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Alas, Dennis Ritchie is no longer with us.

But I don't see a Dennis Ritchie quote on Stack Overflow. Why is this so?

I think he deserves it. Out of 100 programmers (Stack Overflow's audience last time I checked), I expect all of them to know.

Not a rant, just an opinion.


In any case, some admitted it was a mistake, way cool; others played it around, not cool. Life goes on...

share|improve this question
"Who is Dennis Ritchie?" – slhck Oct 13 '11 at 8:02
For anyone not in the know, he is the R in K&R. – Jeff Mercado Oct 13 '11 at 8:05
@JeffMercado Are you ready for the "What is K&R?" question? :) – tzup Oct 13 '11 at 8:06
I'm not trying to be a smart ass. All I'm saying is that while he certainly has achieved a lot (btw why not tell us why you think he deserves a quote?) – if you asked 100 people, how many would know who Dennis Ritchie was? – slhck Oct 13 '11 at 8:12
+100 to this question. If the justification for the Jobs quote was that this is a computing site and Jobs did a lot for computing... Well I think you see my point. – Cam Jackson Oct 13 '11 at 8:14
@slhck It shouldn't be relevant who's more famous, but who made more contributions to the fields relevant to Stack Overflow. That is how it should be decided who deserves a memorial banner. – agf Oct 13 '11 at 8:24
So any time anyone related to computing dies this question is going to be reasked? This is me sighing as hard as I possibly can. – user149432 Oct 13 '11 at 8:45
@MarkTrapp I tend to agree, but I would argue that the bar was set with the Jobs announcement. Frankly I think C and Unix are a bit more substantial than Jobs' achievements (no disrespect intended), and it would be insulting to Ritchie not to mention him the way Jobs was. – Cam Jackson Oct 13 '11 at 8:55
@Mark Trapp: While I agree that dmr's significance in the programming world is immense, I'd think ... [dusts off actuarial tables] ... that is going to be one busy spot in the coming years. – Piskvor Oct 13 '11 at 8:58
Given the intention of the banner to be for very-serious-everyone-should-pay-attention-we-don't-want-you-getting-banner-blin‌​dness-in-case-we-need-to-use-it-for-something-very-serious-that-everyone-should-p‌​ay-attention-to... stuff, I can't imagine how realistic it is to be putting up a quote/death notice every week when someone dies. I'm sure SE is regretting the precedent set, but it was an exception to the rule. And with all respect afforded to Ritchie and his accomplishments, he didn't make any paper of record's front page. – user149432 Oct 13 '11 at 9:03
@MarkTrapp if that's their position (SE), I have no problem with that, just want to hear it from them. – tzup Oct 13 '11 at 9:15
K&R's influence on computing makes Jobs look like just another guy in the marketing department – Flexo Oct 13 '11 at 10:53
Who is this Jobs person anyway? What programming language has he invented? What tools has he written? (Written on an MBP…) – Donal Fellows Oct 13 '11 at 15:01
"he didn't make any paper of record's front page" Do you really think we should let news papers tell us who is important? – dmckee Oct 13 '11 at 15:15
@MarkTrapp: as for not making newspaper front pages, seems logical, because Ritchie was significant not to general public, but to software engineers and programmers. Which happens to be exactly the audience of StackOverflow. Quite the opposite can be said of Jobs. – vartec Oct 14 '11 at 17:38

11 Answers 11

up vote 158 down vote accepted

There has been no internal answer, what I offer here is my opinion; it is also the opinion of some of the other members of the team.

Tributes to the dead are tricky business.

Where do you stop and where do you start. Does Bill Gates get a tribute? Knuth? Larry Wall? Matz? John McCarthy? Chomsky? Norvig? Linus? Alan Cox? Bill Joy? Marvin Minsky? Woz?

What about our own community heroes? Does passing a certain rep threshold ensure you get a tribute?

And what about the already dead. Why not respect them?

Where is Turing's 50th anniversary coming up in a few years? Babbage's 140th coming up real soon? Pascal? Von Neumann? Grace Hopper? Dijkstra? Cobb?

We used a feature that was never designed for "dead people tribute" to give out a tribute and now are suffering the consequence. System messages were meant for emergencies, stuff like ... the website is going down in 5 minutes, be warned. That is why they can not be dismissed; that is why they are so prominent.

When the Jobs tribute happened Jeff was away; the decision to put it up was Joel's. Jeff was not particularly happy that it went up, probably foreseeing the slippery slope this takes.

