Looking back at tech pioneers we lost in 2015

We look back at some of the tech visionaries that passed away this year.

Many of the tech pioneers that we lost this year had something to do with many of our daily activities - whether its texting someone or withdrawing cash from a bank. We take a look back at some of their achievements.


David Goldberg

CEO of SurveyMonkey and husband of Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg

Died 1 May, aged 47 of a head injury while exercising

David Goldberg, a former Yahoo executive, joined SurveyMonkey in 2009 and expanded the company from 12 employees to more than 450 and SurveyMonkey went on to get over 15 million users for its freemium service.  He widely supported his wife, Sheryl Sandberg’s efforts to promote equality for women in the workplace. One of Goldberg’s last ever interviews can be read here.


Hermann Zapf

German typographer and calligrapher

Died 4 June, aged 96

Hermann Zapf hugely influenced typography in the digital age. He predicted that computers would make digital typefaces possible. Palatino, one of his best known fonts is used in the Abercrombie & Fitch logo. His other font, Optima is found on Estee Lauder packaging.

Palatino, Optima and Zapfino are on Macintosh computers and also Windows software.


Matti Makkonen

“Father of SMS”

Died 26 June, age 63 of an illness

Matti Makkonen, a Finnish national came up with the original idea for SMS in 1984. But he refused to take full credit for the invention, saying he considered the development a joint effort and that it was “Nokia who helped to popularise the service”.  


Caspar Bowden

Anti-surveillance campaigner and former head of privacy at Microsoft

Died 9 July, aged 53 of cancer

Before anyone had even heard of Edward Snowden, it was Caspar Bowden that warned of online state snooping and he ran a successful campaign to prevent surveillance laws from becoming worse. Journalists and campaigners alike praised Bowden’s “rare combination of intellectual rigor and the passion of a human rights activist”.


Satoru Iwata

Nintendo President

Died 11 July, aged 55 of cancer

Satoru Iwata, a talented video-gamer brought the appeal of video games to a wider audience. He was unique for being the industry’s only corporate executive with real hands-on game-creation experience. During his time at Nintendo, he was responsible for launching some of the company’s most successful products, the Nintendo DS in 2004, which became the world’s best-selling handheld game console, and two years later the Nintendo Wii.


Nat Billington

Computer entrepreneur

Died 1 September, aged 44 of cancer

Nat Billington was warned by his grandfather that “computers will never last” but Billington was undeterred and went on to found corporate websites like British Airways, and design systems for 10 Downing Street and BT. In his later years, he focused more on green technologies to bring solar power to remote African villages.


Gene Amdahl

Architect of the IBM System/360

Died 10 November, aged 92 of pneumonia

Gene Amdahl went from growing up on a South Dakota farm to joining IBM in the 1960s and designing a series of revolutionary mainframes known as the IBM System/360. This was a major step forward in data processing as it linked machines of different sizes and speeds with a common computing language. It is still bringing in large revenues for IBM 50 years later. Our Editorial Director, Martin Veitch met Amdahl in the early 2000s and recalls Amdahl being convinced that the “PC era would never have dominated business computing if IBM hadn’t been so greedy on pricing”.


Hank Williams

Entrepreneur and diversity advocate

Died 15 November, aged 50 of a viral heart infection

Hank Williams spent the last three decades campaigning for greater inclusion of women and ethnic diversity in the tech industry. He founded Platform org, in order to increase the interest and participation of women, blacks and Latinos in the tech industry.


And not forgetting…

Tony Verna (inventor of instant replay, died 18 January, aged 81)

Charles H. Townes (laser inventor, died 27 January, aged 99)

Adam Chowaniec (tech pioneer, died 13 February, aged 64)

Steve Bristow (Atari pioneer, died 22 February, aged 65)

Joseph Lechleider (inventor of DSL, died 18 April, aged 82)

Joshua Greenberg (Grooveshark founder, died 19 July, aged 28)

Joseph F. Traub (computer scientist, died 24 August, aged 83)

Michael D. Hammond (co-founder of Gateway, died 29 October, aged 53)

Rob Blokzijl (internet pioneer, died 1 December, aged 72)

Joseph F. Engelberger (developer of first industrial robot, died 1 December, aged 90)