20 Tech Pioneers to Celebrate Instead of Christopher Columbus

Happy Columbus Day! Or not. I don’t know. That really depends on your opinion of the holiday and Christopher Columbus himself.

Today is designated to be a day for celebrating the anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in the Americas. The man – as we’ve all surely been told in our primary school days – was responsible for discovering the New World; hence, the argument follows, that without Columbus, the very existence of the United States of America could not be possible or, at the very least, could not have been possible until a much later date. Now, to be fair, this event in history is also celebrated across several Latin American countries, as well as Italy and Spain, but like many people in the history of human existence, we tend not to mention the flaws of those for whom we hold high regard. In Christopher Columbus’s case, we forget that he was kind of a dick.

Prior to his landing in this New World, there were already natives living in the Americas – Columbus merely pioneered European colonization in the Western lands. He enslaved and exterminated the natives in an effort to, like, civilize them and turn them into more productive members of society. Columbus, man – what a cool dude…ugh. Whatever. My whole point: he was kind of shitty, even if he did contribute to the movement towards worldwide modernity. (For more on Christopher Columbus and how kinda terrible he was, look at this really great comic from The Oatmeal).

In protest of celebrating Christopher Columbus, instead I think we should celebrate these 20 tech pioneers whose contributions to our society are inevitably essential to our everyday lives, or have changed our expectations for what technology can accomplish.

Charles Babbage

The so-called “father of the computer” himself. Babbage created the very first mechanical computer.

Tim Berners-Lee

The inventor of the World Wide Web. He also invented the very first Web browser (Nexus), the hypertext markup language (HTML), and the hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP).

Nathaniel Borenstein

Borenstein invented the Multipurpose Internet Mail Extension (MIME) protocol that gave users the ability to format e-mail and allow for the creation of the e-mail attachment.

Sergey Brin & Larry Page


(via Glogster)

The ones responsible for creating the Google search engine, and consequently turning that into a much, much larger and wider venture.

Marty Cooper


(via CommsMEA)

The “father of the cell phone”. While working for Motorola, Cooper created the Motorola DynaTAC – the world’s very first handheld mobile phone.

Bill Gates


(via Forbes)

Cofounded Microsoft in 1975 with Paul Allen, was responsible for creating Microsoft’s first program (BASIC), and is essential for turning Microsoft into the leading software company in the world.

Richard Greenblatt and Bill Gosper


Richard Greenblatt (left, via Chess Programming Wiki) and Bill Gosper (right, via Gosper.org)

They are often considered the founders of the hacker community. Greenblatt wrote Mac Hack, the very first computer software to play tournament-level chess.

Steve Jobs

Apple Announces iTunes For PC Computers

(via KQED)

Founded Apple Computing Inc. in 1976 with Steve Wozniak. Oversaw the development of the iMac, iTunes, iPod, iPhone, and iPad, and turned Apple into one of the world’s leading companies.

Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf

We literally would not have the Internet without these two. They’re the ones responsible for creating the Transmission Control Protocol and the Internet Protocol (TCP/IP).

Robert Metcalfe

He created the Ethernet, y’all!

Admiral Grace Murray Hopper

One of the very first programmers, she developed the COmmon Business Oriented Language (COBOL), created the first compiler program, and popularized the term “debugging” after finding the first computer [literal] bug – a moth stuck in the contactors of the giant Mark II calculator.

John von Neumann


(via Famous Scientist)

The man responsible for a computer architecture in which the program should be stored in the computer’s memory along with the data, in the same address space.

Robert Noyce


(via Inc)

He was the co-inventor of the integrated circuit/microchip. He cofounded Fairchild Semiconductor and the Intel Corporation, essentially giving Silicon Valley its name.

Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie


(via Knullen)

They were the guys responsible for the creation of UNIX. Today, UNIX and UNIX-like operating systems, such as Linux, Android and Mac OS, are built on the the initial work created by Thompson and Ritchie.

Alan Turing


(via Princeton)

The father of computer science and artificial intelligence, the Turing machine essentially formed the concepts of “algorithm” and “computation”.

Steve Wozniak

Started Apple Computing Inc. in 1976 with Steve Jobs. He invented the Apple I and Apple II computers, which set the stage for the personal computing revolution.

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Written by:
Ronald Barba was the previous managing editor of Tech.Co. His primary story interests include industry trends, consumer-facing apps/products, the startup lifestyle, business ethics, diversity in tech, and what-is-this-bullsh*t things. Aside from writing about startups and entrepreneurship, Ronald is interested in 'Doctor Who', Murakami, 'The Mindy Project', and fried chicken. He is currently based in New York because he mistakenly studied philosophy in college and is now a "writer". Tweet @RonaldPBarba.
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