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<The Dennis Ritchie Interview (founder of C) ⁄ >

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An interview with Dennis Ritchie famous for the founding of the C programming language and the co-inventor of the Unix operating system. This interview was made possible by www.unix.se (written in 2003) and you can find information about him on the Wikipedia article.

How and when did you first come in contact with computers?

Dennis Ritchie: At some point when I was an undergraduate in college (about 1960) I went to some non-course talks about computers that intrigued me, and I signed up for the regular (introductory) one-term course. The first part was about analog computers, then a brief bit about punch-card equipment, then some about real digital computers, in which we prepared a program for the Univac I. I was an undergraduate Physics major, but began to intrigued more by both the theory and practice of computing. So in grad school my thesis work was fairly theoretical (hierarchies of recursive functions), but I also began to get more into the practical aspects. I was for three years one of the teaching assistants for successive versions of that same introductory course--which by that time had moved to the IBM 7094.

What do you consider your greatest achievement in the field of computing to be?

Dennis Ritchie: The single thing that I'm happiest about is that the notion of making the Unix system portable was mostly mine. C was already implemented on several quite different machines and OSs, Unix was already being distributed on the PDP-11, but the portability of the whole system was new.

Any new accomplishments in sight? What are your current project(s)?

Dennis Ritchie: There is no new grand thing to announce--I've been spending more time on history! Over the past several years, I've been more in a managerial role. The visible things that have come from the group have been the Plan 9 system and Inferno, but I hasten to say that the ideas and the work have come from colleagues. I was more a pay-check signer and giver of talks when others just wanted to work.

How much time do you spend programming nowadays?

Dennis Ritchie: Little programming as such. I fix things now and then, more often tweak HTML and make scripts to do things.

Could you please describe a typical work day at Bell Labs? What software do you use?

Dennis Ritchie: I tend to come in late unless there's a meeting, but spend a fair amount of time tending to e-mail communication. My own environment (on PC hardware) actually runs Windows NT, but it is used mainly as a graphics terminal connected to a Plan 9 server, in a way approximately analogous to an X windows client. The connection at home is now via cable modem (until last summer ISDN), and Ethernet at the office. Any editing, software work, and mail is done in this exported Plan 9. For stuff like getting Excel and Word things, plus much WWW browsing, I revert to NT.

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