For the record, when this happened I suggested going with a house ad. My rationale was, if this really is that important to you: lose some money. That shows respect. It was countered with a "it looks too cheesy". But even an ad has the same slippery slope. And too, like system messages, it is not designed as a respect dead people feature.

When the Jobs banner went out, I had to spend a whole morning on damage control, ensuring huge blood baths between our members do not ensue and ended up locking a question. Unlike Turing, Jobs was not everybody's hero. Now, people want to have their programming hero to compensate.

And we look bad.

For the record I did support the Jobs message; in retrospect, I think that was a mistake.

I think we should not be in the business of dead people tributes as it gets in the way of providing awesome answers to awesome questions, and brings in politics to a place that strives to stay politics-free.

share|improve this answer
For the record, nobody from the team, including Jeff were unhappy with the tribute on It seemed fit. – waffles Oct 14 '11 at 0:13
Not sure why this is so far down the page! Well said. (EDIT: Oh, maybe because you only posted it 8 minutes ago!) – Cam Jackson Oct 14 '11 at 0:18
"nobody from the team, including Jeff were unhappy with the tribute on" uh...does that mean there should be one for Ritchie on – dmckee Oct 14 '11 at 0:52
@dmckee ... maybe. It still puts us in the business of tributes, which is a tricky business to be in. In retrospect I am not sure we should have entered this business. If we need a feature that allows communities to organically add community notices, so be it, I dislike subverting existing features and turning them into stuff they were not designed for. – waffles Oct 14 '11 at 1:07
+1 for common sense. I appreciated it but I admired Jobs... your answer is very practical and maybe just Apple.SE was the way to go. – NickC Oct 14 '11 at 1:07
I think that not going there would have been best, and it may still be the right target to aim for. But there is still the matter of what to do today. – dmckee Oct 14 '11 at 1:08
+1 Your closing statement is what I thought from the start. – NullUserException อ_อ Oct 14 '11 at 4:35
Hey! Guido's not on your list of possible future tributees?! This is ridiculous!!11!one – Josh Caswell Oct 14 '11 at 7:06
I kind of like Rebecca Chernoff's suggestion for using Tag Wikis for this, if only people actually read the darn things. – Tim Post Oct 14 '11 at 9:10
This is so the answer... – Benjol Oct 14 '11 at 13:04
Hahaha! My first reaction when I saw the banner was "How did they get Jeff to agree with this?" Nice answer - and indeed the answer. Keeping out of the business of honouring dead people sounds like the way to go. – Pëkka Oct 15 '11 at 17:12
Going by your answer, @waffles, we should have a banner lamenting the passing of the proper use of the comma. – PreferenceBean Oct 18 '11 at 17:37
Another one from your list bites the dust. Eleven more to go. This has been a sad month. – Martin Sojka Oct 25 '11 at 9:39
Putting in a +1 for Charles on behalf of the family. :) – Duncan Babbage Nov 30 '11 at 4:37
Google handles tributes to every remotely noted person, thing, or event, in every country in every language. Slippery slope be damned. I think we could manage to tribute just the tiny corner which is our own community once the precedent has been set. SO is as big in their field as Google is in theirs. It's not every day a computing/software luminary dies. If you're going to worry about slippery slopes, worry about unicorns and hats. Sheesh! – hippietrail Jan 6 '13 at 23:11

StackOverflow description says:

Stack Overflow is for professional and enthusiast programmers, people who write code because they love it.

Jobs was not directly relevant to programming or programmers, no matter how many of them use iPhones or Macs.

Ritchie created tools, which every programmer uses every day. Even those who use Macs and iPhones (they are after all based on UNIX and using Objective-C, which is build on top of C).

Ritchie was not famous enough? Well, what better way to get people to read about his achievements, than by honoring him.

