John Wilder Tukey liked to argue with other people, and his chosen field – statistics – presented opportunities for just that. “The best thing about being a statistician,” he said, “is that you get to play in everyone’s backyard.”
In his field, Tukey is best known for inventing the box plot – also called the stem-and-leaf diagram – which is used to plot the minimum, first quartile, median, third quartile and maximum in a set of data.
In addition to working with data, Tukey dabbled in various fields, helping to invent the U-2 spy plane and creating several common technology terms used today.
While working at Bell Laboratories, Tukey coined the word “bit,” a shortened version of “binary digit” – the 1’s and 0’s used in computer programming.
Three decades before Microsoft was founded, Tukey – discussing the programs on which electronic calculators ran – also coined the word “software.”