I’ve been catching some flak from readers for having not written a column on the recent passing of Dennis Ritchie, father of the C programming language and co-author (with Ken Thompson) of UNIX. Ritchie also wrote with Brian Kernighan The C programming Language, which we all have on our bookshelves and some of us have even read. Ritchie was easily a greater contributor to computer science (as opposed to the computer business) than Steve Jobs, yet I wrote about Jobs’s passing and not Ritchie’s. What’s with that?
The simple fact is that I didn’t know Dennis Ritchie. I did know Steve Jobs for 34 years and felt I could write about him. When I wrote about Claude Shannon it was because I knew him, too (we juggled together). If Doug Engelbart or John Warnock dies before I do I’ll write about them, too. But Dennis Ritchie was this guy from Bell labs, a place I have never even visited. While he was the father of C, I was a son of ALGOL 60, APL, Forth, and even PostScript — definitely a Left Coast guy, though Bill Joy was, too, so I guess I really have no excuse.
I’d love to hear Bill Joy’s take on the passing of Dennis Ritchie is among the reader comments, below.
It is clear from the outpouring of interest in Ritchie and the sadness at his passing that here was a guy I really should have known. Why I didn’t make the effort I’ll never know. It’s just another one of my mistakes, sorry.
So rather than attempt to eulogize a man I didn’t know, what I’d like to do here is ask you to do the heavy lifting for me. If you knew Dennis Ritchie, tell us about him. If you have a strong sense of his contribution to science, share it with us. And most of all give us some insight into the man. What was he like, what did he like, what were his motivators, and in what way did he touch you?