Discussion On
Famous Programmers From Adleman to Zimmermann

by in Extras


  1. Sandy
    Tuesday, July 155, 2008

    Its amazing how few famous women programmers there are. At my office it is about 20% female, and I would say there are as competent as the men.

    Thanks for putting all of this information together. The graphs are well done. How did you make them?

  2. Jess Johnson
    Wednesday, July 232, 2008

    @Sandy Thanks! I made the graphs with the graphing program Graph ZX.

  3. Wealthy Affiliate Review
    Monday, July 1446, 2008

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  4. Import from China
    Saturday, July 1921, 2008

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  5. Rob Olson
    Sunday, August 337, 2008

    Intriguing blog post for sure.

    I am a bit surprised that game creators are second to language inventors. I also would have expected those who founded companies to be higher in percentage.

    The even greater lack of woman that normal is certainly discouraging. I wonder if there is any other field where the famous female to famous male ratio is lower than computer science.

  6. Waiming
    Monday, September 2959, 2008

    Audrey Tang is also transsexual

  7. Lawlz
    Monday, September 2908, 2008

    Hahaha transexual

  8. nordsieck
    Monday, September 2926, 2008

    The real question is: What about the level of beardiness (of the men)?

  9. Rob C.
    Monday, September 2938, 2008

    Wow this is an interesting argument to focus on one or maybe two projects in order to achieve success. With so many distractions out there its difficult to sometimes focus on one thing for any extended period of time.

  10. Terry
    Monday, September 2922, 2008

    You guys inexplicably skipped Sid Meier. He has a Wikipedia page, and a BOATLOAD of popular simulation games to his name. (Civilization series, Tycoon series, F15 Strike Eagle, etc.)

  11. bootis
    Monday, September 2946, 2008

    great post, something interesting could be a diagram or a map of the countries the programmers are from… I imagine it’s going to be the same as men/women with 97.07% american and the rest strangers…^^

  12. minilo
    Monday, September 2925, 2008

    Presuming that you’re working from the list on Wikipedia (from a few months back) then you’ve missed Sophie Wilson (f.k.a. Roger Wilson), designer of the ARM instruction set, who is also a transsexual.

  13. Nigel
    Monday, September 2941, 2008

    I think you can add another Transgendered person – Sophie Wilson. Mostly noteworthy for designing the O/S for the BBC micro, Acorn Archimedes and the original ARM instruction set.

  14. Mathew7
    Monday, September 2930, 2008

    I also would have expected those who founded companies to be higher in percentage.

    Actually the people getting famous for founding companies are not programmers. Those who are, are usually known (counted) for a project, not a company.

  15. Craig Landrum
    Monday, September 2957, 2008

    The graphs are pretty and I like the use of images behind them, but it makes them almost unreadable, especially when the legend does NOT use images. The use of images means that each pie slice actually has a variety of shades, and when you have over a dozen color in the legend it then becomes impossible to match the colors in the legend to the slice of the pie. Sorry. Solid colors *do* have their place and I think pie charts is one of those places, since it makes them more easily readable. My 2 cents.

  16. Nick
    Monday, September 2929, 2008

    I don’t get it, where’s Cliff Bleszinski? Granted he’s relatively new to the stage but I would still call him famous.

  17. simoncpu
    Monday, September 2930, 2008

    Horrible visualization… The background image messes up the charts (is it red? pink? orange?).

  18. Ariel
    Monday, September 2923, 2008

    I don’t really mind the extra information, but transsexual women should be counted as women, not transsexual. There’s only 2 genders, no inbetween.

  19. Rog
    Monday, September 2904, 2008

    Small typo – Danielle Bunten Barry should be Danielle Bunten Berry :)

    Nice blog tho.

  20. hardlianotion
    Monday, September 2950, 2008

    Nice information! There is a lot more about Ada Lovelace at http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/history/inourtime/inourtime_20080306.shtml
    for people who like their information aural.

  21. ghrom
    Monday, September 2919, 2008

    @Sandy: The mistery is actually quite simple to solve. The reason that in your office 20% of workers are women and they are as competent as men is that as a general rule men are both ‘better’ and ‘worse’ than women. In the population of men you will find that more are much dumber than average and at the same time there are more who are smarter. Men are more ‘spread out’ if you will, women are more ‘average’. This explains why there are less dumb women programmers and less geniuses as well, and why in an average office women cope as well as men. HTH.

