Originally published in The Clarion | October 26, 2011
The death of prominent individuals can create a multitude of impressions on groups of people. The recent passing of Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs sent a plethora of emotions across mankind, not only in the IT world but across millions of consumers who are fans of his products. The loss of Jobs was indeed sad, I personally was overcome with chills when the news of his death was announced on television. Only days after the passing of Jobs, another prominent figure in the world of IT lost his life, and odds are good you heard nothing of it. Unlike Jobs, Dennis Ritchie’s name was unknown to most of us. He didn’t have gadgets in the hands of millions, his face was not the poster of any multi-billion dollar corporation. Yet without the work of Dennis Ritchie, products from companies like Apple, Microsoft and Google most likely would never have been developed.
Many people in the IT world have gone so far to say that Dennis Ritchie was in fact more important to the technological landscape than Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. Ritchie’s crowning achievement was the creation of the C programming language and the Unix operating system. Without C and Unix, Bill Gates would have had a very difficult time composing the Windows operating system and the software that runs on top of it. Without C and Unix, the Mac OSX operating system would have never been. Without C and Unix, my favorite Linux operating system could not have been developed. Take a moment and consider these facts. Where would we be today without these three operating systems? Where would we be without software applications to use on our personal computers, servers and gadgets? It is simply impossible for me to consider such a scenario.
Dennis Ritchie’s name will never be commonplace, yet it is fair to say his contributions to IT are as important as any other single individual’s in the history of computing. I am confident he didn’t die a multi-billionaire. He possessed only a flicker of fame compared to those in the IT mainstream. For some people though, money and fame are unimportant and it is often these people who most dramatically influence the world in which we live. Thank you for your hard work Dennis Ritchie and may you rest in peace.