Unix Dennis Ritchie T-Shirt
Dennis MacAlistair Ritchie was an American computer scientist. 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 ACM in 1983, the Hamming Medal from the 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. He was the “R” in K&R C and commonly known by his username dmr.
In 1967, Ritchie began working at the Bell Labs Computing Sciences Research Center, and in 1968, he defended his PhD thesis on “Program Structure and Computational Complexity” at Harvard under the supervision of Patrick C. Fischer. However, Ritchie never officially received his PhD degree.
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 book The C Programming Language, and was the ‘R’ in K&R (a common reference to the book’s 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. They were so influential on Research Unix that Doug McIlroy later wrote, “The names of Ritchie and Thompson may safely be assumed to be attached to almost everything not otherwise attributed.”
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 found dead on October 12, 2011, at the age of 70 at his home in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, where he lived alone. Ritchie was under the radar. His name was not a household name at all, but… if you had a microscope and could look in a computer, you’d see his work everywhere inside.
In an interview shortly after Ritchie’s death, long time colleague Brian Kernighan said Ritchie never expected C to be so significant. Kernighan reminded readers of how important a role C and UNIX had played in the development of later high-profile projects, like the iPhone.