Dennis Ritchie: a Quieter Revolutionary

By Paul Krause

Along with many, my first “real” programming started with reading “K & R”, the book on the C programming language that Dennis Ritchie co-authored with Brian Kernighan. This “quirky but successful” language was the invention of Ritchie and is the foundation upon which most of the currently used programming languages, C++, Java and more recently, C#, Python and Ruby, have been built. In the early days of C (“K & R” was published in 1978 and remains in print), it was closely linked with the Unix operating system that Ritchie co-authored with Ken Thompson. Ritchie’s background in theoretical computer science meant that Unix had a strong theoretical foundation, leading to it becoming the foundation of choice for Steve Job’s revisionary OS X and Linus Torvalds’ Linux. Thus, although his is not a household name, Ritchie’s work is foundational to the world of e-commerce and social computing that we are in today. Dennis Ritchie died at his home in New Jersey on 8th October following a battle with prostate cancer and heart disease. Throughout his life he retained unchanging values of modesty, friendship and collegiality. His was truly a great mind.