Our daily lives have changed with the development of technology. From the invention of smartphones and video games to advancements in artificial intelligence, our world has transformed. But we wouldn’t have these advancements without those who guided the technological evolution.
Famous computer scientists wrote machine code. They created computer programming languages and today’s modern computers. These influential computer scientists inspire us through their leadership, invention, and ingenuity. In this article, we discuss some of the most famous computer scientists in the world.
Traits Best Computer Scientists Have
When searching for the greatest computer scientists, we looked at certain criteria. For this list of 30 top computer scientists, we considered the following criteria.
The computer scientists on this list are leaders in their field. They founded or run a successful technology company. Many famous computer scientists are also current or former academics at top universities. Their research is ongoing. They participate in furthering studies in many different areas of computers, including:
- Artificial intelligence
- Data mining
- Data science
- Machine learning algorithms
- Object oriented programming languages
We gave special recognition to famous computer scientists whose innovations have improved the lives of large numbers of people. If a computer scientist created something that impacts the world’s population, they received a higher ranking on our list.
Recognition is important. The famous computer scientists and products on this list earned recognition from various groups for their contributions to both technology and society. Many are also award winners, receiving esteemed recognition, such as the Alan Turing Award. The also received awards from colleges and foundations, such as the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
We also considered computer scientists with other notable accomplishments. These include computer scientists with personal circumstances or unique educational backgrounds.
30. Sophie Wilson
British computer scientist Sophie Wilson designed the Acorn Micro-Computer. This computer sold by Acorn Computers, Ltd. in 1978. Three years later, Wilson extended Acorn Atom’s BASIC programming language. It enabled the company to win the business of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) for its ambitious computer education project.
In 2011, Maximum PC named Wilson the 8th “most important [woman] in tech history.” In 2013, she became a fellow to the prestigious Royal Society. Wilson is the Director of IC Design at Broadcom in Cambridge, England. She is an important computer scientist in today’s world.
29. Niklaus Wirth
As far as famous computer scientists go, Niklaus Wirth is one of the most recognized. He is the designer of Pascal and pioneer in the software engineering field. He designed and worked on many computer programming languages that changed modern computers. These include automatic programming, machine learning, and more. Some programming he’s worked on include:
- Algol W
Wirth has received many awards, including the Alan Turing Award in 1987. He received the Alan Turing Award for his development the sequence of innovative computer languages. The Turing Award is an annual prize named after Alan Turing. It is the “Nobel Prize of Computing.” Turing is the key founder of artificial intelligence and the creator of the Turing Machine, a first mechanical computer and analytical engine capable of algorithms.
Wirth has also won the Marcel Benoist Prize and the SIGPLAN Programming Languages Achievement Award Fellow of the Computer History Museum.
28. Michael Widenius
Michael Widenius is the creator of the original MySQL. This is an open-source database released to the public in 1996. It changed how modern computers operate.
What’s interesting about Widenius is that he’s a college dropout. After leaving Helsinki University of Technology, the Finnish-born computer scientist launched his career with Tapio Laakso Oy. Not long after, he became a founding member of MySQL AB company. He is the co-author of “MySQL Reference Manual” published by O’Reilly in 2002.
The computer science expert has won different awards, including the coveted Finnish Software Entrepreneur of the Year Prize (2003). He sold MySQL to Sun, and earned over 16 million Euros in capital gains.
27. Carl Sassenrath
Thanks to Carl Sassenrath, our personal computers can multi-task. Because of what he developed, he’s one of the most famous living computer scientists. He started his career as a multi-programming executive in the Digital Computer Systems Division at Hewlett Packard. But he left in 1983 to join Amiga Computer, Inc., a small start-up in Silicon Valley. It was there that he created the Amiga Computer operating systems kernel.
Today, Carl’s the Chief Technology Officer at REBOL Technologies. He works to find more efficient methods of distributed computing and computational complexity, and machine learning.
26. Jason Fried
Jason Fried is co-founder and current president of Basecamp. What is Fried’s computer science company? A Chicago-based web company that has developed thousands of apps for different operating systems. Fried (and Basecamp) is best known for inventing the popular Ruby on Rails first programming language. Software developers and many computer scientists use Ruby to complete different tasks.
