I never had a chance to meet Joey Ramone. Or Johnny. Or Dee
Dee. They’ll all dead now, so I never will. Unless there is a
dingy little corner of the afterworld set aside for Losers [note]. I
guess I might meet them there. Because I reckon that’s where they
are — along with a lot of my other music heroes, like Johnny
Thunders. And I’m certain that’s where I’ll end up, at least.
Anyway, I was thinking the other day that even if I had met
them, I guess I probably wouldn’t have been able to think of much
more to say than just “thank you”. Not that they hadn’t heard that
from thousands of other people, of course. Still, I would have
liked to have had the chance to say a simple “thank you” to them
myself. Especially to Joey.
That line of thinking led me, in a roundabout way, to put
together the following list:
Top Twenty Computing/Internet Innovators Most Deserving of Personal Thanks
- Donald Davies,
and Leonard Kleinrock
- >Douglas Engelbart (mouse, hypertext/windowing work, influence on PARC team)
- >Alan Kay (DynaBook/GUI legacy, Smalltalk, object-oriented programming)
- Fernando J. Corbató
(Multics, Project MAC)
- >Ken Thompson (Unix)
- >Dennis Ritchie (Unix, C)
- >Douglas McIlroy (Unix pipe-and-filters architecture)
- >Richard Stallman (GNU Project, GCC, GNU Emacs)
- >Bob Kahn and >Vint Cerf (TCP/IP)
- >Robert Metcalfe (Ethernet)
- >Bill Joy (BSD, Berkeley TCP/IP and sockets, vi, NFS)
- >Jef Raskin (Macintosh)
- >Andy Hertzfeld (Macintosh UI Toolbox, Control Panel, etc.)
- >Bill Atkinson (QuickDraw, HyperCard)
- >Tim Berners-Lee (World Wide Web)
- >Marc Andreessen (Mosaic browser, NCSA httpd)
- >Linus Torvalds (Linux)
How to Get from the Ramones to Dennis Ritchie, in a Few Short Steps
The genesis of the previous list is, after thinking back on the
Ramones, my mind turned to thinking about other people I’d like to
say thanks to, face to face, if I had the chance. So I considered
my main interests in life. First comes drinking and skirt-chasing.
Not too many people to say thanks to there that I haven’t already
said it to. So forget about that. Next comes film. Lots of people
there. Too many. So forget about that too.
So then I thought of… computing. That seemed more manageable.
I thought, I bet I can come up a list of say, ten living people
who have made some really kick-ass technical innovations in
computing to rival what the Ramones did for rock and roll. And
then I can plan to try to meet them sometime, somewhere and tell
them thanks, as I wish I could have with Joey Ramone.
So, where to start? Well, after thinking about it for a while,
I decided the best way it would be to first think I about some
basic categories of relatively recent technical innovations I
reckoned to be the most significant. This is what I came up
- distributed communications (packet switching, TCP/IP,
Ethernet, the Web)
- server operating systems and applications (Unix and its
- user interfaces (GUI/WIMP/hypertext, but also CLI “pipe and
At first I had “database technology” on the list, but ended up
dropping it, mostly because, unlike in the case of the other
categories I came up with, no particular names leapt to mind when
I tried to think of who actually came up with the fundamental
innovations that made our current database applications a reality.
That is probably just because I’m not particularly well informed
about database fundamentals…
Anyway, so far so good. That seemed like a pretty manageable
set. At first. But once I started looking into it more, the
problem I ran into is, I realized that there are innovations that
I saw as fundamental but which can’t really be attributed to just
one person. So the list ended up being about twice as long as I
had originally scoped out — there are twenty people in it,
instead of ten. And it also ended up including one person who I
know I won’t ever have the chance to say thanks to face to face
(Donald Davies, who died four years ago).
For the rest, I sincerely hope I have the chance meet them,
shake hands, and tell them how much I truly appreciate what
they’ve done and how much I’ve personally benefitted from what
they’ve done. But since I’m not sure that I ever will have that
opportunity, if you’re reading this and ever have the occasion to
meet any of them, please go ahead and tell them thanks from me if
you do. I’d appreciate it.
Disagree with the Choices?
If there’s somebody missing from the list that you believe
I should’ve included, please post a comment and let me know. On
the other hand, if there’s somebody included on the list that you
might like to respectfully suggest should not be
included, feel free to post a comment and I’ll explain why I made
that particular choice.
Here’s a bonus Top Ten list. I’m not quite sure how to describe
the criteria for this one except to say that they’re all people I’d
really like to say thanks to but that didn’t necessarily fit into
the basic categories to which I tried to limit the first list.
>Donald Knuth (The Art of Computer
- >Brian Kernighan (K&R, awk)
- Alfred Aho
(string-matching routines, egrep, the “Dragon Book”, awk)
- Henry Spencer
(regex C library)
- >Jon Postel (many RFCs, Postel’s Law)
- >Larry Wall (Perl)
- >Steve Wozniak (the Apple II)
- >John Warnock (PostScript)
- >Brian Behlendorf (Apache web server)
- Jon Bosak
(leadership in the creation of XML)
And yeah, I know that even though he’s on the list, I won’t be
able to tell Jon Postel thanks. Just like Joey Ramone.
Anybody missing from the list(s)? Or someone who you think maybe shouldn’t haven’t have been included? Feel free to post a comment.