Programmers Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professional programmers interested in conceptual questions about software development. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Lately I have been learning of more and more programmers who think that if they were working alone, they would be faster and would deliver more quality. Usually that feeling is attached to a feeling that they do the best programming in their team and at the end of the day the idea is quite plausible. If they ARE doing the best programming, and worked alone (and more maybe) the final result would be a better piece of software.

I know this idea would only work if you were passionate enough to work 24/7, on a deadline, with great discipline.

So after considering the idea and trying to learn a little more, I wonder if there are famous one-man-army programmers that have delivered any (useful) software in the past?


migrated from Feb 13 '11 at 1:51

This question came from our site for professional and enthusiast programmers.

locked by Yannis Mar 13 '12 at 20:31

This question exists because it has historical significance, but it is not considered a good, on-topic question for this site, so please do not use it as evidence that you can ask similar questions here. This question and its answers are frozen and cannot be changed. More info: help center.

Net productivity drops when hours go to high. Don't assume the best of the best are there merely because they invest more time. If that were the case, anyone could become a great programmer. – Brian Feb 9 '09 at 20:31
@Brian, well yea, i kind of a agree, but your know being persistent and giving a lot of time to (learning and developing) programming is a huge part of the key element of all the famous software – DFectuoso Feb 9 '09 at 20:41
Wow it will be interesting who of this guys will get more votes, its quite an impressive list – DFectuoso Feb 9 '09 at 21:00
Most of the answers are wrong. Anders didn't build C# or Turbo Pascal all by himself, for example. – Robert S. Feb 10 '09 at 2:01
Its weird that the number of votes to close is constant, while this question have 22 up votes and 14 favs, it only needs 4 votes to have it closed huh? – DFectuoso Feb 10 '09 at 17:21

111 Answers 111

Eugene Roshal for creation of FAR file manager, RAR file format and WinRAR file archiver.

Mark Zuckerberg for creation of Facebook.


Wayne Ratliff - dBASE. Best example of foundational PC software, written the hard way (in assembler).


Probably not on the scale of RMS or Carmack, but Jonathan Blow made Braid single-handedly. Look at how the audio and particle systems reverse in sync with the gameplay; it's a pretty neat effort.

I can't imagine Braid without David Hellman's lovely artwork, though. It'd still be tons of fun, but I don't think it would draw you in quite as much as it does now :-). Check out, it's a fascinating read. – Gaurav Feb 13 '09 at 18:03
Wow, thanks - that was indeed fascinating. If only one could upmod comments! – frezned Feb 16 '09 at 0:26

Rich Hickey - author of Clojure.


Wayne Venables, allegedly wrote the Fruitshow forum software in 3 hours

Wayne is the best in my book. – Berlin Brown Feb 10 '09 at 20:09

Arthur Whitney, the developer of the "K" programming language.

Where I heard about him: Superstar programmers

Thought experiment:

The requirement is to build from scratch an SQL engine working on in memory data (take > this as a given. Try to estimate the no. of lines of code (programming language/environment of your choice) this is going to take, and the time it will take you to build it.

Try to estimate the same considering someone you consider good, and someone you consider average.

Scroll down when you've written down your estimates.

Did you ?

Well ?

Using the programming language K, [ ], a 14 line implementation, took Stevan Apter a couple of hours to write; But that's just the backend. You want an SQL interface? Arthur Whitney just published one in [ ], taking all of 20 lines (admittedly, denser than Stevan's); 3 for lexing, ~8 for parsing, the rest for evaluating. I don't know how long it took Arthur, but a day would probably be way too long.


The Build Engine History

The Build engine was written by Ken Silverman in 1994 and has gone through several major enhancements from its initial version. Ken wrote a game named "Ken's Labyrinth" in 1992 which he sent demos of to several games companies. One of those companies was Apogee Software. Apogee wasn't interested in the game but they were interested in the engine. He later started writing a demo named "Build" in 1993 which he also sent out to several companies. Apogee offered him a contract to write the Build engine for them.

Ken has a page on his website which features a timeline outlining the development and events surrounding the Build engine. Ken also has available for download old demos of the engine at various points in it's development and now the full source code!


Dave Cutler

The father of VMS and NT.

Personal note - I consider it a bit of a shame that the world at large doesn't get to see Cutler's code in NT (most of it still lives on today in Windows). It is by far the most gorgeous code I've seen, in any language. I used to look it up when I felt I needed 'code inspiration'. Getting to meet him and work with him in Windows Azure will definitely count as one of the highlights of my Microsoft career.

