Alan Kay Biography

Alan Kay is an eminent computer scientist who is known for his works on object-oriented programming. Read this biography to learn more about his profile, childhood, life and timeline.

Alan Kay

Quick Facts

Gender: Male
Birthday: 17 May 1940
Nationality: American
Sun Sign: Taurus
Spouse/Ex-: Bonnie MacBird
Education: University of Utah, University of Colorado Boulder
Awards: Turing Award, Charles Stark Draper Prize, Kyoto Prize in Advanced Technology, Computer History Museum fellow, ACM Software System Award, Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery, Kyoto Prize, ACM Fellow, Honorary doctorate of the University of Murcia, Fellow of the AAAS

Alan Kay, one of the eminent computer scientists of the United States, is best-known for his outstanding contribution in object oriented programming (OOP) and graphical user interface (GUI). Considering the remarkable talent he displayed at a very young age, he was destined to make it big. His association with Ivan Sutherland, the eminent computer scientist in Utah College, influenced a lot of his works. Considered as the father of the idea of the object oriented programming, Kay’s works on the prototypes of networked workstations that relied on the programming language ‘Smalltalk’ and ‘Dynabook’, which paved the way for the origin of laptops and tablet computers, are nothing short of amazing. It was his deep interest in children’s education which inspired him to come up with some of these ideas. Along with being a part of some of the most prestigious organizations in the IT sector such as Apple, Hewitt Packard, Xerox (PARC), Atari and Walt Disney Imagineering, Kay is also the founder of Viewpoints Research Institute, a non-profit organization that is dedicated to children and deals with advanced software development. His brilliance and outstanding contributions have been honoured with numerous awards including UdK 01-Award and Telluride Tech Festival Award of Technology.

Childhood & Early Life

Alan Kay, from a very young age, showed remarkable talent and started reading fluently at the age of three.
He received his education from the University of Colorado at Boulder and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and Molecular Biology.
While a college student, he worked part-time as a Jazz guitarist.
In 1966, Kay graduated from the Utah College of Engineering with a Master’s degree and then earned a Ph.D. from the same institute in 1969.


In Utah College, Kay worked with Ivan Sutherland, who is credited for inventing pioneering graphics programs such as the ‘sketchpad’.
This association with Sutherland created a great impact on Kay’s views on programming and objects.
In 1968, he met Seymour Papert and learnt about the Logo programming language, a dialect of ‘Lisp’ optimized for educational use.
Kay also familiarized himself with the works of Jean Piaget, Jerome Bruner, Lev Vygotsky and learnt about constructionist learning, which further made an impact on his views.
Kay was a member of the University of Utah ARPA research team that developed 3D graphics.
He joined Xerox Corporation's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in 1970 and became one of the prominent members who develop prototypes of networked workstations with the help of a programming language, ‘Smalltalk’. Apple and Macintosh computers later commercialized these inventions.
Dr. Kay conceived the ‘Dynabook’ concept, which defined the basics of laptops, tablet computers and e-books; he is also regarded as the architect of Graphical User Interface (GUI).
After working for ten years at PARC, he moved to Atari as Chief Scientist and stayed such for three years.
In 1984, Kay joined Apple Computers and worked there till the closure of ATG (Advanced Technology Group), one of the R&D divisions of the company.
While at Apple, he initiated and started an open source squeal version of ‘Smalltalk’ in collaboration with others. He continues to work on the same.
Following this, Kay joined Walt Disney Imagineering as a Fellow and stayed on till Disney ended its Disney Fellow program.
In 2001, he founded Viewpoints Research Institute, which is a non-profit organization dedicated to children, learning and advanced software development.
He also worked at Applied Minds, and became a Senior Fellow at Hewlett-Packard in the later years, till the company disbanded its Advanced Software Research Team in 2005.
At present, he is the head of the Viewpoints Institute and an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at the University of California, Los Angeles.


UdK 01-Award in Berlin, Germany, 2001
Telluride Tech Festival Award of Technology, 2002
ACM Turing Award for work, 2003
Kyoto Prize, 2004
Honorary Professor, Berlin University of the Arts
Kay is also known as the Father of Object-Oriented Programming

Honorary Doctorates

Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan (Royal Institute of Technology) in Stockholm), 2002
Georgia Institute of Technology, 2005
Columbia College Chicago, 2005
Laurea Honoris Causa in Informatica, Università di Pisa, Italy, 2007
University of Waterloo, 2008
Universidad de Murcia, 2010

Elected Fellow

American Academy of Arts and Sciences
National Academy of Engineering
Royal Society of Arts
Computer History Museum, 1999
Association for Computing Machinery, 2008
Hasso-Plattner-Institut, 2011

Personal Life & Legacy

Alan Kay is married to Bonnie MacBird who is an actress, playwright, producer and screen writer.
At present, Kay is also a classical pipe organist.


1940: Alan Kay was born on May 17.
1966: He graduated from the Utah College of Engineering with a Master’s degree.
1968: He met Seymour Papert and learnt about the Logo programming language, which is a dialect of Lisp optimized for educational use.
1970: He joined Xerox Corporation's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), where he became part of a team which developed prototypes of networked workstations with the help of a programming language, ‘Smalltalk’.
1984: Kay joined Apple Computers, where he worked till the closure of ATG (Advanced Technology Group), one of the R&D divisions of the company.
2001: He founded Viewpoints Research Institute, a non-profit organization.

Citation Information

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Alan Kay Biography

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Last Updated

June 20, 2019

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