Ken Olsen -- Digital Equipment Corporation. With a $60,000 loan, Grace Hopper as an adviser and the notion of time-sharing computers in his mind, he built DEC into a $13 billion corporation. Even at its peak he would land at a table in the cafe and eat lunch with whoever was at the table. He never behaved as though he was better than anybody else.
More than 10 years after it was broke up and sold off I still miss that company.
An old timer still going at it.
I'm sure many people will rightfully cite Donald Knuth ("The Art of Computer Programming"), Brian Kernighan and Ken Thompson (Unix), Dennis Ritchie ("C"), Bill Gates & Paul Allen (Microsoft, MS-BASIC), C. Wayne Ratliff (dBase), Mitchell Kapor (Lotus 1-2-3), Charles Petzold (Windows Programming), and even Steve Wozniak & Steve Jobs (Apple) as their heroes.
I'd like to throw in Anders Hejlsberg as my hero for authoring one of the most influential programs of all time: Turbo Pascal. Until then, the only programming environment most people had access to was some version of BASIC or hand coding assembly language programs. Other environments were available (COBOL, FORTRAN, C, Pascal) but at the cost of hundreds or thousands of dollars putting them out of the reach of most hobbyists.
The introduction of Turbo Pascal was significant not just because of its technical prowess and speed but also because of its price point -- less than a $100. Not only did this expose many developers -- both hobbyist and professional -- to a great language and tool set at little expense, but it also opened the door to other lower cost development tools and inspired the creation of such cousins as Turbo C, QuickC, QuickBASIC and MASM that helped forge a cottage industry of software houses that lead to where we are today.
Without Turbo Pascal who's to say how long it would've taken to get here, if ever, and to make so many of us nerds rich? So my hat's off to Anders Hejlsberg. Thank you!
Doug, that figures out to a PC for every 126 people on the planet, so you should get that the economy is not back on track. We are not replacing any PCs this year because there is no money to do so. Sales on some equipment is better, cheap net books and such, but no one is buying a lot. Windows 7 doesn't even factor into the equation. We are only replacing equipment that fails. Nothing else. And that will continue for the foreseeable future.