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Thank you, Dennis Ritchie

November 8, 2011 - 5 Comments

An unsung hero

When Steve Jobs passed away on October 5th, the world focused on remembering his creativity, genius and the influence he had on our world.  While this attention was well deserved, another — perhaps more influential – technology luminary passed away on October 12th. But, outside computer science circles, most people have never heard of him.

You had to do a bit of digging, but you could find some great eulogies in the news:

Wired: Dennis Ritchie: The shoulders Steve Jobs stood on

CNN: Without Dennis Ritchie, you might not be reading this

The Economist: Dennis Ritchie and John McCarthy, machine whisperers, died on October 8th and 24th respectively, aged 70 and 84

Pretty much every electronic device you’ve ever used…

Dennis Ritchie created the C programming language. He and his colleague Ken Thompson then used C to create the Unix operating system. C++, Java, C#, Perl, Python and almost every other high-level programming language is written in C, as are web browsers, web servers and network software.

Put simply, without C there would be no Windows, no OSX, no iPhone. Even your digital watch is programmed in C. If not for Dennis Ritchie and his work, the technological world as we know it would not be the same.

Programming Languages: which is your favorite?

While earning my degree in Management Information Systems, I learned how to program C a bit late in the game. My first language was Perl. As anyone who has ever worked with Perl knows, you either love it or you hate it. I loved it. When I was then taught C, I balked at first. “What?! I have to manage my own memory? What’s up with this null character?”

Then a programmer friend of mine showed me how I would never really understand Perl unless I first understood C, since Perl was actually written in C. References are based on pointers. Arrays and hashes are Larry Wall’s way of making linked lists easier, and so forth.  It was then when I realized how important C was to the programming world.

So, for every engineer out there please join me in remembering the work that underpins almost all of the technology we often take for granted.

Thank you, Dennis Ritchie!

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  1. I’m embarrassed to say that I had never heard of Dennis Ritchie. Seems we owe him a lot.

    • Hi Eoin,

      You’re in good company, so you shouldn’t feel embarrassed. But yes, we do owe him a lot!

  2. Both Jobs and Dennis Ritchie were pioneers in their fields, and deserve our entire respect. Although there are still things that wait to be discovered/invented, we’ll rarely get to know such remarkable people.