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Becoming a Famous Programmer 347

An anonymous reader writes "GrokCode analyzes more than 200 famous programmers to determine what types of projects made them famous. Inventing a programming language, game, or OS ranked among the top projects likely to lead to fame. Most programmers became famous through their work on only one project. The article also shows that among famous programmers, the ratio of males to females is much larger than among normal programmers."
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Becoming a Famous Programmer

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  • by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Monday September 29, 2008 @08:52AM (#25192707)
    Looking at the actual list, most of the people cited weren't the sole originators of a work, merely the figurehead. In fact I haven't heard of most of them - or their "products", so to call them famous is greatly exaggerating their actual obscurity.

    For example, there's one guy credited with Microsoft Word. Now I'd bet my pension that he hasn't written every version single-handed. Likewise Larry Ellison as the creator of Oracle - no. There are thousands of people who create each version of Oracle, not simply one guy.

    This list is too simplistic to have any value, and time spent analysing it is largely wasted.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 29, 2008 @08:59AM (#25192761)

    Damn, I just moderated so rather then post non-anon, I'll just post anon.

    I think of that Carmack guy, who wrote Doom and Quake. I think of Billy G, who isn't famous for writing code exactly (or at least not only because of that).

    Richard Stallman and Linus "rare Finnish/Swedish name" both come to mind.

    I'm having trouble thinking of the name of the SAMBA dude, and what are the names of the two Google founders?

    And that's about it. I've run out of ideas.

    apathy maybe [].

  • Poor visualization (Score:3, Insightful)

    by haluness ( 219661 ) on Monday September 29, 2008 @09:07AM (#25192829)

    What a horrific visualization - first it's a pie chart and on top of that why put in a background to obscure the colors? Someone went overboard with their charting software

  • by Otis_INF ( 130595 ) on Monday September 29, 2008 @09:14AM (#25192873) Homepage

    (Disclaimer: I don't give a **** if I'm on the list or not ;))

    Perhaps the right question isn't 'how to become a famous programmer' but first let's focus on what a famous programmer is? The concept of being famous is that a lot of people know you.

    Let me see some hands, who knows "David Bradley" and can name what he accomplished? No-one? Why is this person then branded as 'famous' ? Sure, he wrote a handler which is in almost every Bios, but aren't there millions of routines out there used by even more million people? I mean: the guy / girl who wrote the event handler for the 'Google Search' button has his/her piece of code executed a couple of million times a day as well... The people who know who wrote that routine is probably as big as the group of people who know the name "David Bradley" and associate that name with cntrl-alt-del.

    So this 'famous programmer' list is IMHO more of a list of some editor who liked to have his (her?) personal favorites in a single list on Wikipedia.

  • by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Monday September 29, 2008 @09:22AM (#25192933)

    include posted code to verify the stupidity level

    But the people who really kill projects aren't those who write the code. They're the ones who prevaricate about designs, choose inappropriate languages, tools and development schemes. The people who build-in limitations as they don't have the skill (or vision) to appreciate the implications of what they're designing or make things so hopelessly complicated - in the name of flexibility - that no super-coder could ever implement the design.

    Bad code can be rewritten, but lousy design is here forever

  • by russotto ( 537200 ) on Monday September 29, 2008 @09:25AM (#25192957) Journal

    Is Emily Short really famous? I knew of her but only because I follow Interactive Fiction.

    And I'm sorry, just because Roberta Williams was part of a husband and wife team doesn't mean she counts as half a person. If you were counting _projects_ that might be valid, but then you'd have to divide all the other programmer's projects up too.

  • by tjstork ( 137384 ) <todd.bandrowsky@gma i l .com> on Monday September 29, 2008 @09:31AM (#25193005) Homepage Journal

    I think the thing is that men are wired to be bigger risk takers and society rewards people who take big risks. Of course, with men, for every guy that hits it big, there's a dozen, if not a hundred, that completely flounder.

  • I met a couple (Score:4, Insightful)

    by JoeCommodore ( 567479 ) <> on Monday September 29, 2008 @09:35AM (#25193029) Homepage

    I think fame is overrated, the two I met I marked them as famous for programs they wrote in the 80s, not their current work. One was Brad Templeton, to me famous for Time Trek and Power/Power 64 utility for the Commodore PET & 64, though now he is probably best known for his work in the EFF. The second, Kermit Woodal, who wrote a while back a SIDplayer program for the Commodore 64, I met him at an Amiga conference, from my impression he is still best remembered for that SIDplayer program, which does not always help him in his current projects.

