Who are the famous programmers?

Who are the programmers who are famous for doing programmer things?

I’m wondering about this because my wife Cathy asked me a simple question last night, and I realized I didn’t have an answer to it. “Are you” she asked “the most famous programmer in the world?”

This was a question which I had, believe it or not, never thought about before. But it’s a reasonable one to ask, given recent evidence – notably, the unexpected success of my Patreon page. This is relevant because Patreon is mainly an arts-funding site – it’s clearly not designed for or by techies.

There are a couple of obvious ways to get this question wrong. One is to point at, the likes of, say Donald Knuth – towering reputation among programmers, but no visibility outside CS and math academia.

Another is to point at programmers who are famous, but not for being programmers. Bill Gates, for example, is famous for running Microsoft, not for code he’s written, or (at an acceptable one metalevel) anything he’s written about code.

A third error would be to point at people like Kevin Mitnick or Aaron Swartz, or anyone else who’s famous because of their role in a high-profile cracking incident.

My immediate reaction was to try to think of other programmers who are both famous for doing programmer things and have name recognition outside the population of programmers itself. So…the first person I thought of was actually John Carmack.

“What”? I hear you say. “What about Richard Stallman? Or Linus Torvalds?” Good question. But I think the insider perspective of hackers and programmers is unhelpful here. Yes, these guys are heroes to us…but Carmack has fame for writing code among people who have never written a line of code in their lives, because of Doom. So do I, for different reasons – I’ve even had my photo in People magazine with a keyboard in my hand.

Mind you, it’s not important to me whether I’m the world’s most famous programmer – fame is merely an instrument I picked up for tactical reasons and have since discovered is pretty adhesive even when you no longer want it. But my anthropologist head finds the more general question interesting. Besides, I’d like to have a better answer to give my wife.

Who are the programmers who are famous as programmers? How did they get that way? Are there any useful generalizations to be made about the group? Discuss in comments.

186 thoughts on “Who are the famous programmers?

  1. You can’t have a discussion about famous programmers without mentioning Admiral Grace Hopper.

  2. Zuckerberg is in the same territory as Gates.
    Markus Persson (Notch), like Carmack, is famous for having programmed.

  3. Hopper is a marvel, for sure…but I would put her in the same box as Knuth – a programmer’s programmer – not ‘famous’ in the grander sense, no?

  4. Turing’s profile has risen recently, perhaps due to that Cumberbatch movie.

  5. Huh. The funny thing is, it’s hard to think about this because anything I come up with as an “obvious” answer is tainted by the fact that I’ve been a computer nerd for about as long as I remember. I’d have to say that virtually everyone here is unqualified to answer this question.

    However, one name you missed that I think would be near the top of the non-programming-literate’s list of ace programmers would be Woz.

  6. Zuck goes with Gates I’d think.

    Turing, famous yes, but I don’t know about “as a programmer”.

    Woz is a pretty good answer though.

    How about Tim Berners-Lee?

  7. So, to be clear, the search is for programmers who are famous _outside of programming circles_ for being programmers?

    The ones I can think of are game programmers who have name recognition for writing their games: Carmack (as you pointed out) but also Ken & Roberta Williams and Notch.

    Maybe Zimmerman for writing PGP? Or djb (among lawyers at least) for his part in the first crypto wars?

  8. Hopper was on the David Letterman show — a fame point not even Carmack can claim yet.

  9. >>> How about Tim Berners-Lee?

    I have been stunned by the number of highly experienced programmers that did not know that name. I doubt the general population would fare any better.

  10. The most famous would have to be Bill Gates, then Linus. If you include Bill Gates then you would have to also include Marc Andreessen (Mosaic, Netscape), and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook, and the film “The Social Network”.) Maybe also Tim Berners-Lee.

    After that it would likely be games programmers/designers, however they would have to be fairly longlasting and influential to be famous.

    For the UK it would be Peter Molyneux (Bullfrog/Populous/Fable) and David Braben (and to a lesser extent Ian Bell), Tim and Chris Stamper (Ultimate- play the game – which became RARE). Toby Gard might be a possibility with his development of Lara Croft, but no idea on how much programming he did as I think he was primarily a designer, and wikipedia is rather conflicting.

    For the US, maybe Sid Meier (Civilization series) and Will Wright (SimCity) followed by Richard Garriott (Ultima series) and John Carmack.

    First generalisation – pretty much all of them started off in the 8bit home market and progressed through multiple games, some into the 16/32bit console market, others into the multi-platform games (ST/Amiga/PC). How much development they did during the 90s/00s/10s would be difficult to say.

    Second generalisation, pretty much all of them were capable of doing a lot of the coding work themselves, even if they had small teams around them for art/graphics/music/audio/marketing etc.

    Third generalisation, all of them have long term fans/followers.

    Fourth generalisation, they managed their own companies, both through boom and bust, in some cases multiple times.

    Fifth generalisation, they all managed “tipping point” or paradigm shifting releases.

  11. Carmack was the first person who popped into my head, followed by Grace Hopper, followed by Knuth. Then the usual suspects — Ritchie, Linus, Stroustroup, you, Larry Wall, etc. But for some reason, Carmack registers on the “famous” register pretty high. As does Markus Pearson these days. I guess game devs are more likely to be famous.

  12. “Hopper was on the David Letterman show — a fame point not even Carmack can claim yet.”

    Rob Pike has also been on Letterman.

  13. Carmack’s a good choice, but I’d say RMS and Linus top the list. Linus for creating both Linux AND git and for RMS its the fact that there’s basically a GNU everything out there if you look for it.

    On and interesting related note a student I the class I’m teaching told me after I pointed out a rather arcane bug his code was suffering from compared me to Carmack. I was honored (and not worthy) by the comparison.

    Oh, and Woz is an Engineer not a programmer. He’s at the top of the list of greatest engineers. I know he can program to, but what he did with limited hardware was incredible.

  14. I’m not a gamer, so Carmack’s name didn’t ring a bell for me, though I’ve heard of some of his games.

    Is being famous among gamers count? What proportion of gamers are programmers?

  15. Seconding votes for Notch, Carmack, Wright, and Molyneux (at least among gamers). Also Toru Iwatani [Pac-Man] thanks to the recent Pixels movie, and Shigeru Miyamoto.

    Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin & Larry Page, Larry Ellison, and Steve Ballmer all are famous as leaders of a major US tech company, and it is well known that they wrote code at their respective companies. Satoru Iwata [Nintendo] is probably more famous among gamers and in Japan.

    In open source: the only two names that probably qualify as non-tech “famous” would be Linus Torvalds and yourself.

    Grace Hopper might be too ‘historical’ to make the cut; Turning also has a recent movie to bolster his fame, but Lady Ada Lovelace might be right behind (the steampunk crowd will know her).

    I’d want to put Wozniak on the list, but I’m afraid for a lot of non-tech folks he’s either unknown or at best the “Not Jobs, not Ballmer, other Steve”.

  16. Here in the UK, the name Sophie Wilson (formerly Roger Wilson) should be familiar to anyone with memories of the home computer boom of the 1980s: programmer of most of the BBC Micro operating system and BBC Basic (all by hand in 6502 assembler), designer of the ARM instruction set, still busy at Broadcom.

  17. Fame is more adhesive than the glue at the ends of German words…

  18. How should fame be measured? Is it just a personal opinion based upon one’s perception of large-scale social reaction? Is it based upon receiving awards (like a Nobel Prize)? Is it earned via paradigm-shifting accomplishment? How do you account for accidental fame versus obscure genius?

  19. Alex K., Steve Wozniak does seem to be famous as a programmer outside of programming circles. I see his name come up a lot among people who (a) aren’t programmers or even in IT and who (b) hate everything Apple. Wozniak is the real brains behind the original Apple, and Jobs usurped his authority. It’s all very mythological.

    So there does seem to be some knowledge that he was the Steve who programmed.

    Turing should count. Even before the movie he had some recognition.

  20. My $0.02 worth…

    RADM Hopper was the first name that came to my mind as a programmer non-programmers would know. Between the story of the first “bug”, her work on COBOL, and her popular visualizations of “nanosecond” (foot-long piece of colorful wire) and “picosecond” (grains of black pepper), through both TV and public lectures she has stood out in mass culture.

    Next were the “two Steves from Apple”. Jobs got famous as a tech business leader after he was a programmer; Wozniak had less fame from running things and more from making things. (Agree he’s as much or more of a computer hardware engineer than a programmer; not sure most of the general public can or does recognize the distinction. :-/ )

    Ada Lovelace and Alan Turing have some name recognition, but I don’t think most people associate them with “programming”.

    Notwithstanding the fame of Our Gracious Host, after that, the list drops off pretty sharply.

  21. Miyamoto was not a programmer. In fact one of his claims to fame is establishing “video game designer” as a legitimate profession in its own right, seaprate from the technical folk.

    I can’t find any sources which establish that Iwatani actually developed code either.

    And I just remembered — Wozniak is famous enough to have appeared as a “star” on Dancing with the Stars. But that may be because Apple’s enormous success made him famous by association.

  22. Notch is the only one mentioned so far that I’m confident that a lot of my peers would recognize. OTOH, I’m not sure how recognizable he’d be to the over-40 crowd.

    Hopper I’d expect to be known to military types and geeks old enough to have been adults when she was living, but I’d expect she’d be fairly obscure to everyone else (such as myself. I fall into the “too young” category, and don’t know much about her beyond the contents of her Wikipedia page).

  23. I propose the Warhol as a unit of fame-stickyness, 1 Warhol being equal to 15 minutes of fame and the low level name recognition that follows afterwards.

    For scaling purposes Homer and the characters he/they wrote/sung about would have a fame rating of ~87.6 Megawarhols.

  24. The “other John” from Doom, John Romero, might qualify in some people’s minds, if only because of the (in)famous Daikatana ad in which he promised to “make you his bitch.” However, he was primarily a level designer, not a programmer.

    Ditto for American McGee, who was also involved in Doom and got his name out there with American McGee’s Alice.

    Carmack and Notch are probably the best “pure hacker” game developers with a public following. Jens “Jeb” Bergensten is somewhat well-known among Minecraft players (he’s taken over lead development on the computer and pocket editions from Notch), but probably not outside that circle.

    You could also make a case for JWZ, although these days he’s better known for his San Francisco nightclub (soon to be “nightclubs”).