Fried has also co-authored a number of books published by his company. These computer science books are how-to’s for building successful web applications. In 2006, MIT Technology Review named Fried one of the top 35 innovators in the world under the age of 35. He is a regular speaker on entrepreneurship, management, and the free software movement.
25. Richard Stallman
Richard Stallman, known as RMS in the hacker world, is a computer programmer and software freedom activist. He is one of the most famous computer scientists in the world. Why? Because he launched the GNU Project, a Unix operating system composed of free software.
Stallman also helped found the Free Software Foundation. His free software movement campaigns push for the distribution of software to those who need to use, study, and modify it for free. He has received at least 14 honorary doctorates and professorships. He is an important figure in computer science.
24. Rasmus Lerdorf
Greenland-born Rasmus Lerdorf is a Canadian computer scientist and programmer best known for creating PHP scripting language. About 34% of the world wide web sites run on PHP. This makes it one of the most successful programming languages out there.
Though Lerdorf continues to contribute to PHP’s development, he is now works as a senior advisor at Jelastic, where he assists in the creation of new technology. He also speaks at conferences about the history of PHP and the world wide web.
23. Bjarne Stroustrup
One of the most famous computer scientists in the world is Bjarne Stroustrup, a Danish-born computer scientist who developed the popular C++ programming language. Stroustrup literally wrote the book on C++. He is the author of the language’s official textbook “The C++ Programming Language.”
In 2004, he became an ACM and IEEE fellow. He was also elected into the National Academy of Engineering. Today, he works as a distinguished research professor and holder of the College of Engineering Chair in Computer Science at Texas A&M University. He speaks on artificial intelligence podcasts about his research.
22. Larry Wall
As a student at UC Berkeley, Larry Wall wanted to travel to Africa, find an unwritten language, and translate it into the Bible. But when Wall had to cancel his travel plans due to health reasons, he instead joined the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
It was with NASA in 1987 that Wall created the Perl programming language. Since then, Wall has continued to develop Perl for software developers and the like. He’s also authored RN Usenet client, a widely used patch program. Wall works with O’Reilly Media where he writes books on the subject of Perl. His developments have coined him as one of the most famous computer scientists in the world.
21. Guido van Rossum
Guido van Rossum is a Dutch-born computer programmer known as the author of the Python programming language. His fundamental contributions have led to work for large technology companies.
Rossum continues to oversee Python’s development. He works with the Python community where people know him as BDFL, or “Benevolent Dictator for Life.” In 2003, he became a finalist in the IT Software category at the World Technology Network Awards.
Later, he joined Google, where he worked until joining Dropbox in 2013. He retired from Dropbox but came out of retirement in 2019 to join forces at Microsoft. At Microsoft, van Rossum’s role is Distinguished Engineer. He is one of the most famous computer engineers working today, and is a prominent figurehead in artificial intelligence.
20. Bram Cohen
Bram Cohen is one of the most famous computer scientists and software developers today. According to the programmer, he had perfected the BASIC programming language by age 5. He dropped out of college at SUNY Buffalo to work for several dot com companies. He then created BitTorrent, the first file-sharing program to use Cohen’s own peer-to-peer (P2P) BitTorrent protocol.
From 2002, 2009, Cohen organized CodeCon, an annual conference for hackers and tech enthusiasts. In 2005, Time named him one of the 100 most influential people. MIT also named him one of the top 25 innovators in the world under the age of 35. Cohen is a leading American computer scientist.
19. Brendan Eich
18. Donald Knuth
Donald Knuth is an American computer scientist, mathematician, and Stanford University Emeritus professor. His nickname at Stanford University, the “father” of analysis of algorithms, suggests his influence on popular programming languages for operating systems.
Knuth created the WEB and CWEB programming systems. He also developed the TEX computer typesetting system and METAFONT font definition language and rendering system. Knuth is an author of The Art of Computer Programming, among other works. He has received many awards including the Alan Turing Award and Stanford University Hero Award.
