Inventor of FORTRAN, the oldest high level programming language still in use today. John Backus was born in 1924 in Philadelphia. He was not a good student, and was expelled from the University of Virginia. In 1942, he joined the army.

After his stint in the Army, Backus went back to college at Columbia University to study Mathematics. In 1949, he was hired at the IBM to work on the Selective Sequence Electronic Calculator, one of IBM's first electronic computers.

In 1953, Backus started the design of a high level language for IBM's new computer, the 704. In 1954, he and his colleagues published a paper: "Preliminary Report, Specifications for the IBM Mathematical FORmula TRANslating System, FORTRAN." FORTRAN was completed in 1956, and went with every IBM 704 computer. Needless to say, it was a huge success.

After writing FORTRAN, Backus turned his attention to formal language theory, and in 1959, developed the notation now called the "Backus-Naur Form (BNF)."

In 1977, Backus received the ACM Turing award for "profound, influential, and lasting contributions to the design of practical high-level programming systems, notably through his work on FORTRAN, and for seminal publication of formal procedures for the specification of programming languages."

John Backus retired from the industry in 1991; he died at the age of 82, on March 19, 2007.

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