The 10 IT People Who Mattered in the Past 40 Years (but You May Not Know Why)

The megastars in the IT industry over the past four decades are easy to name. The accomplishments of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Scott McNealy, Larry Ellison, Linus Torvalds and others are well known. But clearly there have been many more who have helped turn IT from the narrow back-office operation of yesteryear into the ubiquitous corporate necessity it is today. Computerworld has come up with a short list of those who deserve broader recognition for ITs global success.

Who: Carol Bartz

What/where: Executive chairman, Autodesk Inc.

Why: Changed a sleepy vertical application company into a diversified $1.5 billion software industry powerhouse. Born in 1948, the Horatio Award-winning executive earned her computer science degree from the University of Wisconsin before joining 3M Co. as a systems analyst in the 1970s, the only woman on a staff of 300.

Bartz became president, CEO and chairman of Autodesk in 1992 after rising through the ranks of Digital Equipment Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. Her favorite saying: You have only one job in this life, and that is to be a great ancestor.

Dan Bricklin

Dan BricklinWho: Dan Bricklin

What/where: Co-founder, Software Arts Inc.

Why: Invented the electronic spreadsheet with the introduction of VisiCalc in 1979. The idea occurred to him while working on his MBA at Harvard. Written in Basic on an Apple II personal computer, VisiCalc continued to ship first on Apple machines instead on of IBM PCs, which helped Lotus 1-2-3 quickly eclipse the breakthrough software. Another factor in VisiCalcs demise was advice from a lawyer not to patent the program.

Who: Edgar (Ted) Codd

What/where: IBM fellow

Why: Father of the relational database with his seminal 1970 paper, A Relational Model of Data for Large Shared Data Banks. English by birth and a graduate of Oxford University, Codd flew in the RAF during World War II. He first went to work for IBM in New York in 1953. He devised his famous 12 rules for what makes data relational in 1985.

Codd died at the age of 79 in 2003, leaving behind a $13 billion market.

John J. Cullinane

John J. CullinaneWho: John J. Cullinane

What/where: Founder, Cullinet Software Inc.

Why: Creator of the packaged software market. He led a company that could claim many industry firsts: first packaged application, first report writer software, first database to seriously compete with IBM on mainframes, and first pure software company to go public. He sold the company to Computer Associates in 1989, but not before Cullinane could claim another first: the first software company to run a Super Bowl ad.

Who: Whitfield Diffie

What/where: Chief security officer, Sun Microystems Inc.

Why: Co-inventor with Martin Hellman of public key encryption software, with the publication of their paper New Directions in Cryptography. It enables individuals who have never met to establish secure, nonauthenticated two-way communications. Although Diffie holds a bachelors degree in science from MIT and an honorary doctorate from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, he never graduated from high school.

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