Death of Dennis Ritchie

November 17, 2011 Op-Eds, Opinion

The second that the mass media reported that Steve Jobs had passed away on Oct. 5, his death was mourned and his life praised by Apple’s dedicated consumers, fans, and competitors such as Bill Gates.

Unquestionably a national icon, Jobs was considered the Thomas Edison of the modern era due to the various technological advancements of his Apple products; his legacy was due to his part in making technology accessible to the people at large.

No doubt, anybody with Jobs’ level of achievement and innovation should be praised throughout life and paid tribute extensively after passing. However, this is not always the case if the innovator’s work is taken for granted by the average computer user, and if those who become famous build off his work.

Computer scientist Dennis MacAlistair Ritchie was discovered dead in his home on Oct. 12, a week after the death of Jobs.

Although his passing received little media coverage and Ritchie was never a household name, it can be said that he was just as important as Jobs with regard to computer technology.

Ritchie created the C programming language, which was developed approximately four decades ago and to this day is used extensively for implementing system software and even portable applications.

He was also one of the developers of the Unix operating system, which revolutionized future operating systems and various industries.

The unfortunate reality is that these facts would not concern the average computer user. The things that grab the attention of the masses and win their favor are marketed products. Jobs was, undeniably, a fierce marketer and personality and Apple products are recognized as new and revolutionary by users and non-users alike.

Despite, or perhaps because of, Jobs’ reputation as a private man, people were interested in his life. Ritchie was a behind-the-scenes worker known for his humility and was never so exposed in the media.

It is not expected that everyone in the world recognize each detail of a complicated device to appreciate it, nor is it expected that everyone do the same with each individual involved in its development. However, it is worth noting that without the exploits of Ritchie, Jobs and Apple would not be what they were.

The big names in computing, such as Apple and Microsoft , have built their own devices while incorporating and being influenced by C and Unix, forged without glamour by Ritchie either fully or in part.

Associate Professor of Computer Science Richard James shared, “Without all that Dennis Ritchie had done, we’d be still be using machine code.”

Rollins computer science students would know all about machine code and how grueling it can be.

Fame and wealth seem to bestow titles such as “inventor,” “visionary” and “innovator” to those like Jobs. This is not meant as disrespect to the dead and also does not mean that Jobs was not a creative, shrewd and successful individual; however, it is perhaps only appropriate to take into consideration that some men do so much for the very society that takes them for granted and do not get the exposure, wealth or respect that they may deserve.

Overall, it is the opinion of many in the computer science world that Ritchie’s passing deserved more exposure but was mostly overshadowed.

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