How Could We Lose Dennis Ritchie and John McCarthy In the Same Month?


Never heard of those two names? If so, we’re sorry for you. You would have to know that Steve Jobs died. Everybody (at least in the tech blog world) knows that he’s the founder and longtime CEO of Apple Inc. He made the front page of newspapers and the cover of magazines the world over when he passed away this last October.

But two more giants in computing passed away last October also, and they were barely noticed.

Dennis Ritchie founded the C programming language. He was also one of the founding fathers of Unix. He was one half of the partnership of Ken Thompson, with whom he basically invented the modern operating system and the modern programming platform as we know it today.

John McCarthy founded the Lisp programming language. He was also a leading computer scientist, working through MIT and Stanford Universities. Have you ever used the term “artificial intelligence”? McCarthy coined that term! He went on to lead research and development at Bell Labs.

Both of these pioneers in computing had contributions that, all due respect to Apple products, outweighed Steve Jobs. Without Ritchie and McCarthy doing their thing, Jobs wouldn’t have been able to do his thing. Between C and Lisp, 90% of the programming languages and platforms we use today, right this minute, are based on one or both of those two languages. Although companies like Microsoft hate to admit this, every operating system we have today is based upon Unix or a descendant of Unix. In fact, without Ritchie and McCarthy, none of us would be here – no Internet, you wouldn’t be reading this, we wouldn’t be writing it, no matter on what device.

The world mourned Steve Jobs. But at the passing of Dennis Ritchie and John McCarthy, an entire era came to an end.