A Brief Biography of James Gosling and the History of Java

Luke Manship

James Gosling is considered the father of Java, the programming language we all know and (questionably) love. After receiving his Bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of Calgary, Gosling obtained his Masters and PhD in the subject at Carnegie Mellon University. He began work at Sun Microsystems upon completion of his PhD. One day while working there, Gosling encountered a problem when he needed to write a program to translate software code from one language to another. Seeing the inherent problem with this, Gosling set out to create a programming language that could be written once and run anywhere (with the help of a few others, such as Mike Sheridan and Patrick Naughton). Thus, Java (and the JVM) was born!

It was originally called Oak and was meant for digital interactive television, but it was far too advanced for the industry it was meant to serve (it was renamed to Java due to a copyright issue with the name Oak). When creating Java, Gosling and the rest of the team stressed five major goals that the language was to uphold: it must be simple, object-oriented, and familiar, it must be robust and secure, it must be architecture-neutral/portable, it must execute with high performance, and it must be interpreted, threaded, and dynamic. These principles provided the basis for Gosling’s vision of Java as a language.

Java really took off when it began to be used heavily in web browsers, which, at the time, incorporated Java applets to perform more sophisticated operations. APIs were subsequently developed for desktop, mobile, and enterprise applications and the Java Virtual Machine was eventually (mostly) released to the public as free and open source software, sparking even greater popularity and wider use in the software community. Gosling worked on the Java language until 2010 when Sun Microsystems was acquired by Oracle, the current owners of Java (he later stated that his reasons for leaving included micromanagement, the inability to make autonomous decisions, a sense that Oracle was “ethically challenged,” and Oracle’s insistence on making him the public face of Java, a request he humorously rebuffed by stating that he was “the wrong Myers-Briggs quadrant for that”). Despite having to leave his metaphorical child behind, Gosling pushed forward in his career by taking a high-level job at Google, then taking the lead software position at a startup known as Liquid Robotics (later acquired by Boeing), before finally joining Amazon Web Services, where he is currently a Distinguished Engineer.

Besides being the father of Java, some of his other notable honors include becoming an Officer of Canada (the second highest civilian honor in Canada), becoming an ACM fellow, and being awarded an IEEE John von Neumann Medal for his outstanding achievements in computer science. In creating one of the most widely used programming languages in the world, James Gosling altered the way that the world thinks about programming. Without his contributions, our world of technology and our world at large would look significantly different. His amazing work deserves immense appreciation, if for no other reason than Java’s contribution to many of our formative programming experiences in CSE 142 and 143.


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