While Steve Jobs’ death has been covered extensively by the media, I think it’s important that the world learn about the death of a man whose contribution to the information age is so immense that it is beyond measure. On October 12, 2011, Dennis Ritchie was found dead in his home at the age of 70. Ritchie is the inventor of the C programming language and a co-inventor of Unix, the father of all modern operating systems. The man was, without a doubt, brilliant. His contributions are what every nerd should aspire to.
Why is the C programming language so important? Because C was the perfect bridge between man and machine. Before C was invented, programmers had to write the code that runs operating systems (and most everything else) in assembly, which is just one step above binary. Assembly, while powerful, is also extremely cumbersome. Writing even the most trivial of programs is very time consuming. Ritchie’s C language put the development cycle of operating systems and applications into overdrive, allowing programmers to crank out innovation quickly and easily. On top of this speed and power, Ritchie gave his newly-minted language away for free to universities, who were free to do with it as they wished. C has since been used on nearly every system imaginable, from super computers, to PCs, to Macs, to video game consoles.
Nearly every programmable device in existence today owes its ability to be useful to Dennis Ritchie. Without his brilliance and willingness to give that brilliance away, we would still be in the dark ages of Information.