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Pioneers in Tech: Charles Simonyi, the brain behind Word and Excel

Pioneers in Tech: Charles Simonyi, the brain behind Word and Excel

It’s estimated at least 1.2 billion people worldwide use Microsoft Office products. The tech pioneer behind the flagship Office programs Word and Excel is the fascinating Charles Simonyi, whose Microsoft success has enabled him to become the first repeat space traveler.

Born Sept. 10, 1948, in Budapest, Hungary, Simonyi first began tinkering with computers as a student, when he had a part-time job as a night watchman in a computer lab. In 1968, he immigrated to the United States to attend the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. (He also earned a PhD in computer science from Stanford in 1977.) By 1972, Simonyi was working at Xerox PARC, where he created the first WYSIWYG (“what you see is what you get”) text editor, which was called Bravo. In 1981, he went to work at Microsoft as employee No. 40 with the title director of application development, chief architect, and distinguished engineer. There he led the teams developing Word and Excel. In 2002, Simonyi left Microsoft to form his company—Intentional Software—but he returned in 2017 after selling the company to Microsoft. And he’s still innovating, working to integrate Intentional Software’s automation technology into what is now Microsoft Office 365.

As one might imagine, Simonyi’s work has brought him tremendous wealth, and he has put it to work seeing the world and beyond. The yacht he owned for two decades—the Skat (Danish for “treasure”)—is thought to have sold for at least $50 million. And he has been a space tourist not once but twice: in 2007 and 2009 aboard Soyuz spacecraft.

Photo: Sergey Nivens / Shutterstock

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