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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?

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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
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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
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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
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111 Answers

In the gaming world:

  • Jon Van Caneghem - Known for the Might and Magic series, he single-handedly wrote, designed and developed the first entry in the series, with just a little help for artwork.
  • Dan Bunten - Created M.U.L.E., Seven Cities of Gold and a variety of other games, again, back in the early days when game designers were one-man (and, come 1992 for her, one-woman) armies.
  • Bill Budge - Created Pinball Construction Set, alongside many other games. From scratch. Himself. A great Gamasutra piece on PCS's legacy was published recently.

Not to mention all the Atari alumni who went on to Activision. Remember: In the early days, these were all one-man jobs.

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A lot of early games were one-man-shows. The last couple assembly language games I worked on had 3 or 4 people. This was before source control and we had nightmarish Friday code integrations. –  Nosredna Feb 10 '09 at 3:00
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Bram Moolenaar -- wrote almost all of VIM by himself :]

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Curse the day! I am still avoiding vim, but it's always waiting in ambush. –  Yar Jun 29 '09 at 18:06
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John McCarthy -- wrote the first version of lisp

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ICBW, but I thought he designed it as a language to run on a chalkboard. One/more of his students surprised him by actually implementing it. –  Alister Bulman Apr 10 '09 at 19:37
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+1 - the original implementation of 'eval' was done by a grad student. –  ConcernedOfTunbridgeWells Jun 19 '09 at 8:43
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That grad student was Steve Russell, and it was for the IBM 704. He's also the creator of Spacewar!, one of the first video games. –  Andrew Gwozdziewycz Feb 12 '11 at 22:40
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Nick Bradbury. He wrote HomeSite, TopStyle, and FeedDemon. All three programs top notch. Plus, he pays a lot of attention to his users - that can't be easy for a one-man shop.

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Joe Hewitt, creator of Firebug and DOM Inspector.

I love Firebug. It made web page debugging way easier.

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I can't believe I'm the first person to mention this:

Alan Turing

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Simon Tatham wrote PuTTY. Arguably, one of the most popular [citation needed] windows SSH clients.

Matt Wright wrote a lot of (in)famous Perl scripts that are still in use.

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Markus Frind CEO of Plentyoffish.com

One man show . Created one of largest dating site by himself using asp.net Gross upwards of 30k day .

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Al Gore - He wrote the entire Internet!

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Aww, c'mon. It was a fluff question. Fluff answers should get some love too. –  JohnFx Mar 4 '09 at 23:33
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They're just trying to reward you with a Peer Pressure badge. :) –  chaos Mar 11 '09 at 3:11
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There are so many great answers here, but I'll add in my own suggestions, and these come from the 1980's heydays of computer games on the Commodore 64:

Andrew Braybrook (Paradroid, Morpheus, Gribbly's Day Out)

Archer MacLean (Jimmy White's Snooker, Dropzone)

Stavros Fasoulas (Sanxion, Delta)

Martin Walker (Citadel)

Jon Hare/Chris Yates (aka Sensible Software) (Wizball, Sensible Soccer)

Ok, that last one is more of a "two-man" army, however, many of these guys worked (mostly) alone, coded mostly in assembler (6510) and also did sound, music and graphics all by themselves.

(Useless trivia - My gravatar is Gribbly Grobbly from Gribbly's day out!)

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+1 because i loved sensible soccer :)) –  Shadi Almosri Jun 17 '09 at 16:48
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Richard Greenblatt, wrote much stuff at MIT AI Lab, including chess program, Lisp Machine, etc. etc.

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Also mentioned in the book hackers, by Steven Levy. Always yield to the Hands-On Imperative! –  tsilb Feb 9 '09 at 23:14
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Has anyone mentioned Gary Kildall (CP/M) or are you guys too young to remember?

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Shawn Fanning, creator of Napster.

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Charles Babbage - Originator of the concept of a programmable computer.

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Walter Bright was once a one-man show for several years when it came to Digital Mars' C++ compiler. He also started the D language and wrote a C++ version of Empire by himself (later ported it to D).

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Markus Persson (aka Notch) for Minecraft.

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Derek Smart of Battlecruiser 3000AD was pretty big in his day. Apparently he was pretty good at flame wars too...

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Juan Valdez. Ok, he did't wrote a single line of code. But he helped to code most of apps that we use today.

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Matthew Smith, wrote Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy all on his lonesome.

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My $0.02: Cleve Moler - original author of MATLAB.

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Steve Streeting whom created Ogre3D, the Object-Oriented Graphics Rendering Engine.

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Simon Peyton Jones - Functional programming researcher and original author of the Glasgow Haskell Compiler.

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Shaun Inman I guess he was solo

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Doug Cutting

Started Lucene, started Nutch, created Hadoop after Google publish there paper on Map Reduce...

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Al Lowe for Leisure Suit Larry series :) Will Wright for SimCity and finally David Braben for Elite

Perhaps Ron Gilbert should also get a mention for bringing the world Monkey Island (tm)

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D. Richard Hipp for SQLite, the lemon parser, Fossil and a lot of tcl/tk work.

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Bill Atkinson wrote MacPaint for the original Macintosh.

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