In other words, my opinion is that SO team has no excuse for honoring CEO of hardware vendor, and not honoring one of most important creators of modern programming and modern operating systems.

share|improve this answer
Feeling the love, Yes! – tzup Oct 13 '11 at 10:12
Well said. We (some of us) frequent SO as a way of learning (as well as answering questions), and this can be an excellent way to learn some of the history of computing. – slugster Oct 13 '11 at 11:08
Seriously its Dennis freaking Ritchie. Just because another titan has died within a few days doesn't make it any less titanic. These things won't happen all the time. Give the man his banner. – Doug T. Oct 13 '11 at 13:34
@DougT.: You have to convince Joel first. – staticx Oct 13 '11 at 21:02
@DougT. Ain't gonna happen: – NullUserException อ_อ Oct 14 '11 at 6:04
@0A0D See link above for what Joel thinks about this – NullUserException อ_อ Oct 14 '11 at 6:04
seems that have... erm.. honored him by posting an off-topic question on MSO:… – vartec Oct 14 '11 at 10:19
Very well said! Agee 100% – Lorenzo Dematté Oct 14 '11 at 12:00
He did make the papers which was at the top of the ACM newsletter that I got today. – Tim Post Oct 14 '11 at 19:09
A Jobs tribute would have made some sense on UX.SE (but we're still in beta) but I don't think it belonged on a ( non apple) programmers site, but I'd recommend against any of this messages for everyone that dies stuff. It's just going to foster more "why didn't X dude get a message"? – Ben Brocka Oct 15 '11 at 0:05
@TimPost: o'rly? which page exactly: for comparison: – vartec Oct 16 '11 at 23:09

Rather than putting up a banner every time someone notable in our industry passes, I propose doing the following:

  • Create a tribute to them similar to the way we create open source ads. Describe why the person was awesome, what they did. Include a picture.
  • Put that tribute in the sidebar ad mix for a few days

This also has the benefit of showing to people who would appreciate seeing it. For instance, C, *nix, etc would be appropriate here.

While yes, the banner for Steve Jobs did set a sort of precedence, I don't think it will be tenable going forward.

NB This is not an 'official' response, it's just my opinion and suggestion. A half baked one, at that.


Yes, I think we need to do something to honor Dennis Ritchie, now. I just don't want to do it using the system message bar again.

share|improve this answer
I respectfully disagree. dmr's death has no meaning for people learning about him today. It should be a "quote" intended for those that "knew" him. – tzup Oct 13 '11 at 9:48
@tzup I did say half baked. It could be something as simple as 'quote' (year born - year died) and (if available) a picture of the person. I'm personally quite sad about DMR, as he basically fathered my career. But there are other giants that are getting quite old, Knuth for instance is now 73. We need a better way to pay tribute to them than what we did last time, going forward. – Tim Post Oct 13 '11 at 9:50
I like this idea. IMO Ritchie is more deserving than Jobs, but I think if we can agree that it's unrealistic to have a banner for so many people, then I'd be more than happy to put the Jobs thing behind us and do something like this going forward :) – Cam Jackson Oct 13 '11 at 9:52
If I'm not mistaken, ads are displayed only to users with little or no reputation, so that would miss the audience I was referring to. (And I wouldn't worry too much about the half-baked answer since it looks to be quite useful :) – tzup Oct 13 '11 at 9:56
@tzup: adds on the right of the page are displayed for everyone. Only the ones inline with the Q&As are suppressed after some rep threshold. – Mat Oct 13 '11 at 10:08
What about a blog post on – user142852 Oct 13 '11 at 10:18
@Ninefingers I'm sure he'll get a blog post. At least I hope so. I'm not sure how much he still uses it, but Joel is a C programmer. – Tim Post Oct 13 '11 at 10:40
@Tim: I dislike this answer for two reasons. First the argument about it becoming common: there aren't that many people who are that significant to programmers. Definitively less, than number of ex-CEOs. Secondly I don't feel like advertisement banner is the respectful way to do it. – vartec Oct 13 '11 at 11:51
@vartec I wasn't implying the tribute should be a banner, only that it could occupy the space where they are displayed (which is rather prominent, but unobtrusive). As I said, a little half baked, but the only thing I could think of that didn't involve the system message feature. – Tim Post Oct 13 '11 at 14:01
@Tim: I didn't find the system message intrusive, so I really don't see the problem. And it isn't like a creator of UNIX and C dies every other day. As for sidebar/banner area -- well, I generally don't even look there, so it it would be there, I wouldn't even notice. – vartec Oct 13 '11 at 14:20
@vartec I found it mildly annoying after the first few hours, but not so much that I said anything about it. A lot of other users, however, weren't very happy about it. I feel like we should do something, and as I said before, I basically owe my career to the work he did. Using the system message (imho) was a bad idea, because of the precedent it set. I'd like not to solidify that, because I don't want a bunch of greasemonkey scripts out in the wild specifically designed to hide it. When we need to use it for site related issues or notices, we need people to see it. – Tim Post Oct 13 '11 at 14:27
@Tim: The fact that lot of users were unhappy about off-topic (as in not programming related) message about Jobs , wouldn't mean that the would be unhappy about on-topic one about Ritchie. Especially that in case of Jobs it was just a part massive mainstream media hysteria, while news about Ritchie has only made it to handful of tech related sites. – vartec Oct 13 '11 at 14:36
@vartec The people that I talked with over Skype and chat were mostly annoyed with the banner itself, not really the contents of the message. Especially people that use tabs or other mobile devices. Granted, the 12 or so people from SO that I commonly chat with aren't remotely close to a representative sampling. I don't think using the banner this time would result in as much of a negative response, I just don't want to make a tradition out of using it. To be clear, I'm with you, I really want to see something done to pay tribute. I just really hope it can be something other than that. – Tim Post Oct 13 '11 at 14:45
@Tim: I would generally agree with that. But until better way is implemented I don't agree that it's enough of an excuse to not honor Ritchie at all. – vartec Oct 13 '11 at 15:27
@vartec Again, I'm not saying don't do it, I'm just saying do it differently than we did for Steve Jobs. Perhaps I failed to articulate myself somewhere along the way. Yes, we should do it, immediately. Just not in the system message bar. I edited my answer. – Tim Post Oct 13 '11 at 17:12

