Who’s Your IT Idol?

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Everyone needs role models, so in a recent CertMag Web poll, we put the following question to our readers: Who is the “IT idol,” singing and dancing ability notwithstanding? All of our readers’ selections have qualities IT professionals can admire and respect, whether it’s Steve Jobs’ nearly religious zeal or Bill Gates’ ability to accumulate large piles of money.

Bill Gates—Microsoft Founder
Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who garnered close to half of the votes in the survey, came in first (surprise, surprise). Gates, who also happens to be the richest man in the world according to Forbes Magazine, is a figure who seems to inspire a great deal of, um, interest. The Internet has a number of wealth calculators and charts solely devoted to showing how much he’s really worth; for a really good one, see evan.quuxuum.org/bgnw.html. (Gee, fellas, if you dedicated as much time and energy to building your own wealth as you did to evaluating Gates’, you might be as rich as he is.) Gates undeniably does have a great deal of business sense to go along with his computer expertise, and in an environment where IT personnel are increasingly pressured to understand the company’s big picture, he certainly can be considered a model for emulation.

Fun Facts



  • Owns the “Codex Leicester,” a 500-year-old collection of Leonardo da Vinci’s writings on topics like astronomy, characteristics of water and geology.
  • Is a board member of Berkshire Hathaway, an investment conglomerate operated by Warren Buffet, who is the second-richest person in the world.
  • Has donated billions of dollars of his personal fortune to causes ranging from minority scholarships to medical treatment of diseases like AIDS and poliomyelitis (polio) in third-world countries.


Quotable Gates
“Microsoft has had clear competitors in the past. It’s a good thing we have museums to document that.”


Linus Torvalds—Creator of Linux
Coming in second in our IT idol poll was Linus Torvalds, author of the original Linux kernel. Torvalds’ open-source OS, first announced in 1991, has become a favorite among techies. It also is popular with governments–such as the People’s Republic of China–and other organizations with limited resources. Due largely to his open-source philosophy and his good-humored, self-effacing nature, Torvalds has developed something of a cult following. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, though. For example, his minimal personal Web site (www.cs.helsinki.fi/u/torvalds/) features little more than photographs of his daughter Patricia Miranda–jokingly referred to as “Linus v2.0”–and a picture of Linux’s penguin mascot Tux that occasionally blinks.

Fun Facts:



  • Is the grandson of Finnish poet Ole Trovalds.
  • Is married to Tove Torvalds, a six-time Finnish national Karate champion.
  • Was voted 17th in Time Magazine’s “Person of the Century” readers poll in 2000 (behind the likes of Winston Churchill), and ranked 16th in Finnish national television station’s YLE’s “100 Greatest Finns” poll (behind the likes of Vaino Myllyrinne, who, at 248 cm, was the tallest Finn ever recorded).


Quotable Torvalds: <BR“(T)he Linux philosophy is ‘laugh in the face of danger.’ Oops. Wrong one. ‘Do it yourself.’ That’s it.”


Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak—Co-Founders of Apple
Apple Computers co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak placed third and fourth in the survey, respectively. Not unlike early 1960s rock ’n’ roll bands, the pair got started in Job’s family’s garage, where the Apple I prototype was “born.” This environment might have been the impetus for their anti-conformity ethos that would be imitated by so many IT professionals who followed. One of the most unique characteristics about Jobs is the extreme passion he has for his work, which can sometimes blind him to practical considerations. Many employees at Apple have waxed comical about his “reality distortion field.” However, this enthusiasm has been a key element in both Apple’s initial rise and its resurgence in recent years. Wozniak, or the “Wizard of Woz,” authored the majority of the software that operated early Apple computers, but retired from the company in 1985. More recently, Wozniak provided students in the Los Gatos School District in California with IT equipment and instruction, and helped establish the Tech Museum, the Silicon Valley Ballet and the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose. For more information on Jobs, see www.geocities.com/franktau. Woz’s Web site is www.woz.org.

Fun Facts About Jobs:



  • Also the chairman and CEO of Pixar, the company behind highly successful movies such as “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo” and “The Incredibles.”
  • Worked at video game company Atari (Pitfall, anyone?) prior to starting Apple Computers with Steve Wozniak.
  • As CEO of Apple, works for an annual salary of $1, making him the “Lowest Paid Chief Executive Officer” in the Guinness Book of World Records.


Fun Facts About Wozniak:



  • Still reads the Tom Swift novels—featuring a young adventurer/inventor protagonist—that inspired him as a boy.
  • Built his own amateur radio station at the age of 11.
  • Is a member of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, located in Akron, Ohio.


Quotable Jobs:
“We used to dream about this stuff. Now, we get to build it. It’s pretty great.”

Quotable Wozniak:
“Some great people are leaders and others are more lucky, in the right place at the right time. I’d put myself in the latter category.”


Do you have a different IT idol? Let me know at brians@certmag.com.



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