As another year comes to a close, it’s time to take a look back on the tech leaders and industry pioneers that we have lost over the course of the year. The following is listed in alphabetical order.
Founder of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC)
October 1929 – January 2019
Harlan Anderson was an early computing innovator who co-founded the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), which was the world’s first mini computer company. DEC experienced significant success as an organisations, rising to become the second largest computer company in the world at its peak. After he left DEC, Anderson became the Director of Technology for Time, Inc. He later established a career in small-scale venture capital for tech start-ups, participating in the early stage financing of over 20 small technology companies.
Harlan Anderson died on the 30th of January, aged 89.
Author of the Erlang programming language
December 1950 – April 2019
Best known as the co-creators of the Erlang programming language at Ericsson, Joe Armstrong was a well-regarded computer scientist within the programming community. Shortly after its development, Armstrong conceived an idea to write a book on the language – titled Concurrent Programming in Erlang – instead of just an internal manual for the company, which preluded the language becoming open-source in 1998. These two factors led to Erlang receiving widespread uptake and thus increasing development through open source communities. While the language is now used by Ericsson to develop 4G and 5G mobile networks, networking giant Cisco is one of many institutions to use the language in wide circulation – shipping about 2 million devices per year with Erlang in them.
Joe Armstrong died from complications of pulmonary fibrosis on the 20th of April, aged 68.
Designer of the world’s first high-level programming language
September 1925 – November 2019
As a pioneer of computer programming and education, Tony Brooker is most widely known for his work in designing and implementing the world’s first high-level programming language. Working at Manchester University, Brooker developed the language, dubbed the mark 1 Autocode, when took over the task of writing programming manuals and running a user service on the Ferranti Mark 1 computer from Alan Turing. The machine was formidably difficult to program before this, taking two weeks for a novice to get up to speed with it. With the Autocode, Brooker reduced this to half a day of learning time. Later on, Brooker, together with colleague Derrick Morris, also invented the compiler-compiler, which was used to automate the production of a compiler and ended up being a milestone in the development of programming in the 1960s.
Tony Brooker died on the 20th of November, aged 94
Electronic engineer and claimed mouse inventor
November 1922 – May 2019
Ralph Benjamin was a British engineer that had a legitimate claim to being the inventor of the computer mouse. While the mouse is widely attributed to American engineer Doug Engelbart as he patented a more familiar version of the device, Benjamin stated that he had built a mouse-like prototype in 1946, while working as a Royal Navy technician. The device was known to his team as a “tracker ball”, and was a stationary, upside-down version of the mouse we might recognise today, allowing the user to move a cursor on a radar screen by sliding their hand over a metal ball. Noting it’s influence on the mouse’s design; several defence historians have recognised the tracker ball as the first iteration of the computer mouse, before Engelbart’s version.
Ralph Benjamin died on the 7th of May, aged 96.
Computer scientist and graphical computing pioneer
December 1937 – August 2019.
Danny Cohen was an accomplished computer scientist that, amongst other achievements, created the first visual flight simulator. Cohen developed his simulator in the early 1970s, when graphical computing was really somewhat of a rarity. While the sim was somewhat basic by today’s standards, it was extremely advanced for its time and took more than a decade before it was bested (when home gaming consoles came to the fore). The first flight simulator wasn’t Cohen’s only achievement though, as he also introduced the concept of endianness to compsci through his 1980 paper “On holy wars and a plea for peace”. In addition, Cohen carried out some early work on “digital voice teleconferencing” in 1978, which was somewhat of a precursor to VOIP services such as Skype.
Danny Cohen died due to Parkinson’s disease on the 12 of August, he was 81.
Kenyan Telecoms Mogul
January 1958 – July 2019
As the Chief Executive of east Africa’s largest and most profitable mobile network Safaricom, Bob Collymore was an influential figure within the global telecommunications industry. Born in Guyana, Collymore helped guide Kenyan telecoms firm Safaricom through a long period of expansion and success, overseeing a 380% increase in profits and a doubling of its userbase. Collymore helped to make Safaricom a $10.8 billion company which contributed 6.5% to Kenya’s global GDP in 2018. Under Collymore’s leadership, Safaricom also brought payment services to millions of Kenyans who were excluded from the banking system, turning the country (as well as other parts of east Africa) into pioneers of cashless payments well before big-tech payment services were available.
Bob Collymore died of Acute Myeloid Leukemia in his home on the 1st of July. He was 61.
Computer security expert
July 1926 – July 2019
As the first person to implement the use of passwords, Fernando Corbato is about as much of a pioneer to the realm of cyber security as one could be. Corbato first used passwords when he was developing ‘Compatible Time-Sharing System’ (CTSS) which was designed to allow more than one person to use a single computer at the same time. This established ‘compartmentalisation’ and basic privacy, paving the way for the future of digital security in the future. Through Corbato’s CTSS model, a reduction in wait times for computer responses (from hours to seconds) was also achieved, while his Multics time-sharing system also helped to facilitate the future development of Linux, as it allowed finer-grained privacy controls, a hierarchical file system, and other important features.
