Computer History's Unsung Hero: An Ode To Dennis Ritchie
Unless you’re a major tech geek, you probably have not heard the name Dennis Ritchie before. He was a computer science pioneer who never became a famously recognized name like some of his contemporaries. However, his work was everywhere and continues to impact computers today. So, for this brief moment, let’s all celebrate the work of one of computer science’s great unsung heroes.
Dennis Ritchie’s two greatest achievements came from his work at Bell Laboratories. His career at Bell began in 1967 and lasted until his retirement in 2007.
His first major contribution to the world of computer science was the invention of C, a game-changing computer programming language. Ritchie developed C between 1969 and 1973, and it quickly caught on among programmers. C was flexible and gave programmers a lot of options in problem-solving. While new programming languages have come since (this did launch 50 years ago, after all), C’s imprint can still be seen, especially in languages like C++.
Around this same time, Ritchie co-developed the Unix operating system with another Bell Labs computer scientist (also underrated) named Ken Thomas. Much like C, the flexibility of Unix as an operating system made it a fast favorite. It could run on different hardware, and it was simple in a way that made collaboration easy. Its influence on modern operating systems cannot be overstated.
Ritchie’s name might not be the most well-known, but he did get recognition for his work. In 1998, he was awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation by President Bill Clinton for his contributions to technology.
In 2011, after a long and industrious 70 years, Richie died. It is almost poetic that he died days after Apple founder Steve Jobs, another titan of computing. Ritchie may not have become famous like Jobs, but computer science wouldn’t be what it is today without him.
Top Image: Peter Hammer/Wiki Commons