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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 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Monday September 29, 2008 @08:16AM (#25192891) Journal
    Men would always be over represented in any group that has a mean significantly different from the whole society. Women are clustered around the mean with lower variation.

    There are more male criminals, murderers than female. The reasons are based on simply reproductive success rate differential between males and females. No matter how successful a woman is, she is very very unlikely to bear more than 10 children. A very successful man could easily leave behind dozens and in some cases hundreds of children. Two thirds of men who have ever live do not have any living descendants toady. Essentially men take more risks and bet it all and two thirds of them lost it all in the genetic race. Thus all living males today come from a lineage of high risk takers. That results in greater variation in every measure, be it with positive connotations or negative. More variation in height, weight, muscle mass, BMI and most importantly risk tolerance.

    It is entirely possible that women might even have a higher mean when it comes to intellectual labor than men. But since men have more variation you will find more men in the outliers. If one is in the top 200 of any field, that person is an outlier.

  • by GogglesPisano ( 199483 ) on Monday September 29, 2008 @08:34AM (#25193021)

    It's not like "Transsexual" is an endpoint - it seems more like a transition path.

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

  • by Otter ( 3800 ) on Monday September 29, 2008 @08:47AM (#25193147) Journal

    Likewise Larry Ellison as the creator of Oracle - no. There are thousands of people who create each version of Oracle, not simply one guy.

    C'mon. Oracle was created by Ellison and two other guys, not by the person who fixed some bugs in 2004. The distinction between the two is the entire freaking point.

  • by Junks Jerzey ( 54586 ) on Monday September 29, 2008 @08:49AM (#25193157)

    I would bet that 95% of Slashdot readers never heard of Alain Colmerauer, for example.

    And the Bard's Tale author is included, but even though the game is well known, he (now she) is not. And there are many, many other well-known games with great programmers behind them who are not on the list.

  • by thogard ( 43403 ) on Monday September 29, 2008 @08:57AM (#25193253) Homepage

    Since I known 30+ people in the list I would have to say you are very wrong. While I don't know the author of Word, it would not surprise me if the 1st few versions weren't 90% the work of one person and I've used word on a unix based 3b2.

  • by Amazing Quantum Man ( 458715 ) on Monday September 29, 2008 @09:09AM (#25193361) Homepage

    Interestingly, the wikipedia article only mentions Kernighan for AWK and ditroff. It doesn't even mention that other language that he's known for.

  • by linzeal ( 197905 ) on Monday September 29, 2008 @09:47AM (#25193715) Homepage Journal
    No, its more likely discrimination and not only the kind you are thinking about in the workplace. When a venture capitalist walks into a programming shop with his MBA that has taught him to stereotype people as much as possible to fit them into market segments the last thing he wants to see is a female programmer telling him how she is going to change the world. He wants more of the same and a woman doesn't fit into his understanding so he will balk, I have seen them do it repetitively to female engineers to the point of sending junior male colleagues to meet with these folks. VC is a man's game still and they do not like looking across the table at a woman who is more intelligent, has more education and is actually doing something with it while all he does is carry around sacks of money.
  • RMS, ESR and Gates are definetly not famous because of their achievements in programming.

    ESR, I will grant, though he has written some useful tools. RMS, on the other hand, first became famous because of EMACS and GCC. He became *more* famous later on for his "other" activities, but he was originally a programmer. Bill Gates was certainly famous early on because of programming -- he personally wrote the Microsoft BASIC interpreter that was ported to many personal computers of the time (e.g., the TRS-80). That's what made Microsoft their original money. People think Gates has always been some satanic businessman, but no, he was originally a programmer and a very good one, too. [MS/Basic fun fact: it had a built-in editor based on 'vi' that I only realized was 'vi' much later on.]

  • Horrible (Score:5, Interesting)

    by T.E.D. ( 34228 ) on Monday September 29, 2008 @10:54AM (#25194529)

    TFA spends a lot of time talking about how few women there are on the list, without digging any deeper than that. I find that verging on morally reprehensible.