  22. Matt Conolly
    Monday, September 2918, 2008

    The graph needs to be solid colour (and the dumbass firefox spellchecker thinks im american and highlights ‘colour’…)

  23. Paul
    Monday, September 2946, 2008

    Although the charts are very pretty they are next to useless for me. I’m red-green colorblind and found it very difficult to determine what was what.

  24. Conservationist
    Monday, September 2914, 2008

    F15 Strike Eagle was an awesome game, although to us now the graphics look more like a geometry fractions game than a fighter plane sim.

  25. D
    Monday, September 2927, 2008

    Which version of the Wikipedia list did you use. It’s important to cite your excact source.

    Also Audrey Tang can be classified as transsexual.

  26. Anon
    Monday, September 2916, 2008

    Hmm. If you look at the wikipedia redirection you can see there was a debate over famous. As the title now suggests I think that wikipedia page is a list of programmers rather than a list of _famous_ programmers (which saves a lot of arguments).

  27. Ralph
    Monday, September 2928, 2008

    Just to second the other red-green colour blind guy and say that whereas the graph’s may look nice to you, probably 10% ish of the population will find them hard to read. Very good article otherwise though.

    • Jesus Bejarano
      Saturday, October 612, 2012

      Grow up

  28. Esteban
    Monday, September 2938, 2008

    omg, we have transsexuals programmers

  29. Esteban
    Monday, September 2913, 2008

    we have transsexual programmers lol

  30. Terry
    Monday, September 2954, 2008

    I would argue that a transsexual be listed under their original sex. No matter what surgery does to the outside of a person, their real sex (DNA-wise) cannot be changed.

  31. david
    Monday, September 2924, 2008

    the dumb tree image overlay on the pie charts makes the colors indistinguishable.

  32. Robert
    Monday, September 2906, 2008

    There is no such thing as “real sex (DNA-wise)”. How do you determine it? In humans a single gene (SRY) on the Y chromosone acts as a signal to develop maleness. But this is not for certain. There are XX males and XY females found in the general population. See also Intersexuality – the state of a living thing of a gonochoristic species whose sex chromosomes, genitalia, and/or secondary sex characteristics are determined to be neither exclusively male nor female. An organism with intersex may have biological characteristics of both the male and female sexes.

  33. John Draper
    Monday, September 2906, 2008

    What about the Author of EasyWriter, the first word processor on the IBM-PC, doesn’t he get credit? I think I already have a WIKI page, can I add myself?

  34. dvorak
    Monday, September 2935, 2008

    Hmm, you might want fix the lighting on that pie chart, there seems to be a lot of glare, and you can clearly see a reflection of a tree (!). If this was a picture taken with a camera, anyone would agree it’s horrible. Thumbs down for lame, have some respect for your readers and stop worshipping at the alter of your gayass software.

  35. Stephen McCrea
    Monday, September 2943, 2008

    Typos: SmallTalk should be Smalltalk.

  36. Laura
    Monday, September 2924, 2008

    Let the sexist distinction die, please. I’m a normal woman (not an exception to the rule) and I’m a programmer as good as any male programmer.

    Female programmers are as capable as male programmers.

    If you think differently, please evaluate why you think that way. Most likely, it’s a stereotype you have in your head. That stereotype in thousands of heads (both male and female) is what caused the fewer number of women in the CS/IT field.

  37. senthil kumar
    Monday, September 2907, 2008

    Hey what about coffee, tea or jolt cola classification ? what do they drink ?

  38. blabla
    Monday, September 2942, 2008

    Women are underrepresented because most of these guys became famous a long time ago when fewer women went into engineering. Therefore, it is silly to factor out the gender. Also, I would be surprised if 97% were American on the list, because significant contributions came from Europe and other places (Linus Thorvalds etc).

  39. Rebecca Heineman
    Tuesday, September 3051, 2008

    I made the list? Wow! Almost 30 years of game programming’s worth something, I guess.

