Father of "C" Programming Language Dies at 70

Over on Google+, Google engineer and publisher Rob Pike announced that longtime colleague Dennis Ritchie, father of the "C" programming language, has died at age 70. According to Pike, Ritchie passed away at his home on Saturday, October 8, following a long illness.

"I trust there are people here who will appreciate the reach of his contributions and mourn his passing appropriately," Pike said. "He was a quiet and mostly private man, but he was also my friend, colleague, and collaborator, and the world has lost a truly great mind."

Bell Labs president Jeong Kim backed up the report with an official statement he released to employees on Thursday. "Dennis was well loved by his colleagues at Bell Labs, and will be greatly missed," Kim said. "He was truly an inspiration to all of us, not just for his many accomplishments, but because of who he was as a friend, an inventor, and a humble and gracious man."

Born in Bronxville, New York in September 1941, Ritchie graduated from Harvard with degrees in mathematics and physics before signing on with Bell Labs in 1968. He teamed up with engineer Ken Thompson to create Unix in 1971, and then created the C programming language in 1973. Since then, several variants have emerged including C++, C# and Objective-C.

Outside of developing C, Ritchie also co-authored "The C Programming Language," a definitive book commonly referred to as K&R (after the authors, Brian Kernighan and Ritchie). He also received the Turing Award in 1983 (along with Kenneth Thompson) thanks to his influential contributions to the development of Unix, and was elected into the National Academy of Engineering in 1988 for developing C and co-developing Unix.

Adding to his list of achievements, President Clinton presented Ritchie (and Thompson) with the National Medal of Technology of 1998 for creating C and Unix.

"The quality of life and economic strength that all Americans enjoy is due to the vision and dedication of innovators like those we honor here today with the National Medal of Technology," Commerce Secretary William M. Daley said during the award ceremony. "These Medalists have earned our highest honor for their work in creating life-saving practices and products, plants that increase crop yields, and the basis for modern computer operating systems and software."

Ritchie was transferred to Lucent Technologies in the late 1990s as part of AT&T's restructuring. He retired in 2007 as head of System Software Research Department, but continued to maintain close ties as a consultant for Bell Labs.

"This summer we were fortunate to celebrate with him as he accepted the 2011 Japan Prize for co-inventing the UNIX operating system and the C programming language at a ceremony in Murray Hill, NJ, which was viewed by Bell Labs colleagues around the world," Kim said on Thursday. "For many it was the first time they got to meet him and hear from him."

"I know I speak for all of Bell Labs when I say that he made us so proud of him that day," Kim added.

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  • rocso
    it is men like this that have driven us to where we are today. i wonder where the world would be if they had had the same philosophy as apple in regards to innovation. you will be missed!
    39
  • guru_urug
    printf("Goodbye world.\n");
    38
  • cats_Paw
    Thanks for C mate, Rest in peace.
    32
  • Other Comments
  • rocso
    it is men like this that have driven us to where we are today. i wonder where the world would be if they had had the same philosophy as apple in regards to innovation. you will be missed!
    39
  • ntdls
    @rocso - Thank you for that comment. I do not believe I could have said it better myself.
    18
  • Anonymous
    we were lucky that the monopoly AT&T abided by its (was it a consent decree?) limitations to avoid the appearance of moving into the computer business. As a result, they made it available to colleges and universities giving great numbers of students access to operating system kernels. AT&T's business decision led to widespread expertise in building and using operating systems. Only later did AT&T enter the computer business for profit, leading to the funding of BSD Unix, various Unix wars (such as POSIX), and eventually Linux. Innovation everywhere you look, based on a monopoly that's knows its place.
    2