Dennis Ritchie '63, The Man Behind Your Technology

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“Ritchie bears more personal responsibility than anyone else for C and Unix, and hence for their many derivatives. The world would be a VERY different place had he not created these things,” Lewis wrote.


Ritchie was fascinated by naked mole rats and hated wearing ties. He had a dry sense of humor and was known to pull pranks on colleagues at Bell Labs.


Kernighan recalled Ritchie as being “private, kind, and extremely funny.”

“I saw lots of different facets [of him] but all fundamentally centered around work as opposed to social life,” Kernighan said. “He was not a party kind of guy, but he definitely was incredibly good to work with. He had a wonderful dry sense of humor that showed up very frequently.”


During his college years and throughout his life, Ritchie is fondly remembered as quiet, kind, and highly intelligent.

Seltzer met Ritchie when she was a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley.

“I was fairly close with the people who developed Berkeley Unix, and we all hung out with Dennis and the Bell Labs folks at conferences,” Seltzer said. “He was a very quiet and modest person with a wonderful, warm demeanor, and a great sense of humor.”

Harvard physics professor Paul Horowitz ’65 went to high school with Ritchie and stayed with Ritchie and his College roommates during what the newly admitted students visiting weekend, what is now called “Visitas.”

“I remember him being a nice guy who put me up for a couple of nights,” Horowitz said. “He’s a computer guru.”

Other than being a computer whiz, Ritchie was also widely read, interested in classical music, and was quite knowledgeable on a broad range of topics.

Seltzer recalled a trip to the San Diego Zoo with Ritchie and several other people.

“Dennis knew an exorbitant amount of information about naked mole rats,” Seltzer said, laughing. “[He explained that] naked mole rats are colony animals, just like ants.”

Kernighan described Ritchie as the type who wore jeans—specifically, black jeans. He also wore a t-shirt or a polo shirt with alternating stripes.

“All of us were creatures of habit,” Kernighan said. “We disliked dressing up.”


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