Famous Figures in Computer Science

By Ryan Koss

ralph-baer
A game maker for the ages: Ralph Baer developed the Magnavox Odyssey game system, the first real home computer game system. (Mr. Baer passed away on Dec. 6, 2014 at age 92.)

He may not be a household name, but chances are his legacy lives on in your living room. Ralph Baer is best known for creating the world’s first home video game system, known as the Odyssey, which went on to sell more than 100,000 units in its first year of production.

The Man Who Created Video Game Consoles
Baer envisioned a box that, when connected to a typical television, allowed users to play interactive games on their TV. His prototype consisted of a master control unit and two player-controls. At the time, many electronics manufacturers did not see the potential in video games, but Magnavox invested in Baer’s work, leading to the world’s first video game system. The Magnavox Odyssey was released in 1972 and boasted a library of 27 game titles, like Wipeout and Simon Says.

Since then, Baer’s work has been succeeded by modern game systems like Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s Playstation 4, driving a game industry expected to be worth more than $100 billion by 2017.

margaret-hamilton-nasa
The code she programmed got Apollo 11 to the moon and back safely, and stacked up as tall as she was. Margaret Hamilton, a pioneering computer scientist and early champion of women in tech.

Pioneer of Software Engineering and Space Exploration
After earning a Mathematics degree from Earlham College in 1958, Margaret Hamilton soon began research at NASA.

Like outer space, software engineering was uncharted territory in the 1960s, but NASA and Hamilton were determined to change this. Her task was huge: Develop the computer programming that would allow astronauts to successfully land on the moon.

Hamilton went on to develop the tools and systems required to create the on-board guidance software which helped astronauts successfully navigate to and from the moon. During the lunar landing, an error caused the computers of Apollo 11 to become overwhelmed, triggering an alarm. Luckily, Margaret Hamilton had programmed her software with priority scheduling, allowing the Apollo 11 to carry out the necessary functions required for a safe landing. Her imaginative programming saved the mission.

On July 20, 1969, astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong became the first people to walk on the moon, largely thanks to the the work of Margaret Hamilton. Her work helped establish the term “software engineering,” as she paved the way for computer scientists everywhere, making her one of the most prominent female scientists of all time.

brendan-eich
The whole world drinks what he brews: JavaScript creator Brendan Eich.

JavaScript: The Web Language
Soon after attending Santa Clara University in Silicon Valley, Brendan Eich began work for Netscape Communications, creators of the then-popular Netscape Web browser. Given the task of creating dynamic Web pages, Eich began to work on a new programming language, codenamed “Mocha.”

Eich’s programming language soon became known as JavaScript. Since its creation in 1995, its reputation as the language of the Web has only grown. Its ability to program the behavior of Web pages has made it a versatile tool and something that all serious Web developers must learn. Brendan Eich is currently the Chief Technical Officer at Mozilla Corp., responsible for the creation of the popular Firefox Web browser.

(Computer science all-stars like Ralph Baer, Margaret Hamilton and Brendan Eich all found rewarding and exciting careers in computer science…and you can, too. Start this summer by attending one of Digital Media Academy’s computer tech camps, where you can discover how easy and fun programming is and learn how to program mind-blowing apps and cool games in no time. All it takes is the right instruction and equipment, like you get at DMA.)

Plus…Check out our special Hour of Code report on America’s best computer science schools, including university rankings, tuition costs and 30-year return on investment. Essential reading for aspiring comp sci majors and their parents.