  40. LifeDesignSEO
    Tuesday, September 3017, 2008

    Great piece of research. Would be interesting to see a breakdown of when they became famous, and segment male female split against that.

  41. aruin est
    Tuesday, September 3001, 2008

    I agree the article seems stereotypcially sexist. Especially talking about the transsexual as .5 of a person – that is just wrong. Intelligence and Ability are the same regardless of gender or sexual preference. You need some more worthwhile comparisons.

  42. ghrom
    Tuesday, September 3036, 2008

    @Laura: If you’re a normal woman (as in: average woman) then definitely you’re not as good as any male programmer, you’re most probably worse programmer than a significant number of male programmers who are well above average, and at the same time you’re most probably worse than much smaller number of female programmers. It’s worth noting though that there are a lot of male programmers who are far worse than you… much more than bad women programmers. This is because women are more ‘average’ and men are more ‘spread out’, there are more men geniuses and more men idiots than there are women geniuses and idiots. This has nothing to do with sexism, feminism, any stereotype and all that politically correct bs, this has everything to do with the *fact* that women and men are *different*.

  43. Loz
    Tuesday, September 3032, 2008

    This seems to have deviated from the original discussion about programmers somewhat, but hey ho, I’ll join in!

    @ aruin est
    If you think the 0.5 of a person was referring to a transsexual, then you jumped to a conclusion rather than reading and understanding the article.

    I have to agree, though, that it’d be nicer to refer to someone who chooses to live as a woman full time as a woman rather than as a transsexual or similar. Anyone who thinks that things are as definite as there being just two sexes is rather oversimplifying the matter. Everyone’s at least a bit different, and while classification can be useful, unnecessary overuse can lead to discrimination against individuals.

    @ Lawlz, Esteban
    Sheesh, grow up.

    @ ghrom
    Do you have any (scientific) evidence to back up your comments? They sound distinctly like opinion, rather than fact. How would you even go about assessing who is a good programmer and who is not?

  44. kcollins
    Tuesday, September 3038, 2008

    @aruin est: Please read the article more carefully. They are counting a married couple as a single person. That is where the .5 of a person is coming from, not the transsexual.

  45. Ron Fredericks
    Tuesday, September 3008, 2008

    Nice article, thanks for pulling us all together to take a look at this. I wondered why some people at some of my job sites focused on weird languages that had little chance of being used – now I know – it was their passion to become famous. hum….

  46. Hugh
    Tuesday, September 3042, 2008

    Frances (Fran) Allen is female and on the list. Ditto Lynne Jolitz. Elizabeth Rather. Not sure why these were excluded.

  47. Famous Unknowns
    Wednesday, October 118, 2008

    The article suggests that to be famous, you should design a programming language, write a game or design an operating system: if you are looking to get famous, invent a language. […] Writing a game, writing an OS, and founding a company or organization are also activities worthy of fame and notoriety. Do that, and you might end up on Wikipedia…

    I know of an interesting counter-example, someone who has no Wikipedia entry, yet wrote one of the earliest 3D games, then went-on to invent a rather innovative programming language, and finally designed a key OS technology for what is now the largest computer company in the world… Actually, Wikipedia has no less than ten entries referencing that person, yet no article. This is just one example looking at the requested articles on Wikipedia.

    As they were pointing out on Slashdot, this is far from an isolated case. In many fields, people are often much less famous than their work.

  48. ghrom
    Wednesday, October 157, 2008

    @Loz: My whole comment was based on facts, not opinions. Feel free to google for it, feel free to open your eyes and see it for yourself. As for the assessment of who is a good programmer – you missed the whole point. There will be more male ‘good programmers’ than female ‘good programmers’ regardless of the criteria you use. Mind you, there will be more male ‘bad programmers’ regardless of the criteria, try to understand it. We’re different and there’s nothing ‘bad’ in it.

  49. Tina Russell
    Wednesday, October 142, 2008

    I want to note that it’s reaaaaally offensive to list a transsexual woman under a separate category from “men” and “women.” I mean, Dani’s transsexuality is certainly worth noting; does beginning your career living as a man and later transitioning to your true identity help or hinder you as a woman in computer science? But please, it’s insulting to imply that transsexual people are somehow sexless, neither “men” nor “women”; it’s the sort of preconception we spend our lives fighting.

