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Who Are the Top 100 i-Technology Heroes?

Programming Titans and Top Hackers Galore Were Missing from the Original List

>>> Here is the original Slashdotted article with the first hundred names <<<

What do Vannevar Bush (pictured), Doug Engelbart, Claude E. Shannon, and Konrad Zuse (to name but a few) all have in common? All were missing from the initial round-up I recently published in an attempt to nail down - by consensus - the top 100 contributors of all-time to i-Technology, to the nexus of technologies that first spawned the Internet, and since have helped maintain and expand it.

They were not the only absentees. Others nominated included: Jonathan Rotenberg - founder of the Boston Computer Society; Jonathan Ive,  the principal designer of the iMac and iPod; and the winner of the 1999 Turing Award, Fred Brooks.

All the above suggestions derive from the Slashdotting of our search for the best possible nominees. Some of the Slashdot posts were mini-essays in their own right, providing insights into why a particular name was being put forward. Take for example this submission from Lars Arvestad of the school of Computer Science and Communication at Sweden's largest IT university, the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. Arvestad was responding to a Slashdotter who'd questioned my inclusion of Jamie Zawinski in the list.

In what sense was James W. Zawinski an i-Technology Hero, was the question. Here's Arvestad's answer, reproduced here with the author's permission:

"The word 'hero' should of course be used sparingly, and probably not in adjunction to 'tech', but JWZ holds his place among the Big Hackers, IMHO. Some of his accomplishments, in no particular order:
  • XEmacs. He was one of (the?) main people making a user-friendly version of GNU Emacs.
  • XKeyCaps. This little application has really helped me getting a sane keyboard layout under X a few times.
  • Mosaic. I believe he was the main hacker on the Unix version of the first 'real' browser. And one of the first employees at Netscape."

Arvestad's thoroughness was matched by many visitors to SYS-CON.com, who have been submitting names fast and furiously since the moment the piece went live on Sunday. They included [names of submitters in square brackets]:

  • Steve Bellovin, Gene Spafford, Roger Schell, David Bell/Len Lapadula [Jeremy Epstein]
  • Fred Brooks [Jim Scandale]
  • Leon Post [anon]
  • Ward Christensen, Randy Seuss [Ron Blessing]
  • Claude E. Shannon [Kelly Meck]
  • Michael J. Muuss [Lee Butler]
  • And the wider blogosphere too, I am pleased to say, has become involved. In true "Wisdom of Crowds" style, commentators have been adding to our growing list and indeed compiling their own.

    Gary Cornell, founder and Publisher at Apress and vigorous blogger, was the first to realize - as he put it - "No Woz??"

    "Woz is my hero," Cornell continued. (My bad for neglecting him, sorry everyone!) "You probably want Seymour Cray, he is more important than Hillis I think," he added. And Grace Hopper was another name Cornell noticed was absent. 

    Neither was he by any means the only A-blogger to draw attention to oversights and inconsistencies. Just as Cornell was quick to mention to omission of Admiral Grace Hopper, who created FLOW-MATIC that later inspired COBOL, so Ben Forta immediately noticed the conspicuous absence of Steve Jobs.

    He also came up with two quite excellent submissions:
    "Philippe Kahn, who (via Borland) forced all developers to rethink what IDEs should look like, and who is responsible for forcing Microsoft to invest in languages and visual development tools, which subsequently forced the creation of Eclipse, and so on. Before Philippe, and the Borland Turbo languages, compilers were arcane command line utilities, debuggers were miserable, language help was never readily available, and the development process was anything but integrated. Borland were the first to truly get integrated IDEs, and much of what we rely on today is still a derivative of that thinking.

    Peter Norton, who while now most closely associated with Symantec products that bear his name, originally created lots of useful utilities (including an amazing DOS shell replacement). But best of all, he wrote the classic "Inside the IBM PC" and followed that title with equally important books, books that helped create an entire generation of developers back in the 80s when this entire industry was learning to crawl. Even though these books are long obsolete, they remain proudly and prominently placed in my library because they were so influential to me personally, and to so many others."

    Troy Angrignon, like Forta, was bemused by the omission of Jobs. He then added three excellent new names to the list, and I include his comments:
    "Jaron Lanier: Alleged coiner of the term 'virtual reality' and generally interesting and eclectic social critic. Nominated for pushing the boundaries technologically but more importantly, having the will to speak up about culture at the same time.

