School of Information Science - Hall of Fame

Dennis M. Ritchie
  • Dennis M. Ritchie
  • Born: September 9, 1941
  • Field: Computer science; programming languages; operating systems
  • Focus: Created the C programming language and, with Ken Thompson, the UNIX operating system. Influenced many other languages and operating systems as well.
  • Country: United States
  • Era: 1970 to 1989

Dennis MacAlistair Ritchie is a computer scientist notable for his influence on ALTRAN, B, BCPL, C, Multics, and UNIX. Born in Bronxville, New York, Ritchie graduated from Harvard with degrees in physics and applied mathematics. In 1967, he began working at the Bell Labs' Computing Sciences Research Center; he is currently the head of Lucent Technologies' System Software Research Department. In 1983, he and Ken Thompson jointly received the A.M. Turing award "for their development of generic operating systems theory and specifically for the implementation of the UNIX operating system."

When asked what influenced him in developing C in the manner he did, Ritchie has been quoted to have said that it "looked like a good thing to do", and that anyone else in the same place at the same time would have done the same thing. Many, however, have said that this is part of Ritchie's modest personality. One of his Bell Labs colleagues, Bjarne Stroustrup, who developed and designed the C++ programming language, an object-oriented version of C, has been quoted to have said, "If Dennis had decided to spend that decade on esoteric math, UNIX would have been stillborn".

Indeed, being the inventor of the C programming language, as well as co-inventor of the UNIX operating system alongside Ken Thompson, Richie has earned an important position in the history of the computer industry. C is still widely used today in application and operating system development and its influence can be seen in many more recent programming languages such as C++, Java, C# and JavaScript.

In the operating system world, UNIX is also quite influential; there are many dialects of it available on the market today, such as AIX, Solaris, and Minix, as well as the popular Linux Operating System which is considered to be the crowning achievement of the open source and free software movements. Indeed, even Microsoft, whose Windows operating systems compete with UNIX, has developed UNIX compatibility tools and C compilers for users and developers of their products.

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