Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Computer Scientist Remembers Dennis Ritchie

It seems while still in grief we must bear the loss of another true great in the world of computation. To be quite honest, I know little about the man himself. My acquaintance with him, as I suspect thousands like me, is solely with his work. And his work is hard to describe in terms for the layperson. It is easy to use words to describe it technically, he invented the computer programming language called "C".
In reality, it is like saying he invented cement. Few think of or little note the concrete beneath wheels when a great bridge joins two regions, or the concrete in the walls of a skyscraper, or the mortar between the bricks of their house. But truth in form without that crushed lime invention none of those things would be possible. This is the grand scale of the C language. Beautiful in simplicity, and immensely powerful in application, the language consisted only of the following key words.

auto break case char const continue default do double else enum extern float for goto if int long register return short signed sizeof static struct switch typedef union unsigned void volatile while

And with that, Unix was written, the first TCP stacks were designed, and the concrete was poured on which the internet would be both built on, and built out of. It seems something of a paradox that a language so simple in composition would be heralded as one of the most powerful ever written; one of the key features of the language was that, once a function was built it could be easily re-used in other programs, in other applications by simply making an explicit call to include it. And year after year the functions built in C grew and grew, like a self improving tool that starts as a hammer and evolves on its own until it is an entire industrial facility.

C's greatness would later be used as the blue print for C++, C# and Java.

A great inventor of our age is gone, a man behind the machines, a trailblazer in the computer age when it was young.


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