We’re sure to ruffle some feathers with this one, as we’ve seen how heated this debate can get when thrown out to a pack of unruly hackers at some late-night pub—who is the greatest computer programmer of all time? Hmmmm….

Perhaps, first, we have to define exactly what kind of merits we’re interested in using as our assessment. Would the greatest computer programmer of all time be someone who invented a programming language themselves, or are we more interested in the applications of those languages?

For instance, Dennis Ritchie, the creator of the C programming language (alongside Brian Kernighan) rewrote the Unix kernel in C with Ken Thompson. Every since, over 99-percent of kernels used by systems created since have been coded in C. Now, that’s a paradigm shift! But does it mean that Dennis Ritchie is the greatest computer programmer of all time? Others who could deserve the title under the merits of inventing a programming language are: Ken Thompson (from above), also the inventor of the Go programming language while he was working for Google.

But perhaps, when thinking of those computer programmers who have invented their own coding languages, we need to place special homage to Linus Torvalds, inventor of the Linux operating system kernel, now used by Android, ChromeOS, Ubuntu, Fedora, RedHat, Oracle Linux, Debian, etc. Is Linus the greatest computer programmer of all time, or is the ubiquitous use of his platform because of its open-source nature? Is “greatness” directly relational to being benevolently networked? If so, then Richard Stallman would have to be on the list, as his work with the Free Software Foundation has been monumental.

Others will point to James Gosling (one of the creators of the Jave programming language), Bjarne Stroustrup (created the C++ programming language), Guido van Rossum (creator of Python), or even Chris Lattner (a young software whiz at Apple).

The above programmers invented completely new frameworks and in many ways shifted entire paradigms for how we think about software and influenced all that came after them. But “best” or “greatest” is always going to be a subjective mental wrestling match. And commercial appeal and success, at some point, have to come into the conversation.

Who would you add to the list? Comment below and let’s honor the best computer programmers in the world!

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