I think it was nice to honor Steve Jobs on SO, but once you do it you have to do it for everyone else. There is no doubt that Steve Jobs was influential but arguably there are more influential people than Steve Jobs in the industry.

So to avoid these types of posts in the future, I recommend that we not quote anyone in any banners on the site since that isn't the aim of the site anyways. Otherwise, you'll end up like Google and changing the banner almost daily to satisfy all the special groups and countries.

enter image description here

share|improve this answer
+1 - sad current events like the passing of a notable figure have other, more appropriate forums and platforms where condolences can be expressed. And where would we draw the line? Every death of an IT person would lead to a discussion whether a banner should be put up or not. I would find it refreshing if the Steve Jobs banner stayed a one-time thing. – Pëkka Oct 13 '11 at 15:26
+1 I agree with this as well, only an assumption but the Jobs banner was something done by Joel and not the entire SO team. As he said "this was very important to me personally". Thus this is only his opinion, an exception (that maybe in the first place should not have been done but what's done is done) and should not repeat in the future. – phwd Oct 13 '11 at 15:35
@phwd: It seems to me that Joel has too much to say in the SO community. – staticx Oct 13 '11 at 15:44
@0A0D well, he is one of the site owners. Owners will always have some special privileges. – Pëkka Oct 13 '11 at 15:56
-1 for image . – NickC Oct 14 '11 at 0:54
-1 for removing image. – Shog9 Oct 14 '11 at 2:42
@Pekka: True, but if there was no community, there would be no SO. Thats why there are community rules. – staticx Oct 14 '11 at 8:15
+1 for image. -- – Pëkka Oct 14 '11 at 8:20
@0A0D yeah, true. That's why I think this discussion was bound to happen when Joel decided to put up the banner - and that's fine. – Pëkka Oct 14 '11 at 8:21
Image more appropriate for Reddit. – Gilbert Le Blanc Oct 14 '11 at 12:55
@GilbertLeBlanc: Who cares anymore. It has been removed, added back in, etc about 4 times now. – staticx Oct 14 '11 at 12:58
Unnecessarily hyperbolistic. I wouldn't have known about Ritchie's passing if it hadn't been for The Washington Post. Well, until I came here, anyways. The obit was on the front page of their website. Might have even been above the fold; not 100% sure. – Pops Oct 14 '11 at 14:15
He did make the papers which was at the top of the ACM newsletter that I got today. I'm just sayin, it wasn't ignored or overlooked. – Tim Post Oct 14 '11 at 19:07
Nice beards! I want one too now – Adel Oct 15 '11 at 19:46

I knew Dennis Ritchie casually, and he will be missed.

But please, I would rather not see every occasion of someone's death turned into endless rounds of being voted "worthy" to be marquee'd in some sort of ritualistic death roll.

When Steve Jobs died, the gesture was thoughtful and touching because it was spontaneous, heart-felt, and seemed appropriate for the moment. But it's sad when grand gestures elicit these "me, too!" reactions. It makes you reflect on ever doing them at all.

If you want us to become the arbiters of "This person is at least as great as that person," the whole thing becomes sort of crass. Rallying and voting only makes the loss more poignant.

Share your stories and reminisce how he affected your life — