R.I.P. Dennis Ritchie

Dennis Ritchie receiving the National Medal of Technology
Dennis Ritchie receiving the National Medal of Technology

News arrived of the death of Dennis Ritchie during the last weekend after a long illness.

Dennis MacAlistair Ritchie was born on September 9, 1941 in Bronxville, New York. Graduated in physics and applied mathematics at Harvard, in 1967 he started working at the Bell Labs Computing Sciences Research Center. In 1968 he obtained his Ph.D. at Harvard.

During his career, Dennis Ritchie created the C programming language and with Brian Kernighan wrote “The C Programming Language”, one of the most important programming manuals on this language.

The other huge contribution made by Dennis Ritchie in information technology was the development of the Unix operating system together with other colleagues, especially Ken Thompson. In 1983 the two of them received the Turing Award for this work. With similar reasons, in 1993 they received the IEEE Richard W. Hamming Medal, in 1998 they received the National Medal of Technology from U.S.A. President Bill Clinton and at the beginning of this year they received the Japan Prize for Information and Communications.

In the last years of his career, before retiring in 2007, Dennis Ritchie was the head of the Research Department of Lucent Technologies System Software.

The influence of Dennis Ritchie’s work in the information technology world is immense. The C language is used a lot to write operating systems and programs of all types. Unix spawned a series of operating systems which use has gone far beyond the big systems of the ’60s. Linux is used on computers of all types and with derivatives such as Android even on mobile devices. Along with other derivatives of Unix such as the BSD operating systems family, Linux runs most Internet servers. Even Mac OS X is based on a BSD and is therefore another descendant of Unix.

The news of the Dennis Ritchie’s death came only after a few days. The difference with Steve Jobs death, that happened only a few days ago, is huge. Ritchie worked in laboratories and not in front of microphones but he had an influence on information technology even greater than Jobs because it concerns the foundations of computer science. The foundations aren’t seen but without them a building collapses.


  1. Every time someone like Dennis or Steve die we all loose something of our history. These pieces cannot be replaced by a just another man, even a smart one. I wanna thanks Dennis for his work that leaved a clear mark in what I did and I’m doing in my professional life, my passions and my fixations.


    1. Indeed they were unique. Other clever people can and surely will give important contributions but in different ways.


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