Dennis Ritchie, father of the C programming language and co-creator with Ken Thompson of the UNIX operating system, was found dead on October 12th at his home in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, where he lived alone. Dr. Ritchie was 70. He had been in frail health the last few years, after treatment for cancer and heart disease.
It is difficult to imagine information technology without the contributions of Dennis Ritchie. UNIX and C and the technologies based on them, including LINUX, C++, and Java, power everything from internet search engines to smart phones. For their contributions, Ritchie and Thompson received the Turing Award from the ACM in 1983, the Hamming Medal from the IEEE in 1990 and the National Medal of Technology from President Clinton in 1999. Ritchie spent most of his career at the Bell Labs Computing Sciences Research Center. He was the head of Lucent Technologies System Software Research Department when he retired in 2007.
“The C Programming Language,” first published in 1978 by Ritchie and co-author Brian Kernighan, was a model of clarity, brevity, and quality in technical writing. The second edition, published after C was adopted as an ANSI standard, has been translated into 20 languages, and remains one of best-selling computer software books of all time. Known as “K&R C,” the coding and formatting style of the example programs listed in the 272-page book have become de facto standards for programmers in every corner of the world. The first example program, which simply prints “Hello World” to the terminal, has been emulated by virtually every programming language author over the last three decades.
Dennis Ritchie was one of the giants on whose shoulders we all stand.