  25. John Carmack was the only name I didn’t recognize, nor do I recognize any of the other game programmers mentioned. Might be interesting to see which communities know about which programmers.

  26. Looks like we have a Big Five of realms of fame:

    Academia (Knuth, Dijkstra, Wirth, Stroustroup, Conway)
    Trade (Kernighan, Ritchie, Thompson, Torvalds, Raymond, Stallman, Wall, Rivest, Shamir, Adelman, Joy, van Rossum, Berners-Lee, Hejlsberg)
    Industry (Wozniak, Ellison, Gates, Page, Brin, Wolfram, Gosling, Andreessen, Eich, Kildall, Spolsky, Zuckerberg)
    Gaming (Carmack, Romero, Meier, Wright, Robinett, Replogle, Garriott, Crowther, Molyneux, Boon, Lowe, Williams, Crane, Meretsky)
    History (Hopper, Turing, Lovelace, Zimmerman)

    Gaming seems to be the place to get wide fame for a short while. Industry gives it for longer, but then you tend to be known for being a businessperson rather than a programmer. History gives the longest lasting fame, and probably the best chance at being known primarily as a programmer, but the field is too young to have many members.

  27. What are the specific attributes that make a programmer a “great” programmer? Is it just the number and quality of code they can produce within a given period of time? Is it there ability to take the code and scale it into something bigger and better than what was originally designed? Is it there ability to recruit other great programming brains to create a hacker collective hive mind?

  28. I think we’re just looking for “famous” here; not necessarily “great”, correlated as they may be.

  29. I didn’t see names like Joel Spolsky or Jeff Atwood mentioned here. They have had visibility for a long time with early blogs, and well… They also created stackoverflow, which is, like, the wikipedia of programming (and more).

    Also, if you’re looking for popularity, don’t search too far back.
    The majority of people that are interested in programming are young. Therefore, younger programmers are more popular. Carmack made Doom? Great really, but Notch made Minecraft and sold way more copies of it, to younger people.

  30. For sheer fame and name recognition, I’d have to go with Notch. He’s instantly known by:
    – My friends
    – My kids
    – My friends’ kids
    – My kids’ friends

    None of these people program, and most don’t consider themselves gamers.

  31. In addition to those already mentioned, maybe Jonathan Blow (Braid) and Tarn and Zach Adams (Dwarf Fortress)?

    If we limit the search to programmers famous for being programmers, known outside of the programmer and videogame enthusiast population, then I think: Turing, Woz and maybe Lovelace. Not a very long list.

  32. Interested bystander but not a programmer myself. John Carmack was my first thought as well, followed by Michael Abrash.

  33. I asked some friends, who tend to be quite nerdy but are mostly not programmers. The only response so far is Ada Lovelace.

  34. >I asked some friends, who tend to be quite nerdy but are mostly not programmers. The only response so far is Ada Lovelace.

    Figures. She doesn’t deserve that reputation; “the first programmer” is pure hype created by political animals desperate to conjure up female role models.

  35. being from a (mostly) windows background (i know, i know), what about Mark Russinovich, who did all the sysinternals stuff before being absorbed into Microsoft?

  36. If you reframe the question slightly as “If you took a random sample of 1000 people and asked them who the most famous programmers were, how would they answer?” then I think the answers are undoubtedly Gates and maybe Zuckerberg.

    They might not be principally famous for having done programming, but *nobody* is famous for that outside of programmer circles. Most people don’t even really know what programming is.

  37. > Lupis42 on 2015-09-15 at 09:28:59 said:
    > Zuckerberg is in the same territory as Gates.

    Gates was a programmer first and foremost, back in the day. His last major project was the firmware for the TRS-80 Model 100:

    http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2015/07/back-to-the-future-the-trs-80-model-100/

    By the time he became a public figure, Gates had long since stopped coding professionally. But Microsoft’s rise to prominence was in no small part built upon a foundation laid by Gates as a programmer.

    He was also famous for his quite technical product reviews while at Microsoft; his background as a programmer presumably gave him the experience to do that:

    http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2006/06/16.html

  38. > esr on 2015-09-15 at 15:51:12 said:
    > Figures. She doesn’t deserve that reputation; “the first programmer” is pure hype created by
    > political animals desperate to conjure up female role models.

    Which is strange, when you consider Grace Hopper’s career. Or Margaret Hamilton’s. Why play up Lovelace’s achievements when you have people like that you can point to???

  39. >Which is strange, when you consider Grace Hopper’s career. Or Margaret Hamilton’s. Why play up Lovelace’s achievements when you have people like that you can point to???

    I’ve wondered about this myself. Margaret Hamilton got no press until after the Lovelace hype was already well underway, but passing over Grace Hopper is more difficult to explain. Either would have made a far better exemplar than Lovelace.

    The first time I saw the now-famous picture of Hamilton standing next to a stack of printouts of her code about as tall as herself made me smile with two thoughts. One was that technology may change but geeks never do – I’ve met bright female programmers in this century that look exactly like that, with exactly that body language and those eyes. The other thought was “Take that, feminists!”, because the female genius in that picture was manifestly not an ugly angry grievance collector but a smokin’ hot babe who enjoyed life.

  40. Let me take a stab at it / pull some stuff out of my ass:

    A woman who hasn’t done anything has simply had her history edited / been held back by the Vast White Make Patriarchy.

    A woman who hasn’t done much in the field can’t be recognized as such by the postermakers because they don’t know anything about it.

    Being a geek about something implies a level of obsession typical of males, therefore a woman who is truly a geek is ungood, only to be used as filler in examples.

    Celebration of the least capable a-la Atlas Shrugged.

    She who finds the highest ranked victim / poster-child wins.

    The woman who was the most in the minority is the best (obvious link to intersectionalism, feeling crowded? Make yourself a new minority!).

  41. > Either would have made a far better exemplar than Lovelace.

    I wonder if this is a combination of the ‘kick me’ with moral signalling?

    Propose Lovelace as a programmer role model, in full knowledge that despite any other meritorious characteristics she might have possessed, she wasn’t a programmer.

    This allows your philosophical allies to signal their moral correctness by supporting your crazy proposal. It also allows you to attack your philosophical enemies as sexist; regardless of the correctness of their argument, you can contextualize it as a gender issue because Lovelace was female.

  42. Triple post!

    Celebration of the least capable a-la Atlas Shrugged.

    1. Being able to push the least capable is a demonstration of power.
    2. The capable have “bought into the oppressive system”.
    3. The capable were not “disadvantaged”, and as such do not count.

  43. Another possibility is that once Lovelace became the default woman to mention, a lot of people stopped bothering to do research.

    As for beautiful women getting mentioned by feminists, there’s always Hedy Lamarr, who was an inventor as well as a movie star.

  44. >As for beautiful women getting mentioned by feminists, there’s always Hedy Lamarr, who was an inventor as well as a movie star.

    Well, I think Margaret Hamilton was better-looking, but that’s probably just me being a geek guy.

    “Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.” Always loved that quote. I think it says something important about the difference between Hamilton’s natural appeal (at least to intelligent men) and the “glamour” Lamarr was talking about. Hamilton looked anything but stupid, and the famous picture manages to convey an impression of liveliness and motion even though she is standing still.

  45. I think the most famous programmer question is a two horse race between John Carmack and Linus Torvalds, primarily for reasons not directly related to programming.

    Carmack is known not just to gamers, but also to people in their lives around them, because the games he built helped create the LAN party multi-gamer phenomenon, which brought the gamers out of their bedrooms and into contact with other people. As the face of those games’ development teams, he had broad exposure.

    Linus is so well-known outside of the group that you would expect to know of him, for the following eternal conversation snippet:
    ‘So what was that thing you said I should try on new machine?’
    ‘Linux.’
    ‘Linux?’
    ‘Yeah, it’s named after Linus, the guy who made it.’

    Linus is frequently the representative face of programming among people I know, even the subset who would also recognise ‘Richard Stallman’ or ‘ESR’.

  46. I should add that if there were any real justice Margaret Hamilton would be more famous than me. Maybe she will be in the future.

    Nine-nines reliability? In real time? On that hardware, with the primitive tools that were all they had? Her “computers” were less powerful than the embedded controller in your microwave. She wrote in assembler. There were no text editors – there weren’t even terminals yet. Fill in awed profanity here – I don’t think I could have done it.

  47. Um, Vinton Cerf? I’ve seen him on news shows several times, and he’s also been in PEOPLE, IIRC.
    And I can’t believe nobody in this crowd thought of Douglas Englebart!

  48. > Fill in awed profanity here – I don’t think I could have done it.

    You might be surprised. Without denigrating Hamilton’s achievement, or any of those of her generation: while primitive, those computers and everything about them can fit in one person’s head, in entirety.

    This is one of the reasons I enjoy hobby programming for 8 bit micros. Yes, they’re limited, but it’s possible for a single individual to grok them to an extent that hasn’t been possible for ‘real’ computers for a generation or two. The entire stack, from UI level down to the silicon, can be inspected and understood in totality.

    You can see this sort of thing from time to time in news stories, like the one about a group of building HVAC systems being controlled by a program that’s been running w/o intervention on an old Amiga for decades.

    Thus what awes me more than the reliability is the productivity. Hamilton and her ilk managed to SEND PEOPLE TO THE MOON with computers less powerful than modern microwave oven controllers. I think that’s the greater achievement, myself. To the GODDAMNED MOON.

  49. BTW, during my Dad’s tour of duty at the Pentagon, he met just two people who he considered memorable. The first one was Commander Hopper (as she was then). The other was a buck private named Tom Lehrer.

  50. >You might be surprised. Without denigrating Hamilton’s achievement, or any of those of her generation: while primitive, those computers and everything about them can fit in one person’s head, in entirety.

    A very interesting and valid point which I hadn’t considered.

    OK, maybe I could have done it, then – if the friction from those tools didn’t drive me mad or out of the field first

    I know from early experience that I am a very poor fit to batch programming with long edit/build/test cycles. The fluid, lateral-thinking, exploratory style in which I operate naturally just doesn’t fly in that kind of environment; I’d need to be slower to move, more methodical, more conservative, and much more of a detail-obsessive than I actually am.

  51. esr on 2015-09-15 at 21:25:47 said:
    > OK, maybe I could have done it, then – if the friction from those tools didn’t drive
    > me mad or out of the field first

    And of course, in the historical context, that wasn’t a problem that could be fixed.