    Dani’s a woman; when she received, posthumously, the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences Lifetime Achievement Award, the highest honor in videogames, they honored her identity and referred to her throughout as a woman and nothing else. Wil Wright, a colleague, gave the speech in her stead.

    Thanks! It’s a great article!

  50. Andy
    Thursday, October 243, 2008

    Some are wondering how few woman are in this list.
    But there is FAMOUS, not BEST programmers.
    And lets remember any famous programmers ( peep at Internet !!! ))).
    I remembered by heart about 30. All are men. No one women.

    Than I read the list. There are missing some famous programmers (after look at glance):
    Mark Zbykowski – Every windows (and DOS) .exe and .dll files are beginning with his abridgement “MZ”
    John Socha – creator of Norton Commander
    Eugeni Roshal – famous archiver RAR and shell FAR

  51. software_developer
    Thursday, October 254, 2008

    thanks .. funny post..
    now I know what to do to be famous :)

  52. dk
    Thursday, October 235, 2008

    Transsexual? Fi!
    If someone calls me in the project I will reject it if my collegue will be halfman-halfwoman.

  53. Jess Johnson
    Thursday, October 235, 2008

    Welcome Slashdotters!

    @Waiming, minilo, Nigel, D, Stephen McCrea, Hugh Thanks! And fixed!

    @Craig Landrum, simoncpu, Matt Conolly, Paul, Ralph, dvorak Alright I’ll stop it with the trees then. In the future I’ll also be more careful about labeling the graphs so colorblind people will have an easier time with them.

    @Tina It certainly wasn’t my intention to be offensive. I find it interesting that the gender split among famous programmers is so different from the general population and from the group of “normal” programmers. 3 transgendered people and 7 women out of a group of 222 – that is *very* different from what you will see walking down the street. I split transgendered people out as a separate group to show that difference in the gender split, not because they are “sexless.”

  54. Jason Petersen
    Tuesday, October 723, 2008

    For those asking where CliffyB is… Has he ever actually programmed anything? Or is he just a “game designer”. Being able to get through a few sessions of UnrealEd doesn’t make you a programmer.

    For those surprised by the famousness of language inventors, you might want to give the Turing award lists a look. They dominate.

  55. Pia Waugh
    Tuesday, October 748, 2008

    If anyone wants a good list of female hackers and other famous or semi-famous women, there are a few good and growing lists here:

    Open Source – http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/List_of_women_in_Open_Source
    Science Fiction – http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/List_of_women_in_Science_Fiction

  56. g
    Tuesday, October 720, 2008

    Completely agree that the large number of transsexual people among famous programmers is interesting. Almost completely disagree that reporting sex as male / female / TS is a sensible way of expressing that.

    I understand that you’re reluctant just to say the split is 211.5-10.5, because whether the sex imbalance turns out to be because of biological differences or social biases or whatever it’s unlikely that M->F transsexuals are *exactly like* women-from-birth-on in the relevant ways. But … well, let’s just say that the only TS person I know well (who, incidentally, happens to be an absolutely first-rate programmer, though not a famous one) would probably be pretty peeved at being categorized as neither-male-nor-female.

  57. Boo
    Wednesday, October 856, 2008

    Transsexual? Fi!
    If someone calls me in the project I will reject it if my collegue will be halfman-halfwoman.

    Excellent DK. More work available for non-bigots.

  58. nykm
    Wednesday, October 804, 2008

    Putting ‘Trans’ in opposition to M/F is really messed up.

    If they identify as F, and not genderqueer, then that’s where you put them.

    This is why tens of thousands of trans people go start life over. So people don’t pull this shit.

  59. Beth
    Wednesday, October 838, 2008

    Noting famous trans programmers is fine, given that there are far more of them than you would expect.
    Classifying transsexual people as a third gender is not fine, it’s offensive.

    Or put another way, when you say that there are 6.5 women and 4 transsexuals, that’s flatly inaccurate.
    There are 10.5 women, of whom 4 are transsexual.

  60. Jess Johnson
    Wednesday, October 848, 2008

    @g, Beth I admit the wording could have been better. It is not my intention to imply that transsexuals are neither male nor female. Consider me more educated because of your comments.

