C programming language creator Dennis Ritchie dies at age 70

By Lee Kaelin on

Pioneering computer scientist Dennis Ritchie passed away yesterday at age 70 after battling a long running illness. Ritchie was better known as a co-creator of Unix, but he also invented the C programming language back in 1971.

Jeong Kim, President of Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs confirmed his passing earlier today. "Dennis was well loved by his colleagues at Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs, and will be greatly missed. 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. We would like to express our deepest sympathies to the Ritchie family, and to all who have been touched in some way by Dennis."

Ritchie grew up in New Jersey where his father worked as a switching systems engineer for Bell Labs. He went to Harvard University and graduated with a degree in Physics in 1963. It was during this time that Ritchie saw his first computer, which captured his imagination and sparked what became a lifelong passion. He then moved to MIT, before taking up employment with Bell Labs in 1967, where he remained until his retirement in 2007.

At Bell Labs, Ritchie got involved in the Multics project before moving onto design the first versions of Unix with co-inventors. By the early seventies, Unix had spread across Bell Labs and was announced to the entire world.

The mid-seventies was a period of great experimentation in computer hardware design, making life for software programmers very hard with the cumbersome languages of the day. Ritchie responded by creating a new language named C -- the idea being that if the language followed set rules, and the computer could run C, than it could be moved between different hardware with little or no modification.

Along with co-inventors, he also re-wrote Unix from the ground up in his new programming language so it could benefit from the easier to use programming code. To this day, a vast amount of Unix software and programming languages depend on the foundations he and other programmers built with Unix and C in the earlier days of computing.

Tim Bray, a Google programmer said in a blog post that it was "impossible to overstate the debt his profession owes Dennis Ritchie." He further commented, "I've been living in a world he helped invent for over thirty years."

His accomplishments and influence to computing as a whole were officially noticed in 1999 when he was awarded the US Medal of Technology and Innovation, the highest honor for technologists.

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