Fernando Corbato died due to complications of diabetes. He was 93.
Leading early software designer
February 1921 – June 2019
George Felton changed the game in many respects where software design is concerned, managing and largely implementing the design for the Ferranti Pegasus computer, first delivered in 1956. In overseeing what has been dubbed a ‘masterpiece’ of systems programming with the Pegasus, Felton’s work helped to make the use of computer hardware far easier for customers, developing a system that was unprecedented in terms of its completeness. It made a programming system an essential component of computer hardware, at a time when computer manufacturers would only concentrate on the hardware-side of the equation.
George Felton died on the 14th of June 2019, aged 98.
As one of the inventors of the Random Early Detection (RED) algorithm, Sally Floyd played an instrumental role in ensuring the stability of the internet in the 1990s. RED was an enhancement of the work done by Van Jacobson in the 1980s and allowed routers to send a signals to computers telling them that they had enough backlog, effectively saving routers from getting completely overloaded and discarding data. Floyd’s work was extremely influential and continues to play a role in managing congestion on the internet. A paper describing the RED algorithm was published in 1993 and has since been cited in more than 9100 articles, with such a massive number of citations up there with some of the most fundamental papers in computer networking.
Sally Floyd died of metastatic gall bladder cancer, aged 69.
Computer scientist and database expert
November 1953 – November 2019
Hector Garcia-Molina was a professor of computer science that pioneered some of the database technologies that underpin modern-day cloud computing infrastructure. Garcia-Molina started researching a new area of computing – to be later known as distributed data bases – in the late 1970s when such technologies did not exist. After completing his PhD at Stanford University in 1979, he joined the faculty at Princeton, where he helped develop the foundations for Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID) technologies. In the mid-90s, Garcia Molina also helped to launch the Stanford Digital Libraries Project, which was a 10-year effort to develop ways to capture, store and filter the many types of information held in traditional libraries. It was here that he advised then student researchers Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who went on to found Google.
Hector Garcia-Molina died of cancer on the 25th of November on the eve of his 66th birthday.
December 1958 – May 2019
Laurie Hendren was an esteemed computer scientists and inventor of an award-winning app that helps cancer patients better navigate the health system. The application, dubbed ‘Opal’, allows patients to more easily predict and manage wait times and view medical information at the McGill Universtiy Health Centre (MUHC) in Montreal. She was also 2019 recipient of the Dahl-Nygaard Prize (awarded posthumously) – one of the most prestigious awards in computer science – for her 30+ years of contributions to the field of object-orientated programming languages and compilation. In her work, Hendren developed technologies and tools underlying the implementation of a range of programming languages including C, C++, and Java.
Laurie Hendren died of breast cancer on the 27th of May 2019, aged 60.
January 1957 – October 2019
As one of the company’s 2 chief executive officers (alongside Safra Catz), Mark Hurd had been leading Oracle since 2014 right up until September 2019, when he took a leave of absence to focus on his health. He was recruited to the business in 2010 by influential co-founder and Chairman Larry Ellison, who was impressed with his previous tenure at HP. While he was widely credited with making HP into a dominant player in hardware computing during his time there, he resigned from the company amid sexual harassment claims. At Oracle, Hurd worked with Catz to spearhead the company’s campaign to shift focus from being an on-premise database vendor and middleware specialist to a major cloud player. Oracle’s cloud business has now become (as of mid-2019) a $6.8 billion-per-quarter revenue source, making up more than half its earnings.
Mark Hurd died on the 18th of October 2019, aged 62.
Influential computer engineer and Egyptian politician
May 1962 – October 2019
Tarek Camel was an Egyptian politician and influential figure within the global internet community through the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Number (ICANN) and the Internet Society. During his tenure as the manager of Egypt’s Communications and Networking Department at the Cabinet Information and Support Centre (IDSC/RITSEC), he established the country’s first connection to the internet. He also led the introduction of commercial internet services in the region and co-founded the Internet Society of Egypt. Between July 2004 and February 2011, he served as the minister of communications and information technology. His death prompted an outpouring of grief from many within the ICANN community, as he has been recognised for his significant contributions to global internet governance.
Tarek Kamel died on the 10th of October, aged 57
September 1971 – February 2019
The technology and ICT channel industry was shocked to learn of the passing of Roderick Lappin, SVP of Lenovo’s Data Center Group, who passed away suddenly at the age of only 47. Lappin was recognised as a charismatic leader at the tech company, contributing a great legacy to the company’s global business dealings. The Australian-born senior executive had a wealth of experience spanning more than two decades, spending over 5 years at Dell during the early 2000s. He achieved a great deal during his time at Lenovo, with a notably successful tenure in Japan seeing record breaking and market beating revenue growth.
