Gaël Varoquaux

Thu 30 August 2012

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RIP John Hunter: the loss of a great man

John Hunter, the author of matplotlib passed away yesterday after a short battle against cancer. John gave the keynote at the scipy 2012 conference a few weeks ago, and was diagnosed with cancer just on his return from the conference. It is a shock to me that that a friend can disappear so quickly. Please read the announcement of Fernando Perez, who supported John in the last weeks to learn more about John.

A man who gave a lot, not asking for anything in return

Many have benefited from the silent efforts of John, and are not fully aware of how he generously invested his time and talent for the benefit of others. Matplotlib, the Python plotting library that he created in 2002, has propelled Python as a major tool for scientific research and engineering. The impact of John’s efforts go well beyond Matplotlib. Early on, John had the vision of Python as a interactive scientific environment. He promoted this vision pairing with Fernando Perez to develop the fantastic ipython/matplotlib tandem, solving many technical challenges. But he also invested a lot of energy in teaching workshops that helped change the way people compute, as well as writing didactic documentation and articles. He was a friendly, active, leader of an online community, open and helpful to newcomers.

As Travis Oliphant said on John’s numfocus memorial webpage:

Those who contribute much to open source, as John did, do so at the expense of something - often it is time with family.

I cannot stress how true this is. The entire open source software, that nowadays supports our economy, our education, and our research, is built on the shoulders of a fairly small number of generous people that spend their energy in making better software, rather than personal wealth.

John was a humble man. He did not have a blog, or a twitter account, did not seek fame or money. For this reason I feel that his contributions are unknown and undervalued by many. In my eyes, he is an unknown soldier of our modern times. I hope that I am not being too emphatic, but this is how I feel.

Note

John passed away at 44, leaving behind a wife and 3 daughters. Please do consider supporting them:

http://numfocus.org/johnhunter
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