow their skill set as they need. WordPress has revolutionized the world of blogging and personal websites like no other platform in the history of the internet and it continues to be developed, becoming ever more streamlined, and powerful. Mullenweg is a college dropout, though he did briefly attend the University of Houston.

#6 & #7. Larry Page and Sergey Brin

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The co-founders/co-creators of Google, Larry and Sergey’s impact on the modern world is difficult to measure. Both of Google’s creators got their graduate degree at Stanford University. While Larry and Sergey may not have invented many of the technologies they have become famous for, they, along with their company, have perfected them in many ways. Google is one of the most widely used search engines in the world. Google revolutionized internet advertising, Gmail revolutionized webmail, and their Drive apps have no comparable competitors. Google has made great strides toward integrating existing technology and making that technology more and more an extension of us, rather than just something we have to use on occasion. Their current projects include revolutionizing the way we see with Google Glass, and changing the way we get from here to there with driverless cars.

#5. Steve Wozniak

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This American computer engineer and programmer was one of the three founding members of Apple Inc. and the sole designer and inventor of the Apple I and Apple II computers, which revolutionized computing and gave rise to the personal computer. This leap in technological innovation made the technology of the budding technological revolution available to the average person. Since then Apple’s emphasis on user friendliness and high quality products has pushed forward technological innovation that has gone on to revolutionize music, telecommunications, and of course, computing. It all started with the Apples I and II, designed by this man. Wozniak dropped out of U.C. Berkeley to work on founding Apple and didn’t return until he was 35 years old to finish his bachelor’s degree.

#4. Linus Torvalds

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This Finnish/American engineer graduated from the University of Helsinki, and then invented a Unix operating system flavor which became Linux, one of the most widely used operating systems in the world. Linux hasn’t seen much growth in the consumer market, but has been a mainstay for programmers for decades. Most of the internet runs on Linux servers, the trademark of which is incredible stability, and strong security. Torvalds continues his work, sponsored by the Linux foundation, and his continued contributions to the Linux platform have continued to change computing for everybody, albeit behind the scenes.

#3. Vinton Cerf

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This man may not be as famous as some others on this list, but Vint Cerf is another computer scientist without whom the internet would not exist in its current form. This UCLA graduate’s invention was TCP, later split into TCP/IP, which he invented with Bob Kahn. If HTML is the internet’s language, TCP/IP is the internet’s backbone. TCP/IP is the protocol through which all information on the internet is transferred. Vint Cerf is widely regarded as one of the two fathers of the internet.

#2. Bob Kahn

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Kahn is the other father of the internet. He worked with Cerf to invent TCP/IP, the primary standard for transferring information in and between networks. Kahn attended the City College of New York and Princeton before working with Cerf at DARPA. Kahn’s contributions to the internet have continued over the years, as has his partnership with Vint Cerf with whom he shared a Turing Award in 2004. The two founded the Internet Society, a non-profit organization that is instrumental in guiding the development of the internet.

#1. Sir Tim Berners Lee

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Educated at Queens College, Oxford, Sir Tim Berners Lee moved into the field of computer science almost immediately upon receiving his physics degree and is widely known as the inventor of the World Wide Web. In 1989 Lee implemented the first successful communication between an HTTP client and server via what would become HTML. Lee helped invent and implement the language of the WWW, and his continued contributions have been significant as he continues to provide important input today on the still-growing infrastructure.

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