    When I’m cutting 8-bit code these days, I often do so on a Linux system with an emulator installed on it. That way I can take advantage of modern editors and cross-compilers (yay SDCC!), as well as the built-in assemblers and debuggers in the emulator.

    My understanding of the environment in which Hamilton and co. worked is that there wasn’t a ‘step up’ … the constrained systems were all there was.

    esr on 2015-09-15 at 21:25:47 said:
    > I know from early experience that I am a very poor fit to batch programming with
    > long edit/build/test cycles. The fluid, lateral-thinking, exploratory style in which I
    > operate naturally just doesn’t fly in that kind of environment; I’d need to be slower
    > to move, more methodical, more conservative, and much more of a detail-
    > obsessive than I actually am.

    Speaking as another non-detail-obsessive, I *think* the survival skill there is to build up the aforementioned mental model in entirety, and then hack / explore in that, rather than ‘on the metal’, by preference. Programming judo: turn the weakness of the system into a strength, by running an emulator in your head. I’d love to have a chat with one of the ‘old guard’ like Hamilton and ask her whether this was actually the approach they took.

    That’s certainly how I programmed my 8-bit micros back in the day when they were current, and I had no access to modern tools. Have an idea, go and sit on the swing outside and ponder for a long time, then come inside and try implementing it. To my parents, this must have looked a bit odd – long periods of swinging with a vacant look on my face, followed by retreating into my room and swearing at the computer, then another long period of swinging.

  52. Informal poll of non-programmer friends on the Book of Faces, in no particular order:

    Harold Finch (4)
    Fred Brooks (4)
    Steve Jobs (3)
    Joseph-Marie Jacquard (1)
    Ada Lovelace (2)
    Markus Persson (1)
    Steve Wozniak (1)
    Linus Torvalds (1)
    Bill Gates (2)
    Blaise Pascal (2)
    Eugene Jarvis (3)
    Alan Turing (5)
    Donald Knuth (2)
    No Idea (1)

  53. > Well, I think Margaret Hamilton …

    Umm… You know there’s two famous people by that name, and if you’re comparing one famous, pretty actress to another woman, one is going to wonder why you’re so het up about the wicked witch of the west.

    That said, having worked with photographers and designers at Playboy:

    > “Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.”

    Is not true. It takes makeup, lighting, camera angles and occasionally a bit of vaseline. No, for the lens of the camera.

    Most of the pictures you see of Lamarr were shot by people who got that. Had she not had the attention of experts, nor desired such a look, her appearance would have been significantly more down to earth.

  54. >I’d love to have a chat with one of the ‘old guard’ like Hamilton and ask her whether this was actually the approach they took.

    Yes, now that you bring this up that is an extremely interesting question.

  55. Petro on 2015-09-15 at 21:47:48 said:
    > Most of the pictures you see of Lamarr were shot by people who got that. Had she not had the
    > attention of experts, nor desired such a look, her appearance would have been significantly more > down to earth.

    I had the opportunity to see this first hand at a convention.

    A female friend of ours made a bee-line to the FHM ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FHM ) stand to meet a model who was an idol of hers. She came back from the stand somewhat aghast. We asked her what was up, and she replied “she isn’t even pretty!”

    Bear in mind that said model was still very well dressed and made up, as befits a professional. But just the real life presence – without the carefully selected angles, soft focus, etc. – put a major dent in her aura.

  56. In years past I would have nominated Carmack’s erstwhile partner John Romero as being one of the most famous, even exceeding Carmack.

    This whole thing about “rock star programmers” started with game companies back in the 80s, whose founders tried to position their games as written by virtuosos who were named and promoted in deliberate imitation of how rock stars are promoted. Of course code is not and never will be rock ‘n’ roll, but Romero was among the programmers who took the “rock star” thing way too far, replete with long hair, lavish lifestyle spending, and canoodling with young groupies. This self-promotion angle kinda sorta worked — until Daikatana hit store shelves and proved to be an absolute shitburger. After that, Romero started seeing the value in keeping a low profile.

    But for a few shining moments he was, if not bigger than Jesus, certainly bigger than Torvalds or even Carmack. For his part Carmack, possessed of the hackerly wisdom that code talks and BS walks, never explicitly sought the limelight the way his partner did.

  57. >Most of the pictures you see of Lamarr were shot by people who got that.

    Which kind of reinforces my larger point about natural vs. artificial appeal. Hamilton was reasonably well turned out, but most of her pretty was her; the smile, the eyes, the body language, and the obvious intelligence. If I’d met her at 30 and was single I think I’d have gone after her full speed; pictures of Lamarr do not give me that reaction.

  58. Even if “code is not and never will be rock ‘n’ roll”, nonetheless in some hands, rock ‘n’ roll is code. I’m minded of these new-fangled rock-star producers-cum-DJs.

    In the old days, we had “Yes”, “Emerson, Lake & Palmer” and, before them, those famous tone poem composers. Those was my brand of rock. But my favourite early rock singer has to be Virginia O’Brien in the Marx Brothers’ 1941 film “The Big Store”, with the line: “Rock a bye, baby. Rock, rock, rock!”

  59. That picture of Margaret Hamilton reminds me of how many forests I single-handedly exterminated by lining my office walls metres high with print-outs. I wonder whether my crank supervisor ever realised that the project he’d set Fulvio Melia and me has a Millenium Prize for its solution?

  60. Most guys outside of the computer world probably don’t know those guys like Carmack, Raymond or Stallman.

    To me, I have no doubt who the world’s most famous programmer is, in terms of someone known primarily for the programs he himself wrote.

    That would be Notch, AKA Markus Persson the guy to wrote Minecraft. Talk to any teenager and they will know who he is and what he did, and he did actually write the program, and participated in the code even when he was forced to become a corporate drone.

  61. Jeff Read on 2015-09-15 at 22:55:05 said:
    > Of course code is not and never will be rock ‘n’ roll

    Don’t you believe it :)

  62. Famous for doing programmer things gets tricky. I think with a reasonable definition of programmer things yes you are. But that might go so far afield as to include being nominated for a Campbell among programmer things. By other definitions of programmer things maybe nipped at the wire but still close..

    There is fame by association as frex Sid Meier. Certainly famous as a producer but I’m dubious that the fame is for code. Rather perhaps fame by reflection. Altair famously thought they had a programmer for development work and the paper tape code is notorious as code. The world’s view is a little different.

    My own view is to rank Grace Hopper high for fame as a programmer. I suggest, for better or worse, she paid in reputation for supporting the Strategic Defense Initiative. I heard folks say Hopper couldn’t be all that good and support the SDI as she did.

    On the gripping hand I’d say Linus Torvald has had far more people look at his code.

    For all I know the world’s greatest coder is doing embedded devices that are invisible to the world.

  63. A one hit wonder can still be a wonder. I’d put Dan Bricklin ahead of any of the games people for broad world wide fame at its peak. Almost fitting 16K gets a lot of credit for the code.

  64. > esr on 2015-09-15 at 21:48:47 said:
    > Yes, now that you bring this up that is an extremely interesting question.

    I thought so too, so I emailed her consulting company, cap in hand, to ask them to ask her :) Hopefully we’ll hear back.

  65. Alexey Pajitnov. Dunno if he’s well-known among the general population, but he definitely deserves to be. Who hasn’t played some implementation of Tetris?

    @ esr

    > …the female genius in that picture was … a smokin’ hot babe who enjoyed life.

    Now you’re speaking in my language. :-) Personally, I wouldn’t go as far as calling her “a smokin’ hot babe”, but I do like her attitude. I also like the fact that her legs are visible, even though they’re a bit less thin than I consider ideal; contrast with Candice Huffine‘s.

    > Which kind of reinforces my larger point about natural vs. artificial appeal.

    In my case, the issue is not black-and-white: there are kinds of artifice I like and kinds I don’t. No offense intended; it’s a subjective matter, after all. Besides, I do value natural beauty, as found in women such as Pernilla August and – you saw this coming – Catherine Raymond. They manage to impress me while wearing little or no makeup (at least AFAICS). Admittedly, their charm is sometimes enhanced by costumes (Star Wars in the former’s case, historical ones in the latter’s), but that’s about it.

    And then there are women whom I like without knowing – as you would say – how much of their pretty is them. Carolin Widmann constitutes one such case; what say you? (Assuming you don’t mind prolonging the female-beauty subthread, that is.)

  66. India and China have some household names too. But I think most of them are in the Gates and Zuckerberg league. They are famous for starting famous companies, e.g. Hotmail or AliBaba.

    In a sense fame never sticks to the right person.

    What would be more interesting is to see who was the most influential programmer, whether people know or not. Say, Berners-Lee, Stallman, Ritchie, or Rubin.

  67. > picture of Hamilton standing next to a stack of printouts of her code about as tall as herself made me smile

    Me too. I hadn’t seen this picture, until today. My first thought was, “Now there’s a real programmer.”

    I’d have to exert effort to imagine a better role for young programmers, and yet somehow I had never heard of her. Go figure.

  68. And about the looks of Margaret Hamilton (or Ada Lovelace).
    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

    It is also a well known fact (for those who care) that world famous super-models are often not noticed off-stage. They are not selected because they look stunning without make-up, but because they look stunning on a staged photograph.

    Here is Cameron Russel telling you all about it:

  69. Is your objection to Ada Lovelace on the grounds that she wasn’t a computer programmer, or on the grounds that she wasn’t first? How would you describe her contribution to Babbage’s Analytical Engine design? Perhaps because her algorithm for Bernoulli numbers wasn’t actually executed, as the machine was never built?

  70. Er… where I wrote “less thin”, I meant exactly the opposite: either “thinner” or “less thick”.

  71. @esr:
    >I know from early experience that I am a very poor fit to batch programming with long edit/build/test cycles. The fluid, lateral-thinking, exploratory style in which I operate naturally just doesn’t fly in that kind of environment; I’d need to be slower to move, more methodical, more conservative, and much more of a detail-obsessive than I actually am.

    I’m not much different (which has actually been an obstacle to me in getting any serious start programing beyond hobby projects of a few hundred lines), but I have done machine code projects for several platforms of fairly equivalent size to the higher level stuff I’ve done. It does get almost impossible not to cheat and start writing automation in a higher level language when modern tools are avaliable, but from the experience I’m fairly certain that if I didn’t have modern conveniences available, I could, at least as part of a team, contribute to a machine code project of fairly significant size. I’m confident you would have managed.