17. Douglas Crockford
16. Miguel de Icaza
Miguel de Icaza is known in the theoretical computer science world. He grew up in a family of scientists. His father was in physics, his mother in biology. After dropping out of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, de Icaza began writing free software. A few years later, in 1999, he received the Free Software Foundation Award for the Advancement of Free Software. Later, he received the MIT Technology Review Innovator of the Year Award. Because of these recognitions, he earned a spot on Time magazine’s list of Innovators for the New Century.
De Icaza’s awards and recognition came from creating the GNOME project. GNOME is a free desktop environment that uses Linux.
15. Yukihiro Matsumoto
Yukihiro Matsumoto, “Matz,” is a Japanese computer scientist and software programmer. He is the chief designer of the Ruby programming language and author of its reference implementation, Matz’s Ruby Interpreter.
In the industry, people recognize Matz for his positive demeanor. His contagious demeanor prompted the Ruby community to incorporate a motto: “Matz is nice and so we are nice” (MINASWAN). Because of his kindness, Matz is a favorite computer scientist in the field.
In 2011, Matz began working with Heroku, an online cloud platform-as-a-service in San Francisco. He is a fellow with Rakuten Institute of Technology, a research and development organization.
14. John Resig
13. Brian Kernighan
Brian Kernighan is a Canadian computer scientist known for co-developing UNIX, a multitasking, multiuser computer operating system. On his own, Kernighan has authored several programs including ditroff and cron for Version 7 UNIX.
He’s also known for coining the phrase WYSIWYG (“What you see is what you get”). Kernighan is a professor in the Computer Science Department at Princeton University, where he also acts as Undergraduate Department Representative.
12. Ken Thompson
Ken Thompson is a true pioneer in the world of computer science. Known as Ken in hacker circles, he is co-creator of UNIX. He also helped create the B computer programming language, a direct predecessor to the modern C language.
Since 2009, Thompson has worked at Google as a Distinguished Engineer. He developed the Go programming language, among other innovations. Thompson has received the Alan Turing Award (1983), the IEEE Richard W. Hamming Medal (1990), the National Medal of Technology (1999), and the Japan Prize for Information Technology (2011).
11. James Gosling
James Gosling is a software developer known for his participation in the development of the popular Java programming language. He also created the original Java programming language design and implemented the original compiler and virtual machine.
Though he started his career with Sun Microsystems, Gosling left the company when the Oracle Corporation acquired it. He cited “ethical challenges” when he left. In 2011, he went to work for Google but left five months later to join the start-up Liquid Robotics.
Gosling’s awards are plentiful. In 2002, he received The Economist Innovation Award. In 2007, he was named Officer in the Order of Canada, the second-highest civilian honor.
10. Elon Musk
South African-born Elon Musk is a business magnate, investor, and inventor. He is responsible for founding companies like SpaceX, Tesla Motors, and SolarCity, and for his futuristic high-speed transportation system known as the Hyperloop.
Musk makes the list of famous famous computer scientists because he created PayPal, the revolutionary online program through which users pay bills, collect fees, manage purchases, and more. Though Musk passed along the main responsibilities of PayPal, he acts as the CEO and CTO, CEO, and Chairman of SpaceX, Tesla Motors, and SolarCity. He is the current owner and CEO of Twitter.
9. Linus Torvalds
Finnish-born Linus Torvalds is the creator of Linux, a popular open-source operating system. Linux has adapted into thousands of variations. Many web servers run using the system.
Torvalds is the creator of Git, a revision control system. He also created Subsurface, a diving log software. In 2012, Torvalds received the Millennium Technology Prize in recognition of his creation of the Linux kernel from the Technology Academy Finland.
8. David Axmark
Swedish-born David Axmark is one of the founders of MySQL AB. He is the developer of MySQL, another free database server.
Since 1980, Axmark has worked with free software. He has proven himself committed to developing the business model for free open-source software. In 2010, he became the director of OrangeHRM, the world’s most popular open-source human resource management software. In 2012, Axmark announced the development of his newest project, the MariaDB Foundation, a community-developed MySQL relational database management system.
