The Shoulders of Giants

This week saw the passing of a giant in the world of astronomy with the death of Stephen Hawking. His work has forever changed the landscape of the science realm. Throughout history, men and women of every era have driven our collective future to where it is today. As a computer programmer, who do I look to as the giant in my realm? Many people might point to Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. Indeed, both have made an impact – but their skill was in their ability to merge technology with their astute business sense. No, for me there is a much more important man who has had an impact on virtually everything in the technology world today. I am referring to Dennis Ritchie. For most Americans, the name couldn’t be more foreign. Yet, his impact could not possibly be more profound. Dennis Ritchie was responsible for the C programming language as well as the Unix operating system. Much like his name, his projects are unknown to most outside of technology. But just about everything in computer programming owes much to C. The C programming language is considered to have impacted C++, Java, ObjectiveC, C#, Go, JavaScript, PHP, and countless others. These languages run most computers, cell phones, and websites in existence today. His Unix operating system was the inspiration for Linux and numerous operating system variants. Today, Apple uses BSD (a Linux variant) as the core for both OS  X and iOS. Android is a Linux variant too. If I could meet any person – living or dead – Dennis Ritchie would be high on my list. As a programmer, he is an demonstration of the power one man can have to impact the world with technology. It is humbling to consider how much further I can see simply because I have the benefit of standing on the shoulders of giants like Dennis Ritchie.




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