  72. @ESR

    > I’ve met bright female programmers in this century that look exactly like that

    The “Hermione Granger look”, from the Harry Potter movies? As that was my first association when I googled her photo now.

  73. @Duncan

    >while primitive, those computers and everything about them can fit in one person’s head, in entirety

    Yes, but what I find scary about it is that they had to be *disciplined* like real engineers. They could not rely on the compiler or the unit tests catching a typo bug. They could not just decide to feel too lazy to think today and just make random changes until they get it right.

    Being 37 I caught the last waves of that disciplined culture. Today if I want to learn a new technology I expect to find readily digestible tutorials online like Dive Into Python. But I remember how as a teenager in 1992 trying to understand PC assembler (MASM) I had to rely on printed books and they were not tutorials, the authors did not impart theory through practice like tutorials do, they expected us to formally learn and memorize the theory, like, learn, memorize the language specification, the reserved keywords etc. and only then do actual work. And they did not give half a damn that people may find it too boring to memorize theory without doing cool things in practice. The tutorial-driven generation who cannot pay 10 minutes attention to theory if their attention is not grabbed first by a shiny demonstration of practice would have been seen as incredibly entitled and undisciplined by the standards of the assembler generation.

    Today I do things that the old, strict engineering minded generation would have seen as incredibly irresponsible. We need to automate something in an app. The app is scriptable in VBScript. I never learnt VBScript because fsck VBScript, right? I google up a solution to a similar problem, google up a mid-level tutorial, merge the two somehow and after some tries the code works. This is absolutely “cowboy coding”, flying blind, and we get away with this, but they couldn’t. They had to be like real engineers who never do things they don’t understand properly and formally. What I saw in the assembler manuals around 1992 was the last wave of that strict software engineering culture.

    They had the kinds of jobs where if you come in hung over the boss sends you home because you need to think clearly all the time. Probably there are some similar programming subcultures today, like at Ericsson, but the business programming subset I tend to work it has these strong devil-may-care “cowboy” tendencies. I had a coworker who was angry about having to program a report he considered useless and probably will never be used nor maintained, so he named all variables after poker hands, TwoPairs, RoyalFlush etc. :)

  74. >How would you describe her contribution to Babbage’s Analytical Engine design?

    As speculative engineering and applied mathematics, not programming.

    >Perhaps because her algorithm for Bernoulli numbers wasn’t actually executed, as the machine was never built?

    That’s it. You’re a programmer when you prove yourself with running code; an informal napkin-sketch of an algorithm isn’t enough.

    All we are entitled to conclude from the historical record is that if the Analytical Engine has been built, Ada Lovelace might well have become the first programmer by expressing the algorithm in code and putting code to metal.

    But that didn’t happen. And the blatant political motivation of the Lovelace hype angers me. Our craft deserves better than this.

  75. @esr
    “And the blatant political motivation of the Lovelace hype angers me. Our craft deserves better than this.”

    Ada Lovelace might not have been a “programmer”, just like Alan Turing was not have a programmer for most of his life. She was still a remarkable figure, even though she was “just” a mathematician and an early pioneer in Computer Science.

    Computer science: Enchantress of abstraction
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v525/n7567/full/525030a.html

    Trying to explain the difference between a “Programmer” and a “Computer Scientist” to an outsider might prove to be a challenge.

  76. >Probably there are some similar programming subcultures today, like at Ericsson, but the business programming subset I tend to work it has these strong devil-may-care “cowboy” tendencies.

    I think it varies a lot. In the U.S. web devs have a reputation for that kind of cowboying. Systems hackers like me are near the other end of the attitude curve but not at it – there are people habitually more careful than us doing (for example) life-critical firmware for medical devices. Most application programmers are in the broad middle of the curve.

    Also, I think surrounding culture plays an important part in shaping these attitudes. I think it’s fair to say that in general German programmers are less cowboy than Americans, but Americans are less cowboy than programmers from Southern and Eastern Europe. Some of this came out in the discussion following an old post of mine on national styles in programming.

  77. @Jon Brase:

    It does get almost impossible not to cheat and start writing automation in a higher level language when modern tools are available…

    There is a wonderful “literate programming” / annotated program called JonesFORTH which I would rank as one of the programs every programmer must study—and that’s not just my love of the literate style speaking.

    I believe that most of the “high level” vs. “low level” programming discussion is a case of muddled thinking. After all, by “low level” most programmers mean dealing with registers, control stacks, and direct memory addresses, while “high level” refers to having abstractions like exception handling, structured data types, or macro / pre-processor code generation. These are not mutually exclusive, and Forth (in most modern implementations) manages to do both. Furthermore, this isn’t some advanced new language, but one first used in the early 70’s.

    JonesFORTH really is an amazing demonstration of how so-called “high level” abstractions can easily fit into the design of “low level” assembly code. I highly recommend reading it—it’s clear enough to follow even if you don’t know assembly. (In that archive, you need to read only two files: jonesforth.S and jonesforth.f, in that order.)

  78. > As speculative engineering and applied mathematics, not programming.

    Isn’t all programming applied mathematics?

  79. Shenpen, it’s not like learning to program before the “Web era” (1995 or so) was all Japanese-cram-school drilling until you memorized each keyword and syntax rule before you could touch live code. I think you just tried to learn assembly the really hard way, using a reference manual.

    By contrast I had an assembler book for TRASH-80s from the 1970s that predates MASM that was NOT a reference manual; it came with tutorials and sample programs to help beginners get started but wasn’t particularly “cowboy” about it. One technique the book recommended is “playing computer”, that is, checking your program for correctness using pencil and paper, noting the register contents and the contents of memory touched by the program after each instruction gets executed.

    Trying to get an understanding of a system using a reference manual is certainly possible — I learned the X11 API with nothing but the man pages and lots of cans of Coke, and I learned the x86 ISA from Intel’s own chip specifications — but tutorials and examples are like the launch catapults on an aircraft carrier’s flight deck: they get you up to speed faster than you could get alone. There’s nothing inherently sloppy, cavalier, or “cowboy” about them. If you misuse them by being a “copy and paste” programmer, well, that’s on you.

  80. @Jeff Read
    “Shenpen, it’s not like learning to program before the “Web era” (1995 or so) was all Japanese-cram-school drilling until you memorized each keyword and syntax rule before you could touch live code.”

    You did not have to use assembler. My first (and only) programming course where I learned to program used Algol 68:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ALGOL_68

    That was generally considered a “high level” language.

    And then I had to code in Fortran for the next decade. I hated it. On the side, I dabbled in Pascal and Basic. All before the WWW came about.

  81. “Huh. The funny thing is, it’s hard to think about this because anything I come up with as an “obvious” answer is tainted by the fact that I’ve been a computer nerd for about as long as I remember. I’d have to say that virtually everyone here is unqualified to answer this question.”

    Don’s right; most of the regulars of Eric’s blog, whether they are programmers or not, know more about programmers than the average person. The real question is are there people whose names are recognizable to the average person who are famous because of programming work they’ve done?

  82. The real question is are there people whose names are recognizable to the average person who are famous because of programming work they’ve done?

    The average person? Steve Wozniak (DWTS alum), and Bill Gates maybe. (Remember, without his early code there wouldn’t have been a Microsoft.) Other than that, no dice.

    One of the problems with programming is that it is so far removed from the milieu of the ordinary person that it just looks boring. Other professions such as acting, singing, dancing, and sports are outside the average person’s milieu, but they look exciting from the outside, so people pay attention to professionals in these fields and accordingly they earn fame.

    This becomes a much-lamented problem when it comes to depicting our craft in Hollywood; films such as Hackers (which was actually one of the first films to use TNHD entries in context, albeit as a sort of goofy teen slang) opted instead to show programmers immersed in colorful screen-saver-y graphics. Of course, real hackers find programming immensely exciting, but conveying that excitement to a general audience is immensely difficult. To feel the excitement you have to become one of us. Imagine a film in the James Bond series, but it’s about Q, not Bond himself. Every day he gets up, drives to MI6 HQ in his Ford Cortina (not Aston-Martin or anything of the sort), flashes his ID badge to the dour security bloke at the gate, and gets to work inventing things for agents to use far away, off screen. There are enormous challenges to overcome and triumphs to be had — how to get a laser of high enough intensity to cut metal into a sufficiently small and low-power package to disguise as a pen, for instance — but unless you have an engineering background you will not be engaged by these details. Anyone can be engaged by James Bond; exotic locales, cool cars, danger, and beautiful women are his reality.

    About the only thing exciting to the average person about what we do is the fact that a few of us have become very rich doing it. But to the average person, it’s riches earned by paying your dues in front of a flickering screen, slinging boring chunks of text around day in and day out — not a material side benefit of doing an intrinsically stimulating activity, the way being a pro basketball player, actor, or actual rock star might be.

    So no, there are virtually no famous programmers outside of a tiny handful, and there probably never will be — at least not until the public takes a vastly different attitude towards science and tech, which would require mass rewiring of the human brain at a fundamental level before it happens.

    That’s okay. Fame is overrated.

  83. @Alex K:
    >I believe that most of the “high level” vs. “low level” programming discussion is a case of muddled thinking.

    In the particular case I was thinking of, I was writing a “hello world” PC bootsector in machine code. I eventually got tired of having to recount bytes and change jump pointers every time I inserted or removed an instruction, so I cheated by writing a short Java program to allow me to use symbolic names for memory locations.

  84. My 16-year-old son, who’s uninterested in programming, knew of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs (not a programmer, as we all know) Steve Wozniak, Heddy Lamar (he thought she’d programmed spread-spectrum) and Zuckerberg. He’s not a gamer, so he didn’t know about Carmack, Romero, or Notch.

    I was quite disappointed when he didn’t mention Linus, despite the fact that he uses Linux daily.

  85. P.S. On the subject of Ada Lovelace, giving her a decently-sized place in computing history is quite sensible if one considers her as one of the mathematicians whose work was incorporated into Computer Science. Calling her a “programmer” is where things get inaccurate.

  86. @Jeff Read:

    A few weeks ago, I watched a b-movie called ‘Black Hat’ which tried to do such a thing with cracking & cybersecurity which, while distinct from programming, both fall under ‘complicated, abstruse computer-things’. While technically accurate, it was not the most engaging film ever.

