Sunday, October 30, 2011

Dennis Ritchie Day

The power vested in Tim O'Reilly has decreed today Dennis Ritchie Day. C and UNIX is the underlying "stuff" that makes the modern world work. Slashdot's post makes the point that this is a reaction to the overreaction to Steve Jobs' death. However, if we only appreciate Dennis Ritchie in the light of comparing his contribution to that of Steve Jobs we're missing the point that much important work has gone unrecognized. Dennis and the Bell Labs folks built on the contribution of Ken Olsen who died earlier this year, and though his passing was acknowledged by Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, the media did not make nearly enough fuss about the depth of the change that DEC brought to the world. KO was a modest man. dmr was a modest man. Neither were showmen. Yet, we stand on their shoulders to this very day.
One of  funniest moments of my life involved a reference to Dennis Ritchie. I was signing copies of Writing a UNIX Device Driver at a  LUG meeting in Nebraska when someone said that meeting me was second only to meeting Dennis Ritchie. Given that I am not worthy to be mentioned in the same paragraph as Dennis Ritchie, I responded with stunned silence followed by nervous laughter. Fortunately, other attendees also laughed because Dennis Ritchie was such a modest man that he would not have enjoyed being lionized either. We all had a good laugh.
The Onyrix blog posted a wonderful picture of Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson working at a PDP-11. That photo totally expresses what I just tried to say above about the link between the contributions of the Bell Labs folks and DEC.
We stand on the shoulders of giants.

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