    So I think becoming famous in the tech field can have a similar trap like it is to actors, through your fame, you may become typecast into some sort of programming role.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 29, 2008 @09:40AM (#25193075)

    And please don't forget Sophie Wilson [].

  • Really? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by visible.frylock ( 965768 ) on Monday September 29, 2008 @09:46AM (#25193131) Homepage Journal

    The article also shows that among famous programmers, the ratio of males to females is much larger than among normal programmers.

    Really? Seriously?

    Is it still necessary to add the obligatory We Are Not Sexist bit to everything? In other news the ratio of males to females is higher among soldiers, firefighters, police officers, coal miners, and convicted felons.

    Haven't we been over the sexist arguments to death by now? Is there ever going to come a time when we can talk about people without mentioning their gender, ethnicity, skin color, whatever? When we take it as a given that the median man/woman, black/white, Asian/Hispanic are equally as smart/dumb, and we don't have to hide behind PC language?

  • by bboxman ( 1342573 ) on Monday September 29, 2008 @09:55AM (#25193221)

    This might sound a bit like flame bait -- but I am speaking from the experience of nearly a decade of software/algorithm development. I've known good programmers, great programmers, and bad programmers. Women just don't (usually) fall into that great category.

    This may stem from many factors. For instance, women may not be drawn to computer programming as a hobby as men. Thinking of those that I classify as great -- the vast majority of them knew how to program well before they ever attended any formal setting.

    I've known solid female programmers. But I can't come up with one whom I'd trust to write 10,000 lines of code in a week to come up with a working prototype -- Aren't that many men in that category, but there are a few.

  • by Patrik_AKA_RedX ( 624423 ) on Monday September 29, 2008 @09:57AM (#25193241) Journal

    and society rewards people who take big risks

    True but incomplete. Society rewards people who take big risks and succeed. Those that take risks and don't succeed get a Darwin-award or a bankruptcy.

    (source: homeless guy living near the subway station)

  • by Zironic ( 1112127 ) on Monday September 29, 2008 @10:08AM (#25193341)

    I think you missed the fact that the post you're quoting was a joke.

  • Carmack? Torvalds? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SanityInAnarchy ( 655584 ) <> on Monday September 29, 2008 @10:23AM (#25193505) Journal

    Granted, not all of Quake was written by John Carmack, but he is credited with quite a lot he's done by himself. He's got a shadowing trick named after himself, after all -- Carmack's Reverse [].

    So, given something like Word or Oracle, it's plausible that the first version, or even the first prototype, was written by exactly one guy. Take Linus Torvalds -- say what you will, but the original Linux was entirely his, complete with 386 support and a multithreaded filesystem (already giving it an edge over Minix).

    Oh, and I doubt any actual paid publicists were used. Seriously, how would that actually work, and how would you justify the expense? I'm sure you were joking, but actually think about this -- for better or worse, these people are famous through word of mouth, among their peers. I'm guessing most have done something worth mentioning to earn that fame.

  • Re:Fame (Score:3, Insightful)

    by east coast ( 590680 ) on Monday September 29, 2008 @10:39AM (#25193653)
    Programmers spend far too much time in front of a computer and far too little time in the real world, having real relationships and fixing real problems.

    Let me guess, you're one of the people who call it "playing on the computer"?

    Maybe even one of the people who think that technology is the problem and having some vision of a fantastical world of old where people enjoyed a leisurely way of life with little or no worries?

    If any of this is true I'm really surprised that you bother with slashdot.
  • by KGIII ( 973947 ) * <> on Monday September 29, 2008 @10:54AM (#25193803) Journal

    In reading your post I was sort of struck with an odd thought so, well, I'll share.

    There really aren't that many famous programmers. There aren't any at all other than perhaps Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and they may not be considered programmers by the masses. They are famous to you, to me, and to the /. crowd but we're such a minority in the grand scheme of things that they are only famous to a very small subset of the population.

    If you ask anyone who George W. Bush is they will know. They will know who Paris Hilton is. They will probably know Madonna, Brad Pitt, and more. If we go outside of our social circle they are unlikely to know anyone on that list.

    Mirriam-Webster defines fame as widely known. The second definition is honored for achievement but being on Wikipedia isn't really an honor I don't think. Gates and Hoare were knighted, I suppose they might be considered famous but, then again, who other than us knows who Hoare is?