  87. Stallman and ESR are more famous as organizers of programming/development cultures and methods rather than for programming.

    Ada Lovelace didn’t actually do any programming, because programming wasn’t yet possible. Her work with Babbage on the difference engine was significant, but it wasn’t programming.

    Grace Hopper: famous for designing COBOL (that is, being the lead designer and running the design team). But was that programming? Did she code the compilers?

    This invites the question: to what extent is “programming” just writing code? Because “software development” includes design (“architecture”?), documentation, testing.

    There is also the question of how fame is acquired in fields that have no clear metrics of achievement. Sports has such metrics. Michael Jordan may be the most famous athlete; his fame comes from winning six US (but de facto world) championships in a popular sport, with very high individual performances. But who is the most famous cook? “Celebrity chefs” on TV are legion; but there are many restaurant chefs who have become renowned.

    When one says “famous”, does one mean “famed for achievement in the field”, or simply “well-known”, possibly for qualities having nothing to do with the field? Who is the most famous doctor in the U.S. today? It would probably be Ben Carson, who has become famous as a political activist and candidate for President.

    I think a requirement should be that the person is generally known as of that field.

    The best-known persons who are known as programmers

  88. @Jon Brase:
    Unless you were turning out hand cranked machine code, that almost certainly wasn’t necessary. Every assembler I’ve personally used, and most others I’m aware of, have allowances for symbolic labels going back to the PDP-7 (see chapter 2, example 3 of that PDF)—your retreat to Java makes me certain you were working on a machine younger than that.

    The very large operand sets of modern processors makes writing assembly code hard enough; I shudder to envision hand-cranking code for them. While there still might be some merit in learning how, any kudos you might earn from me are lost for seeming to falsely ascribe an entire category of tool as requiring what others see as self-flagellation.

  89. What about Peter Norton.

    Everybody knows his name if they have any contact with Windows PC’s, if only for the terrible Symantec software that bears his last name.

    Most don’t realize Norton is actually a person, not just a brand, but in terms of name recognition probably only Gates can rival him.

  90. Adam Maas:

    “Pink Shirt Book. Guide to PCs. Named for the ugly pink shirt the guy is wearing on the cover.”

  91. Linus is more famous even among normal people than esr, albeit they’re both pretty Z-list. In any case esr was famous as an economic theorist, not a programmer.

  92. @Alex K:
    >Unless you were turning out hand cranked machine code, that almost certainly wasn’t necessary.

    Yes, hand cranked.

    >The very large operand sets of modern processors makes writing assembly code hard enough; I shudder to envision hand-cranking code for them.

    Except for translating symbols by hand, it’s actually not that bad. Translating symbols by hand, as I discovered, is an occasion for proctalgia.

  93. @Jessica
    “Probably primarily because I don’t think the school district was entirely in the wrong, which is the most terrifying part of it.”

    But that is the stupid side of it. Imagine, you are a teacher in front of a classroom full of children. Now you think you discovered an activated bomb in your class. What do you do?
    Do you:
    – Take the bomb and keep it on yourself
    – Walk with the bomb and the child to the principal
    – Put the bomb on his desk and then call the police
    – Who take the child and the supposed bomb to the police station

    What is strange in this action pattern?

    Note that the Irvin city council has a history of anti-Muslim policies and propaganda:
    http://www.dallasnews.com/news/metro/20150319-dispute-on-islam-roils-irving.ece

  94. Having had a think about this, I’m pretty sure the kid is a brilliant troll.

    Think about it. He’s clearly bright and motivated. He’ll be aware of the irrational anti-Muslim sentiment popular with the administrators, especially given his father’s activism in that area. There’s exactly zero chance he could have been surprised by the stupid response to his clearly legal, innocuous device.

    So he decides to go ahead with building it and taking it in to school. Two possible outcomes: his teachers recognize his skill and effort. Or, they freak out and demonstrate to the entire world that they’re bigoted cretins. Win-win :)

    Pure hacker humour, in my opinion, and perfectly executed.

  95. @Duncan
    “Or, they freak out and demonstrate to the entire world that they’re bigoted cretins. Win-win :)”

    Not impossible, but wholly unnecessary to even consider. All the kid did was to disassemble-and-reassemble an electronic alarm clock and bring the result to class. This school must be an utterly miserable place if students can predict this kind of stupidity.

    If I would have been stupid enough to try such a prank in high school, I would have expected the school to be evacuated and the bomb squad deployed. I would have planned accordingly.

  96. If you want a international view, here’s once from a spanish who has written a book about the history of computing. The common folk doesn’t know any computer programmer because of their work as a programmer. They know the three usual suspects Gates, Jobs and Zuckerberg and that’s it. They first knew about Turing because of the film, and I can’t say he was a programmer. Nobody outside the geekdom knows Woz. Nobody outside the profession knows Dijkstra or Knuth. And just a few knows Torvalds. Maybe the gamers know Carmack.

  97. “not all applied mathematics is programming”? Having implemented algorithms implemeting the methods in Lawler’s book on matroid theory, I avow that the main difference between a book proof and a program is that the program contains _all_ the steps.

  98. Note that the Irvin city council has a history of anti-Muslim policies and propaganda

    This is the narrative being pushed, but a much larger problem is the “zero-tolerance” idiocy universal in the United States these days. Kindergartners have been suspended for eating Pop-Tarts into gun shapes and pointing their fingers and saying “bang”—white kindergartners.

  99. “If I would have been stupid enough to try such a prank in high school, I would have expected the school to be evacuated and the bomb squad deployed. I would have planned accordingly.”

    That this didn’t happen, incidentally, is revealing – it shows that no-one at any step in the process (except maybe the English teacher) actually took seriously the possibility that it was a real bomb. Which means there’s no legitimacy to charging him with creating a panic because there was no panic – they’re just being purely vindictive.

  100. @Christopher
    “This is the narrative being pushed, but a much larger problem is the “zero-tolerance” idiocy universal in the United States these days.”

    Zero-Tolerance == Zero Intelligence

    It seems to be the ideal in the USA (and elsewhere?): Not having to rely on fallible and corruptible humans. Instead, rely on infallible and incorruptible rules that will work out exactly like the robots in any B movie: Destroying what they were meant to build.

  101. @ Geoffrey Tobin

    Applied mathematics preceded the invention of the electronic computer by at least two millennia.

  102. This is how a country goes full retard.

    Conservatives deinstitutionalize the mentally ill, adding to the ranks of the homeless and increasing thw risk of a violent encounter with someone who desperately needs treatment.

    Conservatives let crack into the country, the revenues from which help fund their clandestine war against communism.

    After a jump in crime rates due in part to these events, the people of New York start reversing the crime trend.

    A conservative, Rudy Giuliani, is elected mayor and implements “zero tolerance policing” on New York’s streets — after crime rates had already started to drop.

    Conservatives take credit for “cleaning up the streets of New York”.

    Oh, and zero tolerance does not necessarily imply zero intelligence. Some of the people promoting such laws know what they’re doing — filling the prisons for their financial backers in thebprivate prison industry.

  103. Jeff’s gone through the looking glass again.

    Back on topic – how about Mitnick?

  104. @Rich @everybody

    >Grace Hopper: famous for designing COBOL (that is, being the lead designer and running the design team). But was that programming? Did she code the compilers?

    Let me propose that if programming merely means writing code following an elaborately detailed spec ideally written in pseudocode, i.e. if we equate it with _coding_ then nobody deserves to get famous for it because that is, usually, not very difficult.

    So famous programmer should mean famous software designer. Whether the designer just wrote a spec or expressed the design directly in executable code is kind of secondary.

    Programming, for me, is basically writing the pseudocode, regardless of whether it actually gets written (almost never today) or is directly expressed in executable code or is expressed more losely verbally (“go through all invoices this year and mark the ones that are due, then…”). The rest is just _coding_ and that is usually about a job of medium level difficulty and prestige. I personally have not more respect for coding than for accounting, but that may be only because in my line of work the coding is easy, design is hard. Besides, I actually respect accounting :-)

    According to my definition, Bill Gates is a programmer because he is clearly a software designer. He reviewed Joel Spolsky’s whole spec for Excel macros etc. of course it is not clear if his fame is that of a software designer or CEO.

  105. >Back on topic – how about Mitnick?

    Primarily noteworthy for social engineering, not necessarily code. At least, that’s my impression.

  106. Jessica Boxer: FWIW, I think the President’s reaction to this situation was fantastic. Good for Obama.

    This is actually something where I think he was particularly hamhanded, in a manner reminiscent of the Zimmerman case from 2012. It’s not as bad as 2012, but given his behavior then, I think he especially shouldn’t have responded at all now. All this does is stir the pot and create a conflict of interest issue that will interfere with Irving’s attempt to handle the aftermath. What do you think, given this?

    Duncan Byrne: Having had a think about this, I’m pretty sure the kid is a brilliant troll. […] He’s clearly bright and motivated. He’ll be aware of the irrational anti-Muslim sentiment popular with the administrators, especially given his father’s activism in that area.

    You’re now the second person I’ve seen to bring up his father in this way. From the Dallas Morning News:

    “He just wants to invent good things for mankind,” said Ahmed’s father, Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed, who immigrated from Sudan and occasionally returns there to run for president.

    I’m inclined to still believe this is circumstantial, but if something new turns up involving his father, I won’t be able to rule this out.

  107. @Paul
    “I’m inclined to still believe this is circumstantial, but if something new turns up involving his father, I won’t be able to rule this out.”

    I think there are people digging franticly for something incriminating, anything, to draw attention away from the fact that the bomb squad was not called.

    Nothing the boy could have done justified the actions of the school and police. He is 14.

  108. By that logic, I could infer that people are digging frantically for something incriminating, or even circumstantial, to draw attention away from the fact that the President injected himself into a situation that was in the process of being handled locally.

  109. > Nothing the boy could have done justified the actions of the school and police. He is 14.

    That’s an awfully strong statement to make. It’s certainly physically possible for a 14-year-old to build an actual bomb. Or, for that matter, an actual hoax device. It’s clear that this didn’t happen, but you’re saying it couldn’t have happened.

    Of course, the appropriate response to either action would have involved actually calling in the bomb squad. But that’s true no matter whether the perpetrator is 14 or 40.

