The Strange Case of the Danish Aarhus Mafia
There’s something sublime in the state of Denmark.
It is a tiny country (5.8m population today - the same size as Singapore where I am from) but it has had an abnormally large impact on computer science and therefore the world. Here is a selection of Danish programming language and compiler pioneers (in no particular order):
- Bjarne Stroustrup: Creator of C++
- Rasmus Lerdorf: Coauthor of PHP
- Anders Hejlsberg: Creator of Turbo Pascal, Delphi, J++, C#, TypeScript
- Mads Tofte: Coauthor of Standard ML
- Peter Naur: of the Backus-Naur form and ALGOL 60
- Per Brinch Hansen: created Concurrent Pascal
- Poul-Henning Kamp: creator of MD5crypt, malloc, Varnish, and others
- David Heinemeier Hansson: creator of Ruby on Rails
- Lars and Jens Rasmussen: creators of Google Maps
- Lars Bak and Kasper Lund: coauthors of V8 (Chrome, Node.js, MongoDB), and Dart/Flutter.
I also of course have had the privilege of working for Mathias Biilmann and Christian Bach, both from Denmark.
Many were born in Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital and biggest city, but Brian LeRoux notes that many of the JVM team were from Aarhus. Lars and Kasper’s V8 team of about 70 was sited in Aarhus. Bjarne, the Rasmussen brothers, and the V8 duo are actually from Aarhus University, though there is decent representation from other Danish universities too.
Anders, the overachiever of the group, speculates: ”Could it be because the winters and long and dark and there are no mountains to go ski, so you might as well design programming languages?”. This is of course a joke, but I won’t lie and say I didn’t have a peek to see what neighboring countries (Finland - Linus Torvalds, Norway - Håkon Wium Lie) did. The lowlands “no mountains” thesis is perhaps important, so I also checked out the Netherlands (Guido van Rossum, Bert Bos, Edsger Dijkstra).
I find it interesting that the Lego Group is also from Denmark.
It’s like the Danes are obsessed with giving the world basic building blocks.