Issue #10 - Steve Wilhite

Welcome to the 10th issue of Heroes of Computer Science! Ten issues already! Thank you for sticking around… For today’s issue, we unfortunately mourn the loss of one of our great minds.

Steve Wilhite

Stephen Wilhite was an American computer scientist, mostly known as the inventor/creator of the GIF.

Wilhite worked at CompuServe/AOL most of his life, involved in a variety of systems. These included file transfer protocols, web chat software, and investigating web community models. However, his biggest dent in the computing world was attained in 1987, when he was leading the engineering team that adapted the GIF image file format.

Earliest web browser adopted the format in 1991 and that helped make it a few years later the most popular image file format. We’re now in 2022 and the format is still heavily use in website design, social media posts, and many other places.

Equally known and a common running joke is the debate of its pronunciation. Even though the Oxford English Dictionary accepts both hard and soft G pronunciations, Wilhite has said:

"They are wrong. It is a soft 'G', pronounced 'jif'. End of story."

Unfortunately, the recent sad news: Stephen Wilhite recently died of COVID-19, at the age of 74.

Further reading

If you want to read more about the history of the file format (and love articles filled with GIFs), you can read all about it at the Smithsonian Magazine. You can also check his Webby Lifetime Achievement Award page, received in 2013.

Given his achievements, there is only one way to close this issue:

Steve Wilhite receiving the Webby Award in 2013 👏