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Dennis Ritchie

Published on June 25, 2017

Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson

This is a re-publish of an article I wrote back in October 2011 after Steve and Dennis’ deaths. Small disclosure: it was written in a time when I was just starting out with programming and I did not knew Rasmus, Andi or Zeev yet.

It’s safe to say that with the death of Steve Jobs the world has lost an icon, a visionary and a beloved human being. I don’t think I’ve ever saw such a wave of response on the death of a famous person. It’s all normal though. I mean, he lived an amazing life, inspiring lots of people and developing products which changed the world we live in today. For some, Steve was more than just the CEO of Apple.

Still, it strikes me that while one visionary dies, others are hardly mentioned. People who did evenly great things but behind the scenes. People like Dennis Ritchie. Doesn’t ring a bell? No worries, I did not knew him either.

I’m a programmer. I mostly code in PHP at work. If you’d ask me who invented PHP I would not know the answer. That’s the way things go. We use products but we don’t know anything about the people behind them. The inventors. The creators.

Dennis Ritchie was a creator. He created the programming language C for the Unix System. A language from which many other derivatives have been made. It’s not just a milestone in programming. I think it was thé milestone in programming. I think the impact of it will surprise you.

Look around you. I bet there are at least 5 devices in the room you’re in which use some sort of derivative from C. The TV in your living room. The device you’re reading this on. The microwave in the kitchen. The digital watch on your wrist.

You would not believe how many devices use some sort of programming language today. There’s hardly any business in the modern world that doesn’t uses a device with some sort of programming language. It made our world easier to live in. It made our world like it is today.

And it’s all thanks to Dennis Ritchie.

While I personally think that inventing C was a little more historic then building the first iMac, it are two different things. I can understand that Steve got the most attention from the crowd but I would like to let everyone know about someone who did equally or perhaps even greater things.

Dennis' death was hardly mentioned in the press. I can’t blame them, he was hardly known. Still, we shouldn’t just ignore it.

I’ll remember both of them as two persons who brought us ways that made life possible as we live it today. And that’s something I won’t forget soon.

If you’d like to read something more thorough and professional I’d suggest you read this article by Geoff Duncan. I’m still a beginning blogger after all.

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