Dennis Richie, the man behind the UNIX Mask


Today, September 9th, marks 72nd birthday of Dennis Richie, the man behind not only UNIX, but also the C programming language alongside colleague Ken Thomson. Sadly, Richie died in October 2011 after suffering ill health for several years, but his legacy and reputation as he who “helped shape the digital era” lives on in the majority of computing equipment and technology that we use today in our everyday lives.


Born in New York, Richie graduated from Harvard and landed a job at the Bell Labs Computing Sciences Research Center where he remained until his retirement in 2007 (albeit at that time he was Head of Lucent Technologies System Software Research Department after Bell became the research and development subsidiary of the Alcatel-Lucent company); his personal pages on the webpages are still live 2 years after his death as they are filled with links and information about all of the projects he was involved with, including UNIX, the C programming language and the corresponding book, “The C Programming Language”, written by Richie and Brian Kernighan.


Awards & Accolades

Given Richie’s prominence in the computing community and the sheer extent to how his life’s work has helped modern technology evolve into what it is today, it is no wonder that he won a range of awards during his life. These included:

• Turing Award (with Ken Thompson) – development of generic operating systems, specifically UNIX
• Made a Fellow of the Computer History Museum – Co-creation of UNIX and development of C programming language
• IEEE Richard W Hamming Medal – Origination of the UNIX OS and the C Programming Language
• Achievement Award – Recognition of his contribution to science and technology and to society in general through his development of UNIX
• Japan Prize for Information and Communications (with Ken Thompson) – for his work on UNIX


The C Programming Language Book – K&R

This book, written by Richie and Thompson, has been often classed as a model for technical writing, and covers the C programming language extensively. It is often called “K&R” after the authors’ initials, and this helps readers differentiate between this and the later version which covers ANSI C.



It has been said that if you opened up modern computing devices the amount of elements that Richie has touched upon with his work would be around 90%….C and UNIX also played a huge role in the development of high profile projects such as the iPhone and smartphones in general. In January 2012, FreeBSD 9.0 was released and dedicated to his memory, as well as the Fedora 16 Linux distribution.


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