Unit 7: Famous People in the History of IT

Listen to the recording as you read the text. Then complete the activities which follow the reading.

Almost everyone uses computers these days for everything from shopping to working to playing games. But have you ever stopped to think about where all this amazing technology came from? Who invented it all? Well, behind every company, programming language or piece of software, there is a person - or sometimes a team of people - who turned ideas into reality. We've all heard of Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft and one of the richest men in history. Equally famous is Steve Jobs, the person who, along with Steve Wozniak, started Apple computers. However, there are hundreds of other people, from early pioneers to later geniuses, who aren't as well known but who deserve recognition for the work they did in advancing the world of computing.

One of the first people to conceive of computers was Charles Babbage, an English mathematician and analytical philosopher who drew up plans for the first programmable computer called the Difference Engine. George Boole came up with a way of describing logical relations using mathematical symbols - now called Boolean logic - that is the basis of all modern computer processes. Vannevar Bush first proposed an idea in 1945 he called 'memex', which we now know as 'hypertext'. Another notable figure in early computing was Alan Mathison Turing, an Englishman known as the "father of computer science". He invented the Turing Test, which is a way to find out if a computer is acting like a machine or a human. Another English computer scientist, Edgar Frank Codd, is known for inventing the "relational" model for databases, a model which is still in use today.

As computing became more complicated, people needed a way to make it easier to tell computers what to do - in other words, they needed ways to program the computers. These computer instruction systems became known as computer, or programming, languages. FORTRAN, the first widely used high-level programming language, was invented by an American computer scientist, John Warner Backus. Other notable North American inventors of programming languages include Dennis Ritchie, author of the C programming language, Larry Wall, creator of Perl, and Canadian James Gosling, known as the father of Java. Two men from Denmark are responsible for writing two other famous programming languages. Bjarne Stroustrup came up with C++ and Rasmus Lerdorf devised PHP. Dutchman Guido van Rossum wrote the Python programming language, while the Japanese computer scientist, Yukihiro Matsumoto, made a language called Ruby.

One of the uses of programming languages is to create operating systems, which are essentially sets of instructions that allow computers to function. The most widely-used operating system in the world is Microsoft Windows, but there are other powerful ones that exist, such as Unix, created by Ken Thompson and his team at AT&T in 1969, and Linux, written by Linus Torvalds in 1991.

Microsoft, of course, is the largest software company in the world, but there is another company, Intel, that is equally important when it comes to hardware. Intel was started by several people who are now legends in the computer world, including Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore. Moore is also famous for coming up with Moore's Law, which predicts the rapid increase of computer technology over time. Intel expanded rapidly during the 1980s and 1990s when a man named Andy Grove was in charge of the company.

Other notable figures in the evolution of the computer industry are Ralph Baer, inventor of the first home video game console, Seymour Cray, for many years the manufacturer of the world's fastest supercomputers, Richard Stallman, founder of the free software movement called GNU, and Tim Berners-Lee, the man who created the basis for the World Wide Web.

Through their creativity and hard work, all of these people contributed to shaping what we now experience as Information and Computer Technology. Every time you boot up a computer, play a video game or surf the Internet, try to remember the individuals who made these wonders possible.

This reading was written and submitted by Dan Rieb. Thanks Dan!

This is the end of the reading!