Chris J Powell

Another Loss – Geeks should morn the loss of Dennis Ritchie

For most of us knowledge of who Dennis MacAllistair Ritchie was is a mystery.  That is the way with many of our fellow geeks who have walked that path of unsung greatness while others revel in the fame and fortune of their hard work.  At the age of 70, Dennis Ritchie really did provide all of the technology that we take for granted a foundation on which to be built.  Widely labeled the Father of C (for the C Programming Language) and the Creator of Unix it is a sad day that we lose another great mind.

Chances are you have been touched more by the work of this man when it comes to technology than by anyother in history.  Things like the software that runs the router that connects you to the Internet to the backbone of web servers running Linux and Unix can trace their history back to 1969 when he blazed a new focal point for Technology that continues to evolve today.  Even your iPhone and Android Device can be linked directly to both the programming grace and technical accumen of Dennis Ritchie and his partner Ken Thompson!

The dominance of Unix and the story behind its creation are one of the great unsung stories in the world of Technology.  As the Image above illustrates it took 30 years for Ritchie and Thompson to receive the Presidential Award from President Clinton in 1999.  For many geeks the center of the universe is not Cupertino, California or Redmond, Washington….the very center of the Universe and birthplace of some of the greatest Technology Innovations of the 20th Century come straight from the Bell Labs.  This incubator has been at the heart of communciations break throughs for more than 80 years.  With all the talk of who owns what…lets imagine the world without some of the things that the 33.000 Patents developed from Bell Labs would be like.  It is actually quite humbling to think of the talent and great minds that have spent time in the Bell Labs…look at these accomplishmnents:

  • 7 Nobel Prizes in Physics shared by 13 scientists
  • 9 U.S. Medals of Science
  • 12 U.S. Medals of Technology
  • 2 Draper Prizes
  • 1 GRAMMY® Award
  • 8 Marconi International Fellowship Awards
  • 7 C&C Prizes shared by 12 scientists and engineers
  • 28 IEEE Medal of Honor winners

The work of Dennis Ritchie is even considered to be in the top 10 of Bell Labs greatest inventions…and when it comes to Top 10 lists…this is pretty significant

  • Data Networking
  • The Transistor
  • Cellular Telephone Technology
  • Solar Cells
  • Laser
  • Digital Transmission and Switching
  • Communications Satellites
  • Touch-Tone Telephone
  • Unix Operating System and C Language
  • Digital Signal Processor (DSP)


A great man and while I did not know him and to be honest, I really had only heard of him in passing over the years has left us but he has left us a legacy that stretches across every time zone and beyond.

In a statement, Jeong Kim, president of Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs, said of Dennis Ritchie:

“Dennis was well loved by his colleagues at Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs, and will be greatly missed. He was truly an inspiration to all of us, not just for his many accomplishments, but because of who he was as a friend, an inventor, and a humble and gracious man. We would like to express our deepest sympathies to the Ritchie family, and to all who have been touched in some way by Dennis.


Now in doing some digging and Dennis Ritchie had battled both Prostate Cancer and Heart Disease before passing away in his New Jersey home.  With Movember coming up I place a challenge out to every GEEK who reads this blog…grow a stache…join a local group and raise as much money as possible to end this disease.  I will be dedicating my work on the Movember team at work to Dennis.


Beyond that…today will be yet another busy Sunday here in London.  My little girl is all fired up to end the Losing Streak that her Westminster Wolverines are on and has made a prediction that she will get her first Quarterback Sack today (might have something to do with a little side challege we have running).  Hopefully the rain holds off until after 6PM so that all the teams and the fans can enjoy a day of Grid Iron Action.


Cheers to all,


Chris J Powell

3 thoughts on “Another Loss – Geeks should morn the loss of Dennis Ritchie

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