7. John D. Carmack
John D. Carmack is a successful programmer of game software. He is the co-founder of id Software, and the current lead programmer of related id Computer Games. The company has created popular games such as:
- Commander Keen
- Wolfenstein 3DDoom
The mathematics and computer science field recognizes Carmack for his innovations in 3D graphics, including “adaptive tile refresh,” “raycasting,” “binary space partitioning,” “surface caching,” “Carmack’s Reverse,” and “Mega Texture technology.” Many of his innovations are licensed for use. You find them implemented into the design of first-person shooter games like Call of Duty, Half-Life, and Medal of Honor.
6. Ben Goodger
Ben Goodger is a New Zealand-born British computing pioneer and software engineer. He’s known as one of the top computer scientists due to the development and success of web browsers.
After starting his career with the Netscape Communications Corporation, Goodger went to work with the Mozilla Foundation. There he worked as a lead developer of the popular Firefox web browser. He now works at Google as a leader in the user experience department. His main focus is on the continued development and success of Google Chrome.
5. Bill Gates
Once known as the wealthiest person in the world, Bill Gates is a name synonymous with computer science. He is the co-founder and former chief executive of Microsoft, the world’s largest personal-computer software company.
Gates and his Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen started Microsoft in the Poker Room of the Currier House at Harvard University. As the company grew, Gates became known as the entrepreneur behind the personal computers revolution. Since retiring from Microsoft, Gates has become known as a business magnate, philanthropist, and investor.
From honorary doctorates to humanitarian awards, Gates has received many accolades. He ranks in the top 10 of Forbes wealthiest people in the world.
4. Mark Zuckerberg
No, he’s not an electrical engineer. But he is an American computer scientist responsible for advancements in everything from artificial intelligence to philanthropy. Mark Zuckerberg is an American computer programmer and internet entrepreneur responsible for the creation of Facebook.
Despite controversy surrounding its creation, Zuckerberg founded Facebook in his Harvard dorm room. He also created its parent company, Meta Platforms.
Every year since 2010, Time magazine has included Zuckerberg on their lists of the 100 wealthiest people, most influential people, and as part of their annual Person of the Year feature. Though his official salary as CEO of Facebook is $1, Zuckerberg’s personal wealth is estimated at $82.9 billion.
3. Larry Page
Larry Page is an American business magnate and computer scientist known for co-founding Google. He is also the inventor of PageRank, the foundation of Google’s search ranking algorithm, and an important part of the company’s initial success.
Google has won countless awards since its founding in 1998. With the help of Larry Page, the company changed how people use personal computers. Page has earned recognition as a Global Leader for Tomorrow by the World Economic Forum. He is also named as one of the most exciting innovators in the world by MIT Technology Review.
2. Sergey Brin
Sergey Brin is the co-founder of Google. He is an American computer scientist and chief data scientist who emigrated from the Soviet Union at age six.
As a Ph.D. student at Stanford University, Brin and his friend, Larry Page, crammed a bunch of cheap computers into their dorm room and developed Brin’s data mining system. The mining system became so popular at Stanford University that the two decided to drop out, rent a garage, and start Google.
Since then, Brin’s personal wealth has been estimated at more than $87 billion. The Economist has declared Brin an “Enlightened Man,” which is an appropriate title considering Google’s mission statement has always included the idea that “knowledge is always good, and certainly better than ignorance.” Brin has received many awards and accolades.
1. Tim Berners-Lee
Sir Tim Berners-Lee is a British computer scientist who has changed the course of human history in computer science. In 1989, he proposed a new information management system. Eight months later, he received the first successful communication from a Hypertext Transfer Protocol via the internet.
Since then, Berners-Lee’s initial proposal, the World Wide Web, has become a vital part of every household, business, school, and government in the world. In 2012, he received an honor as the official inventor of the internet at the Olympics Opening Ceremony in London. During the ceremony, he live-tweeted “This is for everyone,” words which were spelled out in LCD lights attached to chairs in the crowd.
Berners-Lee is the director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), through which he oversees the internet’s continued development. He also works with the World Wide Web Foundation.
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