Posted on Thu 13 October 2011 by alex in geek

Now the smoke has settled on the passing of Jobs I'd like to talk about a real computing hero of mine. Someone who literally has changed the world (at least for everyone reading this). I learnt last night that Dennis Ritchie had passed away. Without pioneers like Ritchie we wouldn't have most of the computing infrastructure we have today.

When I was growing up in our computer filled house I learnt like many people playing with BASIC interpreters embedded into many of the early micro-computers. From there I started to learn about assembler and writing code that runs directly on the processor. However it wasn't until I picked up my first copy of The C Programming Language (often just called K&R) I truly started my journey towards becoming a real programmer. Pretty much every procedural language since has borrowed from or been developed from the foundations of C. I still own a copy of the first edition which holds a honoured place on my computing bookshelf. It's hard for me to imagine a better book to learn from for my first "proper" programming language.

C has been subjected to much criticism over it's long history for being a source of many classic programmer errors. Non programmers may have even seen their computers complaining about a "NULL pointer de-reference" when a program goes bang. This is because the history of C was wrapped up in the need for a powerful low level language ("close to bare metal") that allowed the development of powerful yet portable systems including the original UNIX which Richie was also involved in the development of. Without C/Unix there would have been no Objective-C, no NeXT and ultimately no Mac OS X which is important for much of the renaissance of Apple now enjoys.

If your looking for true pioneers of modern computing Dennis Ritchie is certainly among them. The world of computing has lost of it's true innovators and one of my personal computing heroes.