    @Paul Brinkley – what exactly did Obama do? Is this just about that Twitter post, or is there something actually substantial? If it is just the Twitter post, at least the one that I’ve seen didn’t actually include any comment on the propriety of the police response.

  110. @TomA
    “Applied mathematics preceded the invention of the electronic computer by at least two millennia.”

    The question, though, is whether there is anything special about programming that means that some accomplishment of “mere” applied mathematics is undeserving of fame as a programming accomplishment, rather than it being an academic question of where and how one’s mathematics is applied. Or, in other words, do programmers deserve a special “arena” of fame from which other sorts of applied-mathematicians are excluded?

  111. Or, in more concrete terms – is the hair that separates Ada Lovelace from “real” programmers one worth splitting?

  112. @ esr

    I’m curious: why would it be an error to “point at people … famous because of their role in a high-profile cracking incident”? Doesn’t cracking involve programming?

    (BTW, I meant no disrespect to Margaret Hamilton or anyone else. Besides, having looked at the pictures again, I’m no longer sure there’s any noticeable difference between her legs and Candice Huffine’s. Not that it matters much, anyway.)

    @ Duncan Bayne

    > He’ll be aware of the irrational anti-Muslim sentiment popular with the administrators

    Beg your pardon: by “irrational”, do you mean that such sentiment is unfounded, or that anti-Muslim behavior is more often reflexive than reasoned?

    @ Jeff Read

    > [The comment that begins with “This is how a country goes full retard.”]

    Was that a parable or a very subtle joke?

    Just kidding – it’s a line from a song. Actually, private prisons pose another challenge to my libertarian inclinations. Libertarians ascribe great importance to economic incentives, right? Unfortunately, the incentives a private-prison owner has are unclear to me.

  113. I’d throw the name Mitch Kapor* into the ring. At one time, he was extremely well known *as a programmer*. But fame is fleeting as are stand-alone spreadsheets on Windows 3……
    * VisiCalc, VisiPlot, then, after founding Lotus Development Corp., Lotus 1-2-3. and eventually Lotus Notes which is when IBM bought the whole thing….

  114. And how about Niklaus Wirth for Pascal.
    And Phillipe Kahn (Borland) for making Pascal into a usable coding language from a theoretical exemplar of coding logic,

  115. >I’m curious: why would it be an error to “point at people … famous because of their role in a high-profile cracking incident”? Doesn’t cracking involve programming?

    Usually not, actually. 90% of the time it’s either social-engineering people or using an intrusion tool someone else wrote and the cracker barely understands.

  116. @esr – right, but for any given case, “90% of the time” doesn’t matter – just the one case that the person being considered was *actually* involved in.

    I think for someone to be a “famous programmer” they simply have to A) be a programmer and B) the thing they are famous for is something in which their programming skills were relevant.

    Or maybe you should elaborate on just why “writing about code” is the only “acceptable one metalevel”, and these other things are not likewise acceptable. Because at a glance it seems almost like this requirement is tailored to exclude anyone more famous than you, while carving out an explicit exception for the thing that it could be argued that you are more famous for than for code you’ve written (neatly heading off the suggestion that, like Bill Gates, you’re not “really” a famous programmer).

  117. Been buried in the problems of all the poor quality coding in both Linux and Windows for the last few days so not been following this. My question would be who are GOOD programmers rather than famous because people think they could program. I’ve only recently ditched the set of floppy disks that were the device driver development system for early windows. Always amazed me that any professional company could allow the sort of language contained in that code and many of the censor-able comments often related to why some bug could not be fixed. We probably do not know the programmers who wrote the good code?

  118. >Or maybe you should elaborate on just why “writing about code” is the only “acceptable one metalevel”, and these other things are not likewise acceptable. Because at a glance it seems almost like this requirement is tailored to exclude anyone more famous than you

    Heh. I actually put that in for people like Paul Graham and Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood and the Pragmatic Programmer guys – people who are without any doubt working programmers who write about what they do, rather than merely writers who happen to do books about programming.

    >famous for is something in which their programming skills were relevant.

    That would still leave out pretty much all crackers. Though not InfoSec researchers. I hope the distinction is clear.

  119. > > He’ll be aware of the irrational anti-Muslim sentiment popular with the administrators
    >
    > Beg your pardon: by “irrational”, do you mean that such sentiment is unfounded, or that anti-Muslim behavior is more often reflexive than reasoned?

    Often, and yes.

    It’s probably germane to state my position on the matter: I think that Islam – both Sunni and Shia – have a moral position roughly equivalent to the worst of the Christian churches pre-Enlightenment. Islam as a religion is oppressive, with a sliding scale of oppression starting with its male practitioners, getting steadily worse when you consider women, then ‘people of the book’, then others. As a political force it is regressive. I would emigrate, or go to war, rather than live in a Muslim country.

    All of the above notwithstanding, I’ve seen a few things:

    * Racism masquerading as criticism of Islam. Muslims in most Western communities fall into several ‘other’ groups, and one of those is often race. Here in Australia, a fair proportion of people opposed to Muslim immigration are not opposed on any rational grounds, but simple racism.

    * Power-seeking based upon criticism of Islam. A goodly number of politicians seem to be switching from being seen as ‘tough on crime’ to being ‘tough on Muslim immigrants’. No good came of the former, and I fear no good will come of the latter either. Bad premises in both cases.

    I’d be willing to bet that the political creatures involved in this tale fall into the latter category, and the teachers into the former.

    So, as with anything, it’s complicated. And the complexity isn’t made easier by people on all sides trying to muddy the waters; Muslims trying to cast any criticism of their barbaric beliefs as racism, racists trying to cast their racism as anti-Islamism, and politicians clinging to whichever group they think will advantage their careers the most.

  120. > Heh. I actually put that in for people like…

    I actually meant why is it the *only* “acceptable metalevel” (and for example running a business originally built on software someone had a significant hand in originally writing is not), rather than why it is acceptable.

    I think “what someone is famous for” is an inherently fuzzy thing, so I’m questioning the whole notion of classifying things into “acceptable metalevels” rather than simply falling back on an equally fuzzy concept of “relevance” (to exclude extreme hypothetical cases like a movie star who happens to do some programming no-one knows or cares about as a hobby) and allowing everything else.

    I think that someone is a famous programmer if they are famous and they are a programmer. Maybe require a certain level of competence, and exclude cases where the source of their fame is obviously something that programming has absolutely nothing to do with, but other than that there’s no reason to be excessively pedantic about the nature of fame.

  121. > Not impossible, but wholly unnecessary to even consider. All the kid did was to disassemble-and-reassemble an electronic alarm clock and bring the result to class. This school must be an utterly miserable place if students can predict this kind of stupidity.

    I don’t think you’re giving him enough credit. Yes, that’s all he did, and yes, the school is an utterly miserable place which from appearances seems to be staffed with unimaginative cretinous racists.

    *But*, don’t you think he knew all of that? *Especially* with a politically active, politically astute father?

    I’m probably reading too much into this in my happiness with the eventual outcome (kid gets invited to the Whitehouse, FB, etc. and goes to a decent school, while the bozos in the school are publicly exposed for what they are).

    But I just can’t help see this as the greatest hacker-humour troll / prank of the year. If it was intentional, it was a master stroke.

  122. >I actually meant why is it the *only* “acceptable metalevel”

    Because I thought about it and concluded that past that one there’s a serious step in the fuzziness level. That is, all the other fame-generating accomplishments I can think of that might be coupled to “is a programmer” are of much more arguable relevance to actual programming. Think of it in terms of conditional probabilities: for any skill X, how does a demonstration of skill X affect your estimation of the person’s capability as a programmer?

    Running a software business is a good example. The ability to do this predicts nothing about capability as a programmer. On the other hand, the ability to write well about code and coding does. The public knows the first correlation pretty well and has some clue about the second.

    The public doesn’t know, alas, that skill at cracking predicts little or nothing about programming skill, but that’s still true and should therefore be part of how we design our fame-weighting function.

    You can argue with my judgment about this if you like, but it was a judgment and not just something I casually tossed off.

  123. > Running a software business is a good example. The ability to do this predicts nothing about capability as a programmer.
    I’ve never associated Bill Gates with ‘programming’ only as a salesman of someone else’s software.

  124. Fundamental to this question I think is why people are famous in their respective fields, to begin with. It is for the artifact produced. Among the general public, there are famous physics equations (E=mc^2 being the topmost), so Einstein is famous. In math, calculus is very well-known, so Newton is famous. In Chemistry, we have the periodic table, so Mendeleev is famous. In biology, the theory of evolution, so Darwin is famous.

    What would be the programming equivalent of these things? I would assert that there are no programmers famous for their programming, because there is little-to-no programming that is famous, because the general public simply doesn’t interact with it. Even that most famous program of all, “Hello world,” is completely unknown to the vast majority of non-programmers. Let alone our fundamental programming constructs such as conditionals, loops, assignments and functions. I know that I never think about the “inventors” of such things.

    If we look to a Nobel Prize-way of thinking, we would look to recipients of the Turing Award. I know computer science is a bit different from programming, but that’s probably going to be as close as we get. Looking at the list, a few names stand out to me: Dijkstra, Knuth, Backus and Ritchie. And, of course, Turing himself. But like ESR said, it wasn’t his actual programming from which his fame derives.

    But maybe programming, as the application atop the science, is more akin to automotive manufacturing, than it is to its underlying science. In that case, like with any industry, fame is achieved not by bending sheet metal or by welding, but by founding companies and organizing people: Henry Ford, Karl Benz, Ferdinand Porsche, Lee Iacocca and Jack Welch. In this way of thinking, for programming it would be people like Gates, Jobs and Zuckerberg.

  125. @ Duncan Bayne

    Thanks for clarifying. BTW, some time ago I visited your GitHub page and saw a leaflet titled “Ideas Don’t Have Rights”. It seems to be gone now; did they censor it? In any case, FWIW, I saw it and liked it. From what I remember, it was succint and eloquent.

    @ esr

    > Usually not, actually. 90% of the time it’s either social-engineering people or using an intrusion tool someone else wrote and the cracker barely understands.

    Oh. Thanks.

    Say, do you now feel more prepared to answer your wife’s question? Perhaps you’ve written a tentative list of famous programmers? Or, on the contrary, did this comment thread only add to the confusion?

