14 of the world's best living programmers

When developers discuss the world's top programmers, these names tend to come up a lot

Picture of trophies
Credit: flickr/Snap

It seems like there are lots of programmers out there these days, and lots of really good programmers. But which ones are the very best? Even though there’s no way to really say who the best living programmer is, that hasn’t stopped developers from frequently kicking the topic around. ITworld has solicited input and scoured coder discussion forums to see if there was any consensus, and as it turned out, a handful of names did frequently get mentioned in these discussions. Based on that input, here are 14 people commonly cited as the world’s best living programmer.

Picture of Jon Skeet
Jon Skeet

Main claim to fame: Legendary Stack Overflow contributor

Credentials: Google engineer and author of C# in Depth. Holds highest reputation score of all time on Stack Overflow, answering, on average, more than 425 questions per month.

Quotes: “Jon Skeet doesn't need a debugger, he just stares down the bug until the code confesses” Steven A. Lowe

“When Jon Skeet's code fails to compile the compiler apologises.” Anonymous

“Jon Skeet's code doesn't follow a coding convention. It is the coding convention.” Anonymous

Picture of Gennady Korotkevich
Gennady Korotkevich

Main claim to fame: Competitive programming prodigy

Credentials: Youngest participant ever (age 11) and 6 time gold medalist (2007-2012) in the International Olympiad in Informatics. Part of the winning team at the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest in 2013 and winner of the 2014 Facebook Hacker Cup. At the time of this writing, ranked first by Codeforces (handle: Tourist) and second among algorithm competitors by TopCoder.

Quotes: “A programming prodigy!” Prateek Joshi

“Gennady is definitely amazing, and visible example of why I have a large development team in Belarus.” Chris Howard

“Tourist is genius” Nuka Shrinivas Rao

Picture of Linus Torvalds
Credit: REUTERS/Jarno Mela/Lehtikuva
Linus Torvalds

Main claim to fame: Creator of Linux

Credentials: Created the Linux kernel and Git, an open source version control system. Winner of numerous awards and honors, including the EFF Pioneer Award in 1998, the British Computer Society’s Lovelace Medal in 2000, the Millenium Technology Prize in 2012 and the IEEE Computer Society’s Computer Pioneer Award in 2014. Also inducted into the Computer History Museum’s Hall of Fellows in 2008 and the Internet Hall of Fame in 2012.

Quote: “He's pretty darn good.” Alok Tripathy

Picture of Jeff Dean
Credit: Google
Jeff Dean

Main claim to fame: The brains behind Google search indexing

Credentials: Helped to design and implement many of Google’s large-scale distributed systems, including website crawling, indexing and searching, AdSense, MapReduce, BigTable  and Spanner. Elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2009. 2012 winner of the ACM’s SIGOPS Mark Weiser Award and the ACM-Infosys Foundation Award in the Computing Sciences.

Quotes: “... for bringing breakthroughs in data mining( GFS, Map and Reduce, Big Table ).” Natu Lauchande

“... conceived, built, and deployed MapReduce and BigTable, among a bazillion other things” Erik Goldman

Picture of John Carmack
John Carmack

Main claim to fame: Creator of Doom

Credentials: Cofounded id Software and created such influential FPS games as Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and Quake. Pioneered such ground-breaking computer graphic techniques adaptive tile refresh, binary space partitioning and surface caching. Inducted into the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame in 2001 and given a lifetime achievement award by the Game Developers Choice Awards in 2010.

Quotes: “... Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake were revolutionary at the time and have influenced a generation of game designers.” dniblock

“He can write basically anything in a weekend....” Greg Naughton

“He is the Mozart of computer coding….” Chris Morris

Picture of Richard Stallman
Richard Stallman

Main claim to fame: Creator of Emacs

Credentials: Founded the GNU Project and created many of its core tools, such as Emacs, GCC, GDB and GNU Make. Also founded the Free Software Foundation. Winner of the ACM's Grace Murray Hopper Award in 1990 and the EFF's Pioneer Award in 1998.

