The recent death of Steve Jobs has brought to attention the enormous impact of Apple’s technology on our lives. But Jobs wasn’t the only tech innovator to pass away this week. Dennis Ritchie, an unfamiliar name to many, died on October 8 after suffering from heart disease and prostate cancer.
Even though most haven’t heard of Ritchie, he’s had a huge influence on the fundamental technology all of us use, whether we realize it or not. Ritchie invented Unix, the inspiration for every modern operating system today. He also had a central role in the creation of the C programming language, something that runs on everything from toaster ovens to iPhones.
Ritchie was awarded the Turing Award in 1983 for his role in developing Unix. He received the National Medal of Technology in 1998 from Bill Clinton, for his efforts in developing both Unix and the C language. He also co-authored “The C Progamming Language,” a book widely regarded as one of the best examples of technical prose today.
Yet Ritchie was always characteristically modest. He described developing the C language at Bell Labs “as a good thing to do.” He made some of the most important creations in computer science, and he did so for sheer enjoyment and without any proprietary walls surrounding it all. He and his co-workers at Bell Labs didn’t even give Unix a name until year after creating it—Unix to them was just something they loved to do.
It’s important to remember people like Ritchie. The world of technology today, as profitable and materialistic as it is, stands on the shoulders of the very few crazy tinkerers—those with a true passion for knowledge.