    Looking into it myself, I see he used the list here [] as his starting basis, with only a few changes. The problem I have with that list is that it includes oodles of people who I've never heard of. Since I've been a professional software developer for 20 years, and an ameteur for 10 years before that, I think in my case "people with names I recognize" is a good filter for famous. Also lots of people are named who became famous more for starting companies than for their own programming. For example, Bill Gates and Paul Allen did write a Basic interpreter once upon a time, but its running Microsoft they are famous for. Talking about way less women starting software companies should be an entirely different discussion.

    I think I can make a much shorter and better list. YMMV of course:

    • Alfred Aho
    • Marc Andreessen (mosly famous for his company, but I know his name from the Mosaic days
    • John Backus
    • Tim Berners-Lee
    • Dan/Dani Buten (as mentioned previously, male when I first heard of him, transgendered later)
    • John Carmack
    • Vint Cerf
    • Alan Cox
    • Ward Christensen (I was a big BBSer back in the day)
    • Ward Cunningham
    • Edsger Dijkstra
    • James Gosling
    • C. A. R. Hoare
    • Grace Hopper
    • Miguel de Icaza
    • Brian Kernighan
    • Donald Knuth
    • Ada Lovelace
    • Bertrand Meyer
    • Jeff Minter
    • John Ousterhout
    • Eric Raymond
    • Dennis Ritchie
    • John Romero
    • Guido van Rossum
    • Richard Stallman (debateable, as FSF, not emacs, is probably why I know his name)
    • Bjarne Stroustrup
    • Andrew Tanenbaum
    • Ken Thompson
    • Linus Torvalds
    • Larry Wall
    • Roberta Williams (TFA Author only counts her as 1/2. WTF?)
    • Ken Williams
    • Niklaus Wirth
    • Phil Zimmerman

    Just to avoid the argument thread, if there was a name on the list that I didn't include, its either because I didn't recognize the name without reading the description, or because I know them for their business activites (or in one case, for his *hardware* development), not their software development.
    With my pared-down list, that's now 3.5 out of 35, or %10 female. There would probably be more if I made up the list entirely myself, but its tough for one person to judge "fame" all by himself.

    Still this is much closer to what has been the actual historical percentage of participation of women in the industry, (and remember, "fame" would be a lagging indicator). So I don't think they are really fareing that badly in the fame department. Its getting them into the industry we are really having trouble with.

  • by Card Zero ( 1126075 ) on Monday September 29, 2008 @12:11PM (#25195329)

    I believe you that your post was not intended to be flamebait, but I must say it was very frustrating for me (a female programmer) to read. I agree that there are many factors that contribute toward the scarcity of women in programming. But the implication of your post, or perhaps just your title, sends a message that I shouldn't bother trying, because "I'm just not good at it." I don't think this was your intention, but I'd like to point it out as an issue that most, if not all, female programmers are forced to address at least once in our careers.

    One of the most commonly cited reasons for the lack of women pursuing computer-related professions or hobbies (e.g. video games) is that they aren't encouraged--indeed, some say they are actively discouraged--to do so. Has it ever been said of you that you'd likely never be among the best programmers because you are a man? If so, how did it affect the development of your career goals?

    I don't think it's correct to view the computing world as a bunch of men gathered behind locked doors and discussing ways to keep the girls out of their clubhouse, either. But there are certainly prevailing assumptions about the capabilities of wo/men in general that force a lot of women to seriously question why we'd want to work in an environment that doesn't value them as highly as men, simply because we're women and they're men.

    Another example would be a different post in this thread speculating that men were better programmers because they were "wired" to be bigger risk takers (huh?). These arguments, while silly (and probably not ill-intended), still send a message to women that we'll have a harder-than-normal time succeeding in the industry. It's not surprising that many of us choose to try something else instead!

Writing software is more fun than working.