Top 50 Tech Visionaries

Gordon Moore (#11) to Michael Dell (#18)

11. Gordon Moore

Gordon Moore
You can't go wrong with a guy who's got his own scientific law, can you? Moore's Law, posited in 1965, three years before Gordon Moore founded a little company called Intel, predicted that the number of components on a computer chip would double every year (later, he amended it to every two years). As Intel notes, Moore's Law remains the "guiding principle for the semiconductor industry"; but, in truth, every field of high-tech--from hard drives to TVs--validates to some degree the almighty Law of Moore. Moore remains involved with Intel, which--at 40 years old--may be number one on the list of companies that Silicon Valley could not exist without.

12. Bill Atkinson

Bill Atkinson
Photograph: Courtesy of Bill Atkinson
Mouse up to your PC's File menu, open a new window, and thank Bill Atkinson for being able to do that. His early ideas regarding user interface design elements like the menu bar became graphical user interface standbys not just on Apple computers (where he worked), but on every major operating system that has followed. As a programmer, Atkinson designed MacPaint, QuickDraw, and HyperCard, a sort of proto-Web system that clearly inspired the creation of the World Wide Web. After starting his own company, General Magic, Atkinson mostly retired from tech to work as a nature photographer.

13. Steve Case

Steve Case
Photograph: Courtesy of The Case Foundation
Don't laugh. The brainchild of Steve Case, America Online was a big deal back in the early 1990s. The timing was perfect for a service that offered online training wheels for millions of intrigued but trepid people looking for an introduction to the World Wide Web. AOL pioneered more than just the chat rooms for which it became infamous. Case launched Neverwinter Nights--one of the first MMOs (massively multiplayer online games)--was an early champion of user avatars, and (most notoriously) started the blending of online and big media by selling out to Time Warner in 2001. Not such great timing there, alas.

14. Martin Cooper

Martin Cooper
Photograph: Courtesy of Rico Chen
Quick, check your pockets. Whether you're toting an iPhone, a Razr, or an enV, you owe a debt to Martin Cooper and his 1973 patent responsible for the mobile phone as we know it. His invention, created during his tenure at Motorola, weighed just shy of 2 pounds, and ten years would pass before mobile phones broke the 1-pound barrier. Cooper is still active in the telephone business. His company ArrayComm develops antenna technology so today's 2-ounce phones can reach their network.

15. Nolan Bushnell

Nolan Bushnell
Photograph: Courtesy of uWink
Atari is synonymous with video gaming--so much so that the name remains in use (though now far removed from founder Nolan Bushnell, the undisputed father of video gaming) 36 years after it originated. Bushnell's inspiration--a world where everyone could play games in the comfort of their own home--is a rare instance where the vision panned out almost exactly as envisioned. Though no one is thrilling over Atari's consoles any more, Atari and Bushnell paved the way for every video game platform that has followed.

16. Vint Cerf

Vint Cerf
Photograph: Courtesy of Google
Turing Award. National Medal of Technology. Presidential Medal of Freedom. Vint Cerf has one of the most impressive résumés in technology. Cerf's work as an Internet pioneer has largely taken place in universities and government agencies, which in the early 1970s led directly to the creation of ARPANet, the predecessor to today's Internet. Cerf now works for--who else?--Google.

17. Don Estridge

Don Estridge
Photograph: Courtesy of IBM
IBM veteran Don Estridge is widely known as "the father of the PC," at least in its Big Blue incarnation. Estridge developed a number of computer systems, even tinkering with NASA radar equipment. But he is best known for his work as a manager--leading a "skunk works" staff of just 14 people that ultimately produced the IBM PC, an "open" platform that could run third-party software and accept third-party upgrades, that would become the standard for business. Tragically, Estridge died in a plane crash in 1985 and never saw his creation achieve ubiquity.

18. Michael Dell

Michael Dell
Photograph: Courtesy of Dell
The origin story of Dell Computer Corporation is so well-known it has become part of the canon of the tech business. Michael Dell started his company, PC's Limited, at age 19 out of his dorm room at the University of Texas. Eventually he dropped out of school to found Dell Computer, which grew at breakneck pace throughout the 1990s. Dell's marketing philosophy turned the industry on its ear: Rather than offer predetermined configurations, Dell's machines were totally customizable and built to order. Eventually almost every competing PC manufacturer followed suit--or went out of business.

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