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Dennis MacAlistair Ritchie

Nicknames: "dmr"
Birthdate:
Birthplace: Bronxville, NY, USA
Death: Died in Berkeley Heights, NJ, USA
Cause of death: Complications from cancer and heart disease
Immediate Family:

Son of Alistair English Ritchie and Jean C. Ritchie
Brother of Bill Ritchie; John Ritchie and Lynn Ritchie

Occupation: Computer Programmer,
Managed by: Erin Spiceland
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Dennis MacAlistair Ritchie

Dennis MacAlistair Ritchie (b. September 9, 1941; found dead October 12, 2011), commonly known by his username dmr, was an American computer scientist who "helped shape the digital era." He created the C programming language and, with long-time colleague, Ken Thompson, the UNIX operating system. Ritchie and Thompson received the Turing Award from the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) in 1983, the Hamming Medal from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in 1990 and the National Medal of Technology from President Clinton in 1999. Ritchie was the head of Lucent Technologies System Software Research Department when he retired in 2007. The 'R' of the K&R C book stands for his name.

Background

Ritchie was born in Bronxville, New York. His father was Alistair E. Ritchie, a longtime Bell Labs scientist and co-author of The Design of Switching Circuits on switching circuit theory. He moved with his family to Summit, New Jersey, as a child, where he graduated from Summit High School.

Ritchie graduated from Harvard University with degrees in physics and applied mathematics. In 1967, he began working at the Bell Labs Computing Sciences Research Center, and in 1968, he received a PhD from Harvard under the supervision of Patrick C. Fischer, his doctoral dissertation being "Program Structure and Computational Complexity".

C and Unix

Ritchie was best known as the creator of the C programming language, a key developer of the UNIX operating system, and co-author of The C Programming Language, commonly referred to as K&R (in reference to the authors Kernighan and Ritchie). Ritchie worked together with Ken Thompson, the scientist credited with writing the original Unix; one of Ritchie's most important contributions to Unix was its porting to different machines and platforms.

The C language is widely used today in application, operating system, and embedded system development, and its influence is seen in most modern programming languages. UNIX has also been influential, establishing concepts and principles that are now precepts of computing.

Ritchie was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1988 for "development of the "C" programming language and for co-development of the UNIX operating system."

Awards

Turing Award

In 1983, Ritchie and Thompson jointly received the Turing Award for their development of generic operating systems theory and specifically for the implementation of the UNIX operating system. Ritchie's Turing Award lecture was titled "Reflections on Software Research".

IEEE Richard W. Hamming Medal

In 1990, both Ritchie and Thompson received the IEEE Richard W. Hamming Medal from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), "for the origination of the UNIX operating system and the C programming language".

National Medal of Technology

On April 21, 1999, Thompson and Ritchie jointly received the National Medal of Technology of 1998 from President Bill Clinton for co-inventing the UNIX operating system and the C programming language which, according to the citation for the medal, "led to enormous advances in computer hardware, software, and networking systems and stimulated growth of an entire industry, thereby enhancing American leadership in the Information Age".

Japan Prize

In 2011, Ritchie, along with Thompson, was awarded the Japan Prize for Information and Communications for his work in the development of Unix operating system.

Death and legacy

Ritchie was found dead on October 12, 2011, at the age of 70 at his home in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, where he lived alone. First news of his death came from his former colleague, Rob Pike. The cause and exact time of death have not been disclosed. He had been in frail health for several years following treatment for prostate cancer and heart disease. His death came a week after the death of Steve Jobs; although Ritchie's death did not receive as much media coverage, computer historians such as Paul E. Ceruzzi said his influence was comparable.

Notable books

  • The C Programming Language (1978 with Brian Kernighan)
  • Unix Programmer's Manual (1971)

Quotes

  • "I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the demigodic party."
  • "Usenet is a strange place."
  • "UNIX is very simple, it just needs a genius to understand its simplicity."
  • "C is quirky, flawed, and an enormous success."
  • C has "the power of assembly language and the convenience of... assembly language."

WWW

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Dennis Ritchie's Timeline

1941
September 9, 1941
Bronxville, NY, USA
2011
October 12, 2011
Age 70
Berkeley Heights, NJ, USA