Roderick Lappin died on the 14th of February 2019, aged 47.
Venture capitalist and dot-com tech investor
December 1926 – November 2019
Pete Musser was an influential figure in the early days of venture capital investment in technology companies. Musser started his career at Pennsylvania Bell (which became Verizon) eventually starting several firms of his own, ultimately founding Safeguard Scientifics, which championed a range of tech-focused investments. Over his career, Musser invested in many tech firms across Philadelphia, including QVC, Novell, and Comcast. He led a very successful career in the space, with his net-worth topping $1 billion in the year 2000. He has been recognised as a legend of Philadelphia’s tech and entrepreneurship community, and a role-model that made his name by giving innovative tech firms, and people, a chance.
Pete Musser died on the 25th of November following a cardiac arrest, aged 92
Computer graphics pioneer
May 1939 – June 2019
William Newman was an early pioneer of computer graphics technologies and worked as a member of the team at the Xerox Palo alto Research Center (PARC). He refined and demonstrated the advantages of bitmap graphics and the ‘frame buffer’, developing one of the first interactive programs for producing illustrations and drawings. He also made valuable contributions to the field of human-computer interactions through his book, titled Interactive System Design (co-authored with Michael Lamming).
William Newman died on the 11th of June 2019, aged 80.
Nils John Nilsson
Robotics and AI pioneer
Nils John Nilsson is best known for his foundational work in robotics and artificial intelligence, undertaking pioneering work in the early days of both fields. He served as the Kumagai professor of Engineering, in the Department of Computer Science at Stanford University, where he worked on neural networks and statistical approaches to robotic problem-solving. Nilsson also served in the U.S. Air Force, before joining the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) where he was employed for 23 years.
Nils J Nilsson died on the 23rd of April at his home in Medford, Oregon. He was 86.
Dr Bernard L Peuto
Processor architect – Zilog Z8000
Dr Bernard L Peuto was a computer engineer that developed the Z8000 processor for chipmaker Zilog. The Z8000 was the successor to Zilog’s 8-bit Z80 processor, which was used in the first wave of low-cost microcomputers such as the Spectrum and TRS80. The 16-bit Z8000 – while not as influential as its younger brother – powered several Unix systems including those from Commodore, Olivetti, Onyx, and Zilog’s own System 8000 machines.
Northamber founder and UK tech distribution kingpin
January 1945 – December 2019
David Phillips is credited as being one of the early pioneers of technology hardware and software distribution in the United Kingdom. As founder and long-serving chairman of tech distribution firm Northamber, Phillips was a well-known figure within the UK channel community and instilled a legacy that continues to this day. He started Northamber in 1980 and grew the business by building a team of salespeople that were notoriously tough and effective, while possessing a vendor portfolio that had included IBM, HP, and Fujitsu. The company was at its largest in 2001, when sales were just under £300 million.
David Phillips passed away on the 5th of December following a short illness, aged 74.
Engineer and internet co-creator
December 1937 – December 2018
Widely recognised as one of the internet’s ‘founding fathers‘, Larry Roberts was a key figure in the development of ARPANET, which was the precursor for the internet. Roberts served an instrumental role in creating ARPANET, as he refined the work carried out by Donald Davies in the UK and Paul Baran in the US to implement packet-switching on the network. Packet-switching allows connections to occur by breaking data into discreet chunks (or packets) for transmission over a distributed network layout. This differed from the predominant “circuit-switched” networks at the time, which used dedicated resources end-to-end to enable telecommunication connections. As chief scientist for ARPA in charge of the ARPANET, Roberts worked with packet-switching theorist Lawrence Kleinrock to create the projects first working network of four computers connected to each other in 1969.
Larry Roberts died on the 26th of December (2018) of a Heart Attack. He was 81.
UK business IT pioneer
September 1946 – September 2019
Described as the UK’s first Chief Information Officer, Dr Richard Sykes started his career as a chemist, joining chemicals manufacturing business ICI in 1973. Sykes served in a variety of business leadership roles at ICI before being appointed as the company’s Group Vice President IT and CIO in 1993. From there on out, Sykes played a defining role in the development of business IT leadership skills in the UK until the end of his career. He upheld a firm philosophy that IT could be an instrumental element of business operations and had a vision for how technology could have a transformative effect on a commercial enterprise. After a long stint at ICI, Sykes became Chairman at Morgan Chambers plc (which later became part of KPMG) and subsequently held non-executive Chairman roles at several innovative tech as well as being appointed as a board member of UK technology trade association, and Chairman of the Cloud Industry Forum (CIF).
Richard Sykes died suddenly in September 2019, aged 73