  • by clickety6 ( 141178 ) on Monday September 29, 2008 @11:02AM (#25193895)


    You keep using that word.

    I do not think it means what you think it means.

  • Wouldn't it make more sense to simply add one point (or one-half, if you will) to both the Male and Female genders?

    Except that would make the numbers (and definitely of gender) utterly meaningless if people could simply choose what to call themselves. The premise of the whole point is that there are fewer famous biological females. Who cares what psychological issues they're carrying around? Genetic gender is the only reasonable definition to use.

  • by KGIII ( 973947 ) * <> on Monday September 29, 2008 @03:17PM (#25196719) Journal

    My guess is you have a rather inflated sense of self-worth but that's just a guess. This is /. - we like citations. Thus referencing a dictionary is a Good Thing®. Even if we take context into consideration (we shouldn't, a definition is clearly not something you just change because it suits your own needs though certainly languages should grow) the list consists of a bunch of products that are/were famous and a small percentage of people who's names even those of us in the community actually know. These people aren't famous for the most part. The only ones who are famous are the two that I listed though I might have missed one or two more but I double checked and am not seeing any who's names would stand out with even (made up on the spot) 20% of the population.

    To use the age old car analogy...

    We know Henry Ford. We know Shelby, Benz, and a few more.

    We also know the Mustang, Corvette, and even the Accord. Very few people can actually name the person who designed the bodies for those vehicles.

    The vehicles are famous. The designers are not.

    So, no... I don't see it as "grade school" to cite the reasons that I used to reach my conclusions. Your ego may make it so that you don't like my conclusions but attempting to alter the definition to suit your own desires doesn't change the definition.

    Sorry, in advance, for the bad analogy but it was all I could think of at the moment.

  • by Artifakt ( 700173 ) on Monday September 29, 2008 @03:48PM (#25197077)

    This is part of a broader spectrum of ignorance. There are easily 20 times as many people who know who Paris Hilton is than who Buckminster Fuller was. Ask somebody what else the Lear who built Learjets invented first. What did Tesla do that actually got built and worked? What branch of the US government did Learned Hand work for? Who was Armand Hammer? Milton Canniff? Leon Trotsky? Ludwig Mies van der Rohe? George Adamski? Alvin York? All of these died less than a century ago, which should make it a bit easier.
          Ask people to name 3 famous physicists, without starting with Einstein. Name 3 famous architects, without including Frank Lloyd Wright. Name 3 famous individuals from the Renaissance, without Michaelangelo and DaVinci (I have to exclude two there, but only because of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). If Henry Ford founded Ford motors, who founded General Motors?


  • Maybe you should have spent five minutes with Google before shooting your mouth off about something you're obviously clueless about. Putting aside the sheer stupidity of claiming that subjective states such as hunger or gender dysphoria don't exist because you can't directly observe them, it just isn't true that you're speaking of a subjective state with no independently observable correlates:

    Male-to-Female Transsexuals Have Female Neuron Numbers in a Limbic Nucleus []

  • No, you just dismissed the identities lived experiences of hundreds of thousands of people because you, for reasons that are rather unclear, wish to insist that chromosomes trump all else regardless of evidence. If a person has an unusual gender identity for their karyotype, that is prima facie evidence that at least some elements of this person's neurology, the ones which influence subjectively perceived gender identity, did not develop in a very typical way for their chromosomes, and there is no particular reason to expect other sexually dimorphic elements to have developed in the chromosomally-typical way.

    Really, if you're trying to look at statistics on gender differences further out from the mean than one or two standard deviations (and if you're looking at the most famous rather than average programmers, that's what you're doing), the last thing you should be doing is approaching it with this sort of simplistic binary thinking; it seems clear that transgender people are significantly overrepresented (i'd guess a factor of ten at least over prevalence in the general population) among the upper extremes of ability in this field, and this is an interesting phenomenon well within the scope of a study on gender differences in programming ability, and one that would be totally ignored by just proclaiming chromosomes the only variable of interest ex recto. The study the article linked to is insensitive by virtue of labelling its categories 'transsexuals' and 'women' rather than 'transgender women' and 'cisgender women', and by failing to inquire about trans men in the programming field, but at least it noticed an interesting and relevant phenomenon which your preferred model of gender would ignore.

    See also: genetic homosexuality and the attraction mechanism.

    What does that have to do with anything? Gender identity and sexual orientation really don't have very much to do with each other, but bigots regularly conflate the two. I'm beginning to get a very clear and ugly picture of your views on the subject.

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