    @nykm Not sure that telling people “not to pull shit” is the best way to talk to people who are generally open minded, but didn’t really understand your point. There are a lot of people in this world who have never met a transsexual, nor know how they would like to be treated.

    In the end we are all just people.

  61. Jim
    Thursday, October 936, 2008

    Are you even sure they’re all male-to-female? I’ve personally known some pretty amazing geeks who went the other direction too.

    And more generally, I wonder how things would look if something other than gender was used for break outing the “essential categories” of humankind. For example, the degree to which famous programmers are on the autistic spectrum? I’d bet that gender is low hanging fruit in terms of how easy it is to measure, but it’s probably not the conceptual core of what’s really going on here.

    Video games, programming languages, and operating systems are pretty “common denominator” applications for computers (wide audience). Programming inherently requires a sort of mechanical obsessiveness. And these applications in particular turn away from messy realities and instead are mostly about creating “inner worlds” that are strongly ordered and purposefully tractable to human minds – whether for work or play. Consider the lack of authors of meteorological simulations and bioinformatics tools in these results. Such programmers obviously exist. It was probably a feat to do what they did. And yet they are not famous in this way.

    Instead of looking at the “objects of study” as containing answers within themselves, perhaps it makes more sense to ask what this list says about the uses and users of computers?

  62. Anonymous
    Thursday, October 903, 2008

    What is this, “out a transsexual” day? I know at least one of those you listed as cissexual isn’t. But unlike you, I can keep my mouth shut.

    It isn’t necessarily one of the women.

  63. nykm
    Thursday, October 908, 2008

    It’s very, very likely you have interacted with trans people, and just didn’t know it.

    Sorry if it’s harsh, but I get tired of seeing this sort of thing every day.

    Anyway, I’m glad you fixed it. Thanks.

  64. Catherine Devlin
    Wednesday, October 1540, 2008

    The interesting thing about “There are 10.5 women, of whom 4 are transsexual” is that it shows that being raised as a boy is an enormous advantage where a programming career is concerned.

    Even people who claim the M->F transsexual women aren’t women at least have to admit they have an awful lot in common with women, enough to endure a lot of bigotry to live that way. So it’s not something about feminine personalities that turns women away, or even so much barriers in adulthood; the killer obstacles are the ones you hit as a girl. If you can sneak past those, because your parents and teachers and kids on the playground think you’re a boy (rightfully or not), you’ve avoided past the hardest part.

    So let’s raise kids carefully!

  65. trxeebelden
    Wednesday, October 2255, 2008

    ghrom, where on earth are you getting your so-called “facts” about women being overall more “average” and men having more above/below numbers? What a crock. Distribution curves don’t work like that, especially in comparison across gender or other variable lines. Average is average, bell curves are bell curves.

    What we are seeing here is a simple extension of the numbers: more men go into the field overall, so there are ultimately more famous/accomplished men. If the volume of women were higher overall, you’d see a higher number of famous women profiled. Simple.

    Although, I think women need better personal PR in order to even get into the consideration set when these types of studies are being done. With women being generally considered more collaborative as workers, there may be a bias against the “female” work style (profiling individual vs team accomplishments).

  66. Aaron Seet
    Friday, April 334, 2009

    Forest wallpaper on a pie chart presents a visibility problem. Is it distracting and meshes the colour details.

  67. Ann
    Friday, April 322, 2009

    wikipedia is not the source of all facts. Nor is googling. The sample is biased towards whether people bother to recognize people in writing in Wikipedia, rather than taking a broader view. If you looked instead at a differently biased sample eg programmers who write books or do lecture tours, your result would be unlikely to be identical. Take a different bias where peoples focus is different – say the women famous enough to make the Ada Lovelace day list, and you will find that (gosh) no-one bothered to mention the men who do great things.
    Why mention gender at all, why not just make a study that compares the number of language writers with the number of games writers appearing in wikipedia. Flaunting nasty figures is just pretty much the same as punching those of us who have been programming for many years in the face. Thanks.

  68. Bill
    Friday, March 456, 2011

    Why would you divide people up like that: men vs women…and even trangenders???

    I don’t really care if a famous person was transgender, I just want to know what project she/he worked on and the number.


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