Not to mention RSX-11m. – Jerry Coffin Feb 13 '11 at 3:32

Paul Lutus (Apple Writer, among others)


dark_alex - though branded as hacker, its still falls under this one-man-army category


Slava Pestov. Factor creator (Factor is one of the most advanced programming languages out there).

Created Jedit (at 15 years old?)

Slava Pestov, born 3 March 1984... jEdit, first release 1998... jaw drops – mmyers Feb 10 '09 at 16:12
That is pretty cool – Berlin Brown Feb 10 '09 at 17:11
I think one of Slava's strengths is that he just keeps going at his breakneck pace year after year. – Matthew Willis Apr 2 '11 at 16:20

Rod Johnson, creator of Spring framework


Peldi Guilizzoni, the creator of Balsamiq--an Adobe AIR application for creating mockups. The blog post with statistical numbers about first (not full) year of company operation provides a lot of information to think about.


John Carmack - No need for introduction ;)

Dave Cutler - Only guy on the planet to have worked on 3 major OS kernels. Not sure if he is a one-man-army kinda guy, but certainly did a lot on his own.

Michael Abrash - Optimization god! If he can't optimize it, it probably can't be done at all!

Tim Sweeney - Unreal Engine (Currently working alone on the 4th generation of Unreal Technology)

Steve Wozniak - Apple's one-many-army

DC - RSX-11M, VMS, VAXELN & WNT, which one are you leaving out? – C.W.Holeman II Feb 21 '10 at 0:07
-1: Cutler was in no way a one-man army. – John Saunders Feb 12 '11 at 22:39

Jordan Mechner

He programmed first Prince of Persia games. All animations on those games were based on his brother's moves. I guess he isn't programming anymore.


Ivan Sutherland, inventor of Sketchpad.

I once asked Ivan Sutherland "How could you possibly have done the first interactive graphics program, the first non-procedural programming language, the first object-oriented software system all in one year?" He said "Well, I didn't know it was hard".

- Alan Kay


Dan Bricklin inventor of the "electronic spreadsheet" i.e. VisiCalc which "inspired" Microsoft among others to "invent" similar software i.e. Excel.

Richard Bartle for inventing MUD which is the great grandfather of all MMORPGs.

VisiCalc came out on the Apple II first. Excel's Mac version came out first as well. – radarbob Feb 14 '12 at 4:59

DJ Delorie for DJGPP? Although I'm not sure if that was a one man job. As Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen pointed out in the comments to this answer, although the port is very impressive, it is a port of GCC, which is a major example of multi-person group effort.

djgpp is a port of gcc which is a team effort. Still just the port is impressive. – user1249 Oct 12 '11 at 6:16

Most of the notable hackers of the world for good or ill:

Eric Corley, Kevin Mitnick, Solar Designer, Lamo? Poulson?


Didier Dambrin: Original creator of FruityLoops. Written in Delphi.


Nasir Gebelli wrote some of the early great Apple II games: Gorgon, Space Eggs, Firebird and Zenith (and many others.)


Kernighan, Ritchie, James Clark, Audrey Tang. Bob Scheifler and Jim Gettys (X11). Jon Bentley. John Ousterhout (tcl/tk).


Matt Mullenweg?

Created WordPress, BBPress (wrote in a few days), etc.

Pretty influential in web development with regard to weblogs. Doing well for a 25 y/o.

From a technical view wordpress is not really impressive.. but it works great none the less :P – Chris Feb 18 '10 at 4:12

Nick Bradbury the creator of HomeSite, TopStyle and FeedDemon.


Jeff Minter. He's been programming video games and music light synthesizers since the early 1980's. While he does work with another programmer now, he was a one-man-show for many years. His most impressive feat IMHO? Writing Tempest 3000 for the defunct Nuon, in assembler.

If you own an Xbox 360, you have some of his code.


I've always been impressed by Scawen Roberts, who has been single-handedly programming the game Live for Speed for the last five or so years.


Donald Knuth, Ken Thompson, RMS, linus torvalds, Fabrice Bellard, ZeroCool :)


Paul Lutus the father of Apple Writter for the Apple II


Peter Blum, creator of a nice collection of very useful custom ASP.NET controls. On top of everything else he does, his documentation is some of the most detailed I've ever seen even outdoing Microsoft's in granularity. And yet he still does it all himself.


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.