Quotes: “... there was the time when he singlehandedly outcoded several of the best Lisp hackers around, in the Symbolics vs LMI fight.” Srinivasan Krishnan

“I might disagree on many things with the great man, but he is still one of the most important programmers, alive or dead” Marko Poutiainen

Picture of Petr Mitrechev
Credit: Facebook
Petr Mitrechev

Main claim to fame: One of the top competitive programmers of all time

Credentials: Two-time gold medal winner in the International Olympiad in Informatics (2000, 2002). In 2006, won the Google Code Jam and was also the TopCoder Open Algorithm champion. Also, two-time winner of the Facebook Hacker Cup (2011, 2013). At the time of this writing, the top ranked algorithm competitor on TopCoder (handle: Petr) and ranked fifth by Codeforces

Quote: “He is an idol in competitive programming even here in India…” Kavish Dwivedi

Picture of Fabrice Bellard
Credit: Duff
Fabrice Bellard

Main claim to fame: Creator of QEMU

Credentials: Created a variety of well-known open-source software programs, including QEMU, a platform for hardware emulation and virtualization, FFmpeg (for handling multimedia data), the Tiny C Compiler and LZEXE, an executable file compressor. Winner of the Obfuscated C Code Contest in 2000 and 2001 and the Google-O'Reilly Open Source Award in 2011. Former world record holder for calculating the most number of digits in Pi.

Quotes: “I find Fabrice Bellard's work remarkable and impressive.” raphinou

“Fabrice Bellard is the most productive programmer in the world....” Pavan Yara

“Hes like the Nikola Tesla of sofware engineering.” Michael Valladolid

Picture of Doug Cutting
Doug Cutting

Main claim to fame: Creator of Lucene

Credentials: Developed the Lucene search engine, as well as Nutch, a web crawler, and Hadoop, a set of tools for distributed processing of large data sets. A strong proponent of open-source (Lucene, Nutch and Hadoop are all open-source). Currently a director of the Apache Software Foundation.

Quotes: “... he is the same guy who has written an exceptional search framework(lucene/solr) and opened the big-data gateway to the world(hadoop).” Rajesh Rao

“His creation/work on Lucene and Hadoop (among other projects) has created a tremendous amount of wealth and employment for folks in the world….” Amit Nithianandan

Picture of Donald Knuth
Donald Knuth

Main claim to fame: Author of The Art of Computer Programming

Credentials: Wrote the definitive book on the theory of programming. Created the TeX digital typesetting system. First winner of the ACM’s Grace Murray Hopper Award in 1971. Winner of the ACM’s A. M. Turing Award in 1974, the National Medal of Science in 1979 and the IEEE’s John von Neumann Medal in 1995. Named a Fellow at the Computer History Museum in 1998.

Quote: “There is only one large computer program I have used in which there are to a decent approximation 0 bugs: Don Knuth's TeX.” Jaap Weel

Picture of Anders Hejlsberg
Anders Hejlsberg

Main claim to fame: Creator of Turbo Pascal

Credentials: The original author of what became Turbo Pascal, one of the most popular Pascal compilers and the first integrated development environment. Later, led the building of Delphi, Turbo Pascal’s successor. Chief designer and architect of C#. Winner of Dr. Dobb's Excellence in Programming Award in 2001.

Quote: “I revere this guy -- he created the development tools that were my favourite through three key periods along my path to becoming a professional software engineer.” Stefan Kiryazov

Picture of Ken Thompson
Ken Thompson

Main claim to fame: Creator of Unix

Credentials: Co-creator, along with Dennis Ritchie, of Unix. Creator of B programming language, the UTF-8 character encoding scheme, ed text editor and co-developer of the Go programming language. Co-winner (along with Ritchie) of the A.M. Turing Award in 1983, IEEE Computer Pioneer Award in 1994 and the National Medal of Technology in 1998. Inducted as a fellow of the Computer History Museum in 1997.

Quote: “... probably the most accomplished programmer ever.  Unix kernel, Unix tools, world-champion chess program Belle, Plan 9, Go Language.” Pete Prokopowicz

Picture of Adam D'Angelo
Adam D'Angelo

Main claim to fame: Co-founder of Quora

Credentials: As an engineer at Facebook, built initial infrastructure for its news feed. Went on to become CTO and VP of engineering at Facebook, before leaving to co-found Quora. Eighth place finisher at the USA Computing Olympiad as a high school student in 2001. Member of California Institute of Technology’s silver medal winning team at the  ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest in 2004. Finalist in the Algorithm Coding Competition of Topcoder Collegiate Challenge in 2005.

Quotes: “An "All-Rounder" Programmer.” Anonymous

"For every good thing I make he has like six." Mark Zuckerberg

Picture of Sanjay Ghemawat
Sanjay Ghemawat

Main claim to fame: Key Google architect

Credentials: Helped to design and implement some of Google’s large distributed systems, including MapReduce, BigTable, Spanner and Google File System. Created Unix’s ical calendaring system. Elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2009. Winner of the ACM-Infosys Foundation Award in the Computing Sciences in 2012.

Quote: “Jeff Dean's wingman.” Ahmet Alp Balkan