    Nicholas Negroponte: Father of the MIT Media Lab which was the first place I know of that: didn't accept military funding, had an open access license for sponsors (where every sponsor got to see every project), and which put a kindergarten near the robotics lab and beside the music studio "because they're all related." I'm nominating him for his long-standing dream of building the $100 crank-powered laptop that could be used to bridge the digital divide. It is "impossible" dreams like this that push the human race forward.

    Jeff Hawkins: For recognizing that in order for a PDA market to be created, he had to throw out all previous assumptions (such as those that drove the failed Apple Newton project) and start with three key principles that drove the entire design: it had to fit in most shirt pockets, it had to work all day without running out of power, and it had to be simple to operate. Even more importantly, in doing so, he sacrificed some key assumptions that had killed other products, namely, that it had to be able to deal with hand-writing recognition. He recognized that that one criteria required too much power and speed to make it a reality and sacrificed it in a bet that won him the fastest product ramp ever up until that point."

    Meantime Mark Hinkle and Yakov Fain have both chipped in with their own additions: Joe Celko, Tim O'Reilly, Steve Jobs (Fain); Michael Stonebreaker, Jarkko Oikarinen, Bram Cohen, Jerry Yang, and David Filo (Hinkle).

    The next stage of the exercise, then, is clear: I need to compile the original list of 40, the additional list of 60, and the 50 or so additions that have been arriving non-stop into a definitive list of the Top 150 i-Technology Heroes of All Time. Watch this space!

    To add your own nomination, just add it to the thread here. Thanks for participating!!

    More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

    Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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    Most Recent Comments
    a few more... 02/06/07 04:04:12 PM EST

    Presper Eckert (ENIAC)
    Alex Stepanov (STL)
    J.C.R. Licklider (ARPA)
    Charles Goldfarb et al (SGML)
    Jim Clarke (Silicon Graphics, Netscape)

    Agree this is in part a popularity contest. Some of the ones on the original list were influential tech CEOs or Chief Architects in their time, but does that Hall of Fame material?

    And if you say "Myrhvold", I think you must also say Bruce and ESR....

    aNoN 02/06/07 09:14:58 AM EST

    How about Gerrit Blaauw? Blaauw is the principal designer of the System/360 Model 67 and the software (CP-67), and this was the first system to implement the VM (virtual machine) concept, at least in early form.

    mrright 02/06/07 08:52:09 AM EST

    How dare they omit john backus? He invented fortran, which is still the most often used language for scientific calculations. And he pioneered functional programming.

    He deserves to be on top of this list for one publication alone. Here it is: http://www.stanford.edu/class/cs242/readings/backus.pdf

    electro 02/06/07 08:48:50 AM EST

    Where is Nolan Bushnell, creator of pong, which launched a generation of games that could be plugged into the TV, ancestor to the xbox, playstation, and nintendo?

    bozdune 02/06/07 08:46:54 AM EST

    there are plenty of brilliant programmers who wrote brilliant stuff and did brilliant things whom nobody will ever hear of -- Don Eyles comes to mind, the guy who saved Apollo 11 when a bug was discovered in the LEM while it was in orbit around the Moon. Eyles got a medal. He fixed the bug, but those were the days of plated-wire memory, where you could only turn bits off. Now try fixing the bug.

    Another guy saved an out-of-control Air Force weather satellite by pulling nights and weekends to recode the guidance system to use the one remaining nitrogen thrusters and the two remaining reaction wheels.

    Wartime Addition 02/06/07 08:30:25 AM EST

    I have a chilling addition: Arthur Scherbius, the inventor of the Enigma Machine, who developed and patented the machine for the commercial market before the Nazis hit upon the idea of using it throughout the German armed forces as the standard method of encrypting messages prior to radio transmission.

    Norwegian Blue 02/06/07 07:53:53 AM EST

    Don't forget Kirsten Nygaard and Ole-Johan Dahl who invented object oriented programming.

    deconvolution 02/06/07 07:53:08 AM EST

    Where is John Carmack and other game programmers (fill your favourite game designer here)???

    I couldnt understand why he is not greater and more important than such as Don Ferguson: Inventor of the J2EE application server at IBM, or even Jon Gay: The "Father of Flash". ???

    Is flash a ground-breaking application like 3D game/movie engine development?

    dpilot 02/06/07 07:45:35 AM EST

    Randy Waterhouse - he invented one of the early computers, complete with accoustic delay lines.

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