The 15 Best Coders of All-Time

Tech Industry
Written by:
App Academy
Published on:
November 30, 2017
a closeup of a man wearing glasses

Explore the world of coding through the lens of the best programmers of all-time, known as the 'Coding Legends.' Discover their contributions and how they've shaped the digital world we live in today.

When App Academy’s San Francisco staff moved into new offices a month ago, the administrative group faced a common but important foundational task: Naming conference room names.

While no one from the group broke out in hives, there was a bit of pressure to come up with something interesting. After all, tech companies have been know to tie their values and culture to this naming ritual. At SpaceX, all the names are of galactic heroes that provide the nascent space agency’s members direct inspiration. At Twitter, they’ve put a bird on every room and people seem to enjoy them. For App Academy, whose values include empowering people to transform their lives by teaching them coding, a technical solution seemed appropriate.

The staff first chose coding languages. Most staff and students accepted the names until an instructor pointed out that as a writer of code, he hated “when the same word refers to two different things. It always confuses people. In the course of normal conversation at this company, I often have reason to speak of Python, Ruby, JavaScript, or even Go.” He didn’t like that with the introduction of room names, the terms were now “all ambiguous.” So he suggested staff change it to famous programmers.

After a couple of weeks of name suggestions that included a concerted effort to include non-binary gender, race diversity, and historically important figures that match the company’s inclusive values, App Academy staff agreed upon fifteen names everyone could be proud of.

And now you can find out which ones we chose! Check the following gallery to see who made the cut.

If you’d been naming names, who would you have chosen?

MATSUMOTO YUKIHIRO — (まつもとゆきひろ) APRIL 14, 1965 –
Matsumoto is one of the great coders of all-time.

A Japanese computer scientist and software programmer, Yukihiro “Matz” Matsumoto is the creator of the Ruby coding language and its reference implementation, Matz’s Ruby Interpreter (MRI). Began on February 24, 1993, Matsumoto wanted to form a new language that balanced functional programming with imperative programming. He ended up blending parts of his favorite coding languages at the time including Perl, Smalltalk, Eiffel, Ada, and Lisp. The language was named after the precious gemstone because he said, it was beautiful and highly valued.

Matsumoto’s kindly demeanor over the years has brought about a motto in the Ruby community known as MINASWAN, an acronym for “Matz is nice and so we are nice.” The growth of the language is mostly attributed to the popularity of the Ruby on Rails web framework.

Ada Lovelace is one of the great coders of all-time.

Ada Lovelace was born and raised in London, England. Fearing she’d pursue poetry like her father, Lord Byron, her mother Anna Isabella immersed her in mathematics and science. At the age of 17, Lovelace met Charles Babbage, the father of the modern computer, at a party in England. He became her mentor and her life changed from then on.  

Working closely with Babbage, Lovelace translated and expanded on an article for the Analytical Engine machine from French to English, which led to her own breakthrough. In Sketch of the Analytical Engine, with Notes from the Translator, she posited machines could be applied to tasks beyond pure calculations. Lovelace is the first to recognize the full potential of a “computing machine,” and the first to create an algorithm meant to be carried out by such a machine. As a result, she is thought of as the world’s first computer programmer.

Grace Hopper is one of the great coders of all-time. And an inspiration.

Born in New York City, Grace Hopper became the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Yale University, in 1934. After college, she worked as a professor at Vassar University until World War II, when she joined the U.S. Navy. Assigned to the Bureau of Ordnance Computation Project in 1944, Hopper learned to program the first Mark I computer, a general purpose electromechanical computer used in the war effort during World War II.

While in the program, she had the breakthrough conviction that computer code could be written in English. Her idea was not accepted for three years.

In 1952, Hopper would get her chance to develop that idea. She and her team created the first compiler for the A-0 language and later, machine-independent languages in A-1, A-2, and ARITH-MATIC, which led to the development of COBOL. The latter was an early high-level programming language still in use today. When she retired from the U.S. Navy in 1986 at age 79, Grace Hopper was the oldest serving officer in the service.

ALAN TURING — JUNE 23, 1912 – JUNE 7, 1954
Alan Turing is one of the great coders of all-time. Good person, too.

Mathematician Alan Turing was born in London, England, studied at King’s College at University of Cambridge, and received his Ph.D from Princeton University. In 1936, he began his public life by publishing one of the seminal academic papers of the 20th century, On computable numbers, with an application to the Entscheidungsproblem. In the paper, he proved there cannot exist any universal algorithmic method of determining truth in mathematics, and that mathematics will always contain undecidable propositions. The central concept of modern computers is based on this paper.

Turing later became a lead participant in code-breaking during World War II. Some say his specifying of the BOMBE, an electromechanical device used to decipher German Enigma encrypted signals, changed the course of the war and helped the Allies win. Later, Turing led design work for the Automatic Computing Engine at the National Physical Laboratory. He is also considered the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence.

Prosecuted in 1952 for homosexual acts, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2009 publicly apologized on behalf of the government for “the appalling way he was treated.”

Richard Stallman is one of the great coders of all-time.

Richard Stallman is a software developer and software freedom activist. Educated at Harvard and MIT, Stallman is known for writing the first extensible Emacs text editor at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab. He also developed the AI technique of dependency-directed backtracking, known as truth maintenance.

In 1983, Stallman announced a project to develop the GNU operating system, a Unix-like OS meant to be entirely free and which launched the Free Software Movement. He campaigned for free software to be distributed in a manner such that users receive the freedoms to use, study, distribute and modify that software. In 1985, Stallman founded the Free Software Foundation, where he serves as president and full-time volunteer.

Since the 1990s, Stallman has advocated for free software, pushed against software patents, and dangerous extensions of copyright laws.


Born in Helsinki, Finland, Linus Torvalds studied at the University of Helsinki, graduating with a Master’s in Computer Science. In 1991, he purchased a PC and quickly found himself unsatisfied with the included MS-DOS operating system. Preferring the UNIX operating system he used in college, Torvalds decided to create his own UNIX-based system. His work would eventually lead to the Linux kernel, the Linux operating system, Android, and Chrome OS.

Based on his use of the GNU General Public License for his original kernel, Torvald came to believe that  “open-source [coding] is the only right way to do software.”

Around 2005, Torvalds was criticized for his use and advocacy of BitKeeper, a proprietary version control software, in the Linux kernel. As a response, he wrote a free software replacement called Git. Torvalds has been named by Time Magazine as “one of the most influential people in the world.”


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