Charles Simonyi : biography

10 September 1948 -

Simonyi's residence in Medina, Washington, "Villa Simonyi", is a modern house designed by architect Wendell Lovett, where Simonyi displays his collection of paintings by Roy Lichtenstein and Victor Vasarely.


Early life in Hungary

Simonyi was born in Budapest, Hungary, the son of Károly Simonyi, a professor of electrical engineering at Technical University of Budapest. While in secondary school he worked part-time as a night watchman at a computer laboratory, overseeing a large Soviet Ural II mainframe. He took an interest in computing and learned to program from one of the laboratory's engineers. By the time he left school, he had learned to develop compilers and sold one of these to a government department. He presented a demonstration of his compiler to the members of a Danish computer trade delegation.

Denmark and USA

He was hired by Denmark's A/S Regnecentralen in 1966 and moved to the United States in 1968 to attend the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned his M.S. in Engineering Mathematics & Statistics in 1972.

Simonyi then went to Stanford University for graduate studies and was hired by Xerox PARC during its most productive period, working alongside luminaries such as Alan Kay, Butler Lampson, and Robert Metcalfe on the development of the Xerox Alto, one of the first personal computers. He and Lampson developed Bravo, the first WYSIWYG document preparation program, which became operational in 1974. He received his Ph.D. in computer science from Stanford in 1977 with a dissertation on a software project management technique called "metaprogramming". This approach sought to defeat Brooks' law by requiring all programmers to communicate through the manager rather than directly. Simonyi remained at PARC until 1981.


In 1981, at Metcalfe's suggestion, he applied directly to Paul Allen for a job at Microsoft. At the firm, Simonyi oversaw the development of what became its most profitable products, Word and Excel, as well as Excel's predecessor Multiplan. With Multiplan, Simonyi pursued a strategy called the "revenue bomb", whereby the product ran on a virtual machine that was ported to each platform. The resulting application was highly portable, although Simonyi did not foresee the rapid adoption of MS-DOS that made such efforts less important. Simonyi introduced to Microsoft the techniques of object-oriented programming that he had learned at Xerox. He developed the Hungarian notation convention for naming variables. These standards were originally part of his doctoral thesis. The Hungarian notation has been widely used inside Microsoft.

Intentional Software

Simonyi remained at Microsoft during its rapid rise in the software industry, becoming one of its highest-ranking developers. He left abruptly in 2002 to co-found, with business partner Gregor Kiczales, a company called Intentional Software. This company markets the intentional programming concepts Simonyi developed at Microsoft Research. Charles Simony in Google Scholar In this approach to software, a programmer first builds a toolbox specific to a given problem domain (such as life insurance). Domain experts, aided by the programmer, then describe the program's intended behavior in a What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG)-like manner. An automated system uses the program description and the toolbox to generate the final program. Successive changes are only done at the WYSIWYG level.

In 2004, Simonyi received the Wharton Infosys Business Transformation Award for the industry-wide impact of his innovative work in information technology.


Simonyi currently holds 11 patents


Simonyi has been an active philanthropist.

He has funded the establishment of three professorships:

  • In 1995, the Simonyi Professorship of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, first held by Richard Dawkins 1995-2008, 2008–present Marcus du Sautoy
  • A Simonyi Professorship for Innovation in Teaching endowed chair at Stanford University, held by Eric S. Roberts 1997-2002
  • In 2005, as part of $25 million donation, a Simonyi Professorship of Mathematical Physics at the Institute for Advanced Study, held by Edward Witten 2005–present

In January 2004, Simonyi created the Charles Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences, through which Simonyi supports Seattle-area arts, science, and educational programs. As of May 2012, the Fund size was $75 million. Grant recipients have included the Seattle Symphony ($10 million), and the Seattle Public Library ($3 million), the Metropolitan Opera and the Juilliard School. In 2005, the Fund donated $25 million to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.

In popular culture

Simonyi was portrayed by actor Brian Lester in the TV film Pirates of Silicon Valley.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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