Ghost in the Machine

Dennis Ritchie 1941-2011

Dennis Ritchie died at home this past weekend, news was quietly reported on Wednesday.

As a longtime programmer, I can’t begin to express the impact that Dennis had on computing. If you use any computing device today, you can thank Dennis for creating the C programming language, which allowed us mere mortals to talk directly to the machine, and is the basis for many of today’s modern programming languages. If you surf the web today, you can thank Dennis for creating Unix, which eventually spun off into Linux, the operating system that powers the majority of the Internet’s web servers.

Dennis was a quiet man who wanted to free computing from the big iron IBM mainframes of his day. He wasn’t looking to become rich nor famous, he just wanted to empower us. His email signature said it all; “I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the demigodic party.” The quintessential programmer, his elegant lines of code speak for themselves.

When I first read K&R in the early 80’s, I felt like I was being released from the shackles of business programming languages, like Cobol. For the first time I felt in charge of my computer, I could make it do anything, I was one with the machine. Dennis may have shunned god status, but he sure made me a believer.

Thank you Dennis for using your time on earth to create elegant code instead of destructive Nuclear weapons, you are and will always be my hero. R.I.P.

There has to be an invisible sun
It gives its heat to everyone
There has to be an invisible sun
That gives us hope when the whole day’s done