    > I casually tossed off.

    A natural reaction to the pictures of women we’ve been seeing. :-)

    (I suppose this joke would only make sense in the U.K.; but you’ve lived there, so I trust you’ll get it.)

  126. > Think of it in terms of conditional probabilities: for any skill X, how does a demonstration of skill X affect your estimation of the person’s capability as a programmer?

    Well, yeah, you have to do actual research to find out which software business people got there on legitimate programming skill and which ones are just MBA types, but… that doesn’t mean it’s not a fact that exists about them.

    The idea that the likes of Gates et al aren’t famous for their programming ability is baffling because it’s hard to imagine them being famous without it.

  127. I did a quick poll of the 6 people at the ambulance station I’m at. The list provided:

    Bill Gates
    Steve Jobs
    “The guy from Napster”
    Steven Hawking
    Mark Zuckerberg
    Tom from Myspace
    The Google People

  128. Gates was most famous as part of the team which created the GWBasic and related interpreters, as well as parts of DOS. (Most of his work on DOS was improvements to somebody else’s code.) Anyone who learned to code on the BASIC included with an old version of DOS cut their teeth on Gates’ work. (I think GWBasic showed up in DOS versions 1-4. 5 and 6 used QBasic, which was probably written/improved-from-GWBasic by someone else.)

    IIRC the same GWBasic interpreter was part of the Amiga software suite and may have shown up in other places as well – maybe the Timex Sinclair?

    It should also be noted that when writing GW Basic, Gates was hand-coding in Assembler so I’d say he deserves his fame.

  129. @Random
    “Of course, the appropriate response to either action would have involved actually calling in the bomb squad. But that’s true no matter whether the perpetrator is 14 or 40.”

    So, their response was not justified by the actions of the boy.

    @Duncan Bayne
    ” I think that Islam – both Sunni and Shia – have a moral position roughly equivalent to the worst of the Christian churches pre-Enlightenment.”

    Ever talked to a Sufi Muslim?
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sufism

    Or a feminist Muslim?
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_feminism

    Did you consider the Islam in Indonesia, the most populous Islamic country, and compared it to, say, Catholicism in the Philippines?

    I would not make grand generalizations about a billion people based on how they are portrayed in the Western media.

  130. (I think GWBasic showed up in DOS versions 1-4. 5 and 6 used QBasic, which was probably written/improved-from-GWBasic by someone else.)

    As someone who was working with hardware from other manufacturers at that time I don’t think of Gates for any programming skills, only for getting software from dubious sources and paying others such as Greg Whitten to for his rework of that code. Greg is who I associate with GWBasic but I doubt he would appear on any famous programmers list?

    I always thought ‘How much better would the world be if IBM had not made two mistakes with the PC?’ They used a job lot of processors that nobody else wanted so they got them cheap, and licensed an OS from a supplier who did not even own it.

    I have a quote from Douglas Adams on my wall …
    “The idea that Bill Gates has appeared like a knight in shining armour to lead all customers out of a mire of technological chaos neatly ignores the fact that it was he who, by peddling second-rate technology, led them into it in the first place.” … Date … 25-Aug-1995! 20 years ago.

    Gates commissioned Dec to write NT which was a much more well designed framework, but promptly knobled it in W2k. How much of the hacking and virus problems we have to deal with today would exist if the key elements of the likes of NT had been retained rather than rejected by executive decisions from the Microsoft SALES team.

  131. “The idea that Bill Gates has appeared like a knight in shining armour to lead all customers out of a mire of technological chaos neatly ignores the fact that it was he who, by peddling second-rate technology, led them into it in the first place.”

    I would agree with that too. The parallels behind Bill Gates and Anakin Skywalker are striking. Except for the lava. Both men started out with immense technical talent then joined the Dark Side.

  132. I asked two friends who are nontechnical, because I’ve been immersed in this culture way too long to answer it. Both are around my age, mid-40s. I did summarize the parameters (Why Bill Gates doesn’t count, etc. ).

    The first (refuses to use a smart phone, and hates using standard computers, has a frustration-block with tech, masters degree in econ, professional artist): Tim Berners-Lee, Linus Torvalds (Actually got Linus’ last name wrong, but close enough).

    Second (far less tech-phobic, but, for instance, confuses applications with the OS, refers to desktop computers as “the hard drive”. Ph.D, Psych.): Notch, Linus, jwz. (This is probably an outlier, as we both live in San Francisco and she has met jwz.)

    So from this massive sample with an obviously tiny p value, I’m going to guess Linus is probably at least close to the top of the list, at least among educated nontechnical USians who know me.

  133. @Garrett Kajmowicz
    > The guy from Napster
    > The Google People

    To paraphrase Babbage: I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a response. Seriously, no disrespect to the people they identified, but… they actually thought that the most famous programmers are people they couldn’t name?

  134. “So, their response was not justified by the actions of the boy.”

    In precisely those terms, sure. But your implication was that *no* actions that he *could* have done would have justified *any* response as harsh [the justified response for what they accused them of, had he actually done it, would have been harsher, not less so], and that his age was relevant [either to the response being to harsh, or to the notion that he’s incapable of doing anything to justify being arrested]

  135. I am surprised nobody mentioned Larry Paige & Sergey Brin yet. Maybe Jullian Assange? Though I think Assange is more famous for his political activity than his code. Same problem with Brendan Eitch, although, practically everyone I have talked to knows about javascipt. Nevermind that it is often confused with Java. Speaking of which, any non-programmer who has read “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell should know about Bill Joy.

  136. I have to back Tarn Adams up — his game is in the NY MOMA’s exhibit along with SimCity. And he was featured in the NY Times.

    Also, runs a pretty good Patreon — getting close to $4k a month now.

  137. >Also, [Tarn Adams] runs a pretty good Patreon — getting close to $4k a month now.

    I can’t find his page by name, which is unfortunate as I’d like to know his patron count. Lacking that I’ll have to do some guessing based on dollar volume.

    I think that size of Patreon remittance is good evidence of fame. It means he has enough fans that even the small percentage of them willing to remit adds up to $4K…because most Patreon users commit in $1 chunks I estimate this implies a fanbase on the order of 400K people.

    (Yes, some people do contribute more but on my patron listing the distribution looks exponential – the heavy contributors do not dominate total volume.)

    (I didn’t get the 1:100 ratio out of nowhere. I read an article on e-book sales once claiming that e-book authors’ fanbases convert to actual buyers at roughly that rate.)

    That 400K fanbase estimate is an interesting figure, because various lines of evidence in the past have suggested to me that my global fanbase is probably roughly twice that in size – 800K to a M. The least handwavy were based on estimates of the global population size of hackers and their allies, in turn based on figures for repository commit volumes and project counts at sites like SourceForge.

    My Patreon only supports an estimate on the order of 170K fans, but it’s relatively new. It will be interesting to see where it tops out.

  138. @esr –

    > I can’t find his page by name …

    The page title is Bay 12 Games. They have a post dated 28 April 2015 talking about their “fantastic first day”, so their patronage probably isn’t much older than the middle of that month.

    1040 patrons, $3,944.01 / month. Implying (by your math) ~~100k fans. And an average of nearly $4 / patron / mo, which is a fair amount higher than your estimate.

    It would be an interesting exercise to scrape Patreon.com (or better, call their API if they have one) to get overall statistics on number of patrons / cause (and the distribution), average and distribution of contributions / patron, etc.

  139. @ John D. Bell

    There’s something I don’t understand: at the top of the Adams’ Patreon page, the patron count is 1040, just like you said; but at the bottom of the page there’s a box that reads something about 704 patrons. Why the discrepancy?

    (And, BTW, congratulations on being listed among our host’s top patrons. :D Truth be told, I envy you a bit, for I’d love to help Eric. As it is, all my words of admiration probably sound hollow, or even mendacious. If only I could at least teach him something, just as he’s taught me so much… sigh.)

  140. >And an average of nearly $4 / patron / mo, which is a fair amount higher than your estimate.

    My average is higher at $5.10 per patron per month. I didn’t say I expected the average to be $1, just that the distribution looks exponential.

  141. @esr –

    > >And an average of nearly $4 / patron / mo, which is a fair amount higher than your estimate.

    > My average is higher at $5.10 per patron per month. I didn’t say I expected the average
    > to be $1, just that the distribution looks exponential.

    I misread, or assumed things from what I had read that were not in your statement.

    OTOH, …

    > My Patreon only supports an estimate on the order of 170K fans, …

    Since you currently have 171 patrons, by the 100:1 rule you would only have 17+k fans, not 170k. Math fail? </snark> And since you dohave quite a bit more than that (just look at how many G+ followers you have, as a lower bound), I expect your Patreon page to attract more donations over the next couple of months.

  142. So many sub-threads! But only one one which I might have relevant experience to comment about – the Hamilton thread and early small machine projects.

    I am not a “famous programmer”. Although I do have some creds in a few tiny niches for embedded Real Time firmware. All my early work (started on my own 8 bitters in ’73) was on tiny machines, with 4KB of EEPROM and SRAM, and the key part I think relevant here is that those systems when delivered had to work. Period. No glitches, randomness, failures of any kind. And that is hard, in any system. And the tools were, well, primitive is kind. Most of my tools I had to make myself. So there was no substitute for being able to not only visualize the hardware and software, but to execute the actual code within that visualization. Most debugging happened there. I knew other programmers who could do that, and knew yet others who could not. The latter did not last very long.

  143. I am not a “famous programmer”. Although I do have some creds in a few tiny niches for embedded Real Time firmware. All my early work (started on my own 8 bitters in ’73) was on tiny machines, with 4KB of EEPROM and SRAM, and the key part I think relevant here is that those systems when delivered had to work. Period. No glitches, randomness, failures of any kind. And that is hard, in any system. And the tools were, well, primitive is kind.

    Finally a programmer I can relate to :)
    When the question comes up ‘what is your job’ I still reply ‘electronics engineer’ as I am much more at home building the kit than programming it, but some of my handy work is probably still in house in the UK in various central heating controllers. I’m still using one here. 4k was too expensive … everything had to fit in 1k but I think it was 11bit memory space … most time spent reworking routines to trim a word here and there to shoehorn a little more in, and yes no space for bugs!

  144. @Bell: Bay12Games’ Patreon dates from last April, yes. The money started coming in in May.

