The top architects of new software and systems. View as a gallery.
The Finnish-American software engineer created what's known as the Linux “kernel” while a student at the University of Helsinki, Finland. The kernel is a core piece of free, open-source software used by developers to build variations of Linux operating systems. Today Linus Torvalds is employed by the Linux Foundation, a nonprofit consortium that encourages the growth of Linux by providing developers around the world with the network and information to improve the free operating system. "I'd like to say I knew this would happen, that it's all part of the plan for world domination,” Torvalds once wrote in The Linux Edge. "But honestly this has all taken me a bit by surprise."
Combined score: 71.2
Combined score: 66.8
His name is practically blacklisted in Hollywood, but it’s widely revered online. Bram Cohen is the cofounder of the BitTorrent peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing system used by millions to transfer large files over the Internet (or as the music and movie industries would put it, steal). First released in 2001, BitTorrent was the largest single source of all Internet traffic for many years, until it was surpassed by the video-streaming site Netflix in May 2011. Cohen’s day-to-day, now, is to keep the service available and accessible for millions of users.
Combined score: 65.4
Combined score: 64.2
Tom Preston-Werner is cofounder of GitHub, a social network for computer programmers who want to collaborate on software code. Preston-Werner started GitHub with Chris Wanstrath, another programmer in San Francisco, in late 2007 while working for a company called Powerset. In 2008, when Powerset was acquired by Microsoft, Preston-Werner was faced with a $300,000 offer to stay on board or choose the riskier route to quit and continue with GitHub, he decided to take the gamble. Today GitHub ranks in the top 350 sites, according to Alexa, and is used and beloved by programmers worldwide.
Combined score: 59.8
With a personal website like ma.tt, you know he's a digital powerhouse. Matt Mullenweg was just 19 years old and a college freshman studying philosophy and political science when he first began work on what would become WordPress. Now 28, Mullenweg, the founding developer of the popular open-source blogging software, has watched it grow to power more than 70 million websites (it's used by 49 of the top 100 blogs on the Web). Most recently, Mullenweg, who lives in San Francisco, was listed as one of the most influential angel investors on AngelList, a funding platform that connects investors with entrepreneurs, through which he invests in five to six startups at $25,000-$100,000 a year.
Combined score: XX.X
David Heinemeier Hansson is a Danish computer programmer most widely recognized for creating Ruby on Rails, a Web-application framework that is credited for making it easier for developers to write Web applications (like, say, Twitter, Hulu, or Scribd). The Chicago-based software engineer, who got his first computer at age 6, is now a partner at 37signals, a software-development firm behind such services as Basecamp, a project-management tool, and Campfire, a group-chat tool.
Combined score: 55.0
"Matz," as the 47-year-old Japanese programmer Yukihiro Matsumoto is affectionately called on the Internet, is the creator of the Ruby programming language. Introduced in the 1990s, Ruby is an object-oriented language (meaning, when building code, a programmer can identify any bit of data as an individual object, making it easier to command) that has earned praise from the coding community for its simplicity and practicality. After gaining a steady following in the open-source community, Ruby's popularity exploded in part due to the Ruby on Rails framework developed by David Heinemeier Hansson (who is also featured on the Digital Power Index). In July 2011 Matz joined Heroku, a cloud-hosting company owned by Salesforce.com.
Combined score: 53.6
Edward Tufte, 70, is considered by many to be the pioneering thinker in data visualization and information design, and his impact is felt across a wide variety of industries. A Yale professor and the author of several bestselling books, Tufte (pronounced TUFF-tee) has taught nearly a quarter of a million students as a touring lecturer, giving a one-day course, Presenting Data and Information, and he’s credited as the designer behind that squiggly line—a sparkline—used to illustrate the ups-and-downs of stock market activity in “intense, simple, word-sized graphics.” His most influential book, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (1983), has sold nearly a million copies. "At their best," Tufte has said, "graphics are instruments for reasoning."
Combined score: 51.6
Jeff Atwood is a man unafraid of choosing his own path. In March 2008 he left his job as technical evangelist at a software company, where he also ran a popular coding blog, to build something of his own. Seven months later, Stack Overflow was launched. The site, a Q&A for professional and enthusiast programmers, quickly became a favorite for developers, and now hosts 1.2 million users. But in February of this year, four months after the death of Steve Jobs, Atwood walked away from it all. "I finally realized that success at the cost of my children is not success," Atwood wrote in a blog post detailing his reasons for leaving the company. "It is failure." The tech community overwhelmingly supported the move. "Kudos to @codinghorror for not only building a great product," one designer tweeted, "but for knowing what's truly important and acting on it."
Combined score: 49.6
Gordon Moore may be the only billionaire with a scientific principle named for him. According to Moore's Law, which he first posited in 1965, the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit doubles every two years, i.e., computers will shrink even as they grow more powerful. During five decades, that formulation has become the computer industry's rule of thumb for measuring its progress. "Moore’s Law is a violation of Murphy’s Law," he said in 2005. "Everything gets better and better."
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