    They have a head start, though: they’ve been getting fan $upport since ’08. ( http://www.bay12forums.com/smf/index.php?board=8.80 ), which has been gradually increasing — there’s a google drive spreadsheet somewhere with cool graphs on the data, but I can’t find it. That may explain the reason they had such an explosive start in Patreon… over 1k in the first month, around 3k on the second, and steadily climbing every time I check on them.

    @esr:
    Something which is admittedly time-consuming but has worked well for the brothers Adams — Zach, Tarn’s brother, is [designer/tester/producer/anyhow, working] for the game — for garnering support is giving out rewards with a personal touch. In their case, micro-stories and crayon drawings.

    So, in your situation, if you’re looking to make Patreon pay off really well, I grok you should look into having Patron tiers in which either:
    1. a peek into your world happens maybe a “watch me work an hour a month!” With maybe an “I’ll let you decide in which of my current projects you want to watch me work!” thrown in for good measure. or
    2. You give people in the tier some attention (it may involve putting people in a “thanks to” file of some software, or spending an hour a month in a Google Hangout with the people in the tier talking about boardgames or whatever)
    3. You give people some special attention (look at some code for an hour, discuss their projects, don’t know what-sits)
    I’ve seen those work in several cases. And, from what I gather, you have the personality to make the “I’m giving you some attention” gig feel well for the patrons.

    You’ve said in the past that you cannot afford to take apprentices. Maybe you could take this chance to mentor a small group of paying and interested (pardon the pleonasm) people for a small amount of time a month.

  145. @winter,

    Sorry it’s taken so long for a reply.

    “Ever talked to a Sufi Muslim?”

    Nope. At least, not knowingly – I don’t usually ask people what school of their religion they follow unless it’s germane to the conversation.

    “Or a feminist Muslim?”

    Yes. As a matter of fact, that’s how I’d describe the (then, not sure if current) head of the Islamic Council of Victoria, who was one of those (metaphorically) calling for the head of an Imam who described unveiled women as “uncovered meat” who invited rape.

    “Did you consider the Islam in Indonesia, the most populous Islamic country, and compared it to, say, Catholicism in the Philippines?”

    Are we talking about Aceh in particular? I don’t understand the relevance to my point.

    “I would not make grand generalizations about a billion people based on how they are portrayed in the Western media.”

    Neither would I. Or the people I know who fled the Islamic revolution in Iran in fear for their lives. I’m pretty sure they didn’t base their emigration on unflattering portrayals of their fellow citizens on Fox News.

  146. @winter,

    Also, if we’re talking about Sufism, take a look at Chechnya. Majority Sufi, by a long margin, but then mobilised for Jihad by a *small* nucleus of Wahabi and likeminded mujahideen. Some particularly loathsome examples of humanity, the Tsarnaevs, got their start there.

  147. I know nothing about programming. I am nowhere near anything STEM. I have never heard of you, the article writer, before. I have heard of Stallman, Knuth, Hopper, Lovelace, and Turing.

  148. Clive Sinclair is pretty famous in the UK for creating the ZX Spectrum among other things – a figure in the history of computing, if not a programmer per se.

  149. As far as I know, Hopper is the only programmer to have a warship named after her.

  150. What about the creator of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto? It may be a pseudonym, and that pseudonym may stand for many people, but a lot of people have heard of Bitcoin and its creator.

  151. Duncan Bayne on 2015-09-21 at 20:22:16 said:
    Also, if we’re talking about Sufism, take a look at Chechnya. Majority Sufi, by a long margin, but then mobilised for Jihad by a *small* nucleus of Wahabi and likeminded mujahideen.

    It would be more correct to say that Chechens were jihadified by the Russians coming in and shooting up the entire country. Some of the international jihadists went there to help them fight back. They brought money and guns when no one else was doing anything, and that got them a lot of influence.

    Moslem radicalism is almost all self-generated; but a bit of it has come from places where Moslems have been seriously fucked with, such as Chechnya and Xinjiang.

  152. If “fame” means people being aware of your last name, then Norton and McAfee.

  153. @Anon, of course, McAfee has also been in the news as a crazy person and as a presidential candidate. Though that technically still stems from his existing career (who would care about him if he weren’t “that” McAfee), it’s quite a bit further removed than fame from directly running a software business.

  154. Two names come to mind: Chuck Moore and Alan Kay. Both of them developed new ideas and languages (respectively Forth and Smalltalk), enhanced them, and used them a lot for building great things.

  155. So, no definitive answer to the question in the title? As Ned Flanders would say: “Well, I guess this is a case where we’ll have to agree to disagree.”. :-)

  156. @ esr

    A variation on the question that started it all: are you the world’s foremost expert on version control?

  157. >A variation on the question that started it all: are you the world’s foremost expert on version control?

    I don’t know the answer to that question, or even if there is a well-defined answer. I’m the world’s expert on history conversions between different version-control systems, but that’s a much weaker claim because conversions are only one aspect of the topic.

  158. @ esr

    > I’m the world’s expert on history conversions between different version-control systems

    That’s a satisfactory answer. And your recent ordeal with Emacs’ repository has probably consolidated your reputation in that department. :-)

    Anyway, as a small token of gratitude, I want to share a discovery. I understand it’s somewhere in the prog-rock/jazz-fusion region, so you might like it… depending on the musicianship, which I cannot judge – I leave that to you. ;-)

  159. >Anyway, as a small token of gratitude, I want to share a discovery

    Ah yes, Niacin. Very good band – I know their music well, it often comes up on my Pandora channel. True fact: they are so named because the band is centered on a Hammond B3 organ, and Vitamin B3 is niacin.

    Thanks for finding that channel I will enjoy.

  160. @ esr

    > I know their music well, it often comes up on my Pandora channel.

    I did contemplate that possibility. But you’d never mentioned them here; and you’ve named quite a few musicians (most notably in the second paragraph of “Opening Pandora’s Music box”), so your silence on Niacin gave me some hope that you didn’t know them. :-P

    > the band is centered on a Hammond B3 organ

    Yeah, they seem to have no guitarist. Like Emerson, Lake & Palmer, right? That’s a classic band I never got around to actually listening to. :$

    This reminds me that the Doors had no bassist (albeit sometimes they’d employ a session bassist). That’s a classic band I am acquainted with, and which I wonder if you like.

    > Thanks for finding that channel I will enjoy.

    You’re welcome, but you already knew them. Perhaps I served you better with the picture of Huffine, which I chose because it seems to fit your requirement of sweetness and innocence. :-)

  161. I style myself a bit of an amateur sociologist, and I have to say that — even after seeing all these suggestions in this thread — I can’t say that there is *anyone at all*, IMHO, who qualifies for “famous” among the general population *as a programmer, for programming*.

    After the Steve Jobs movie, Woz *might* qualify.

    My personal bar for “famous” is “at least 50% of the people you ask can identify them by name, and at least 50% of those know why, and at least 50% of *those* know *precisely* why.”

  162. I can’t say that there is *anyone at all*, IMHO, who qualifies for “famous” among the general population *as a programmer, for programming*.

    Well looks like the two who are currently being blamed by VW might qualify shortly? Does anybody here really believe someone at a management level has no access to the code control system that I thought was an integral part of the safety procedures in car design and production?

  163. 50% is a high bar: I estimate that less than half the people in my neighbourhood have ever heard of George Washington. Does that suffice to render him an obscure figure?

  164. There’s one big reason to trumpet Lovelace’s achievements that hasn’t been discussed here: if Lovelace was a computer programmer, then she was the *first* computer programmer. This does not excuse exaggerating her achievements, but it does explain why people would do so: getting to say that tge first programmer was a girl gives the girls bragging rights over the boys.

  165. Hadley Wickham is soon to be the most important programmer as R takes over the world, and his packages continue to reshape R.

  166. Pingback: Here's what open source critics are missing in their Apple-bashing | Wiki News Tech | Tech Hub For Techgig

  167. So I did a count on the comments and I see Stroustroup coming up more often than Dennis Ritchie. Personally I find it very offending. On the one hand many people are celebrating a self promoting guy who gave the world the bloated, useless piece of evil that C++ is, while forgetting the unassuming genius Ritchie was for blessing us with the simple, elegant C – not to mention the bible of all programming books K&R. Goodness sake, guys, it is really sad.
    ESR is one my heroes but I never commented here, but this one I just simply cannot let it go.

  168. >ESR is one my heroes but I never commented here, but this one I just simply cannot let it go.

    For the record, I think Dennis Ritchie deserved to be the most famous programmer in the world.

    He wasn’t. I’m pretty sure I had more name recognition in the general population than he did between 1998 and about 2005. There were good reasons to engineer that, but I agree with you that it was really sad. I can only note that I did that mission for Dennis, among others.

  169. @esr, speaking of Ritchie, did you ever had any opportunity of interacting with him either in person or emails? Would you be able to do a blog post on Dennis Ritchie to share ‘interesting’ stuff (controversies, disagreements, tirivia etc) about him, for programming novices like me. There is scarcely any stuff I could find in google and he didnt give many interviews.

  170. >@esr, speaking of Ritchie, did you ever had any opportunity of interacting with him either in person or emails?

    I only met him once, long ago. I was a junior programmer, nobody of significance. He was pleasant and friendly. A good man, but there’s not much else to tell than that.

  171. >How many of Ritchie’s colleagues are living?

    Ken Thompson has retired and is now a flight instructor somewhere.

    Dennis McIlroy is teaching CS at…Cornell, I think. Once every couple of years I have occasion to deal with him via email.

    Rob Pike is at Google.

    Dunno where Brian Kernighan is these days.

  172. Brian Kernighan is as far as I can tell at Princeton, and recently did a couple interesting video interviews for the “Computerphile” youtube channel.

  173. – Ada Lovelace, for the first algorithm on a Turing machine (Bernoulli numbers), which included conditional branches, loops and subroutines, and for recognizing such a machine is capable of more than solving numerical problems.
    – Donald Knuth, for a work of beauty on TAOCP and TeX.
    – Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson, for Unix and C.
    – Bill Gates, for combining technical brilliance (Altair Basic) with business instinct (dealing with IBM) at a very young age.
    – John Carmack, for revolutionizing game programming several times.
    – Linus Torvalds, for bestowing Linux and git upon the world.
    Taken from: http://www.slideshare.net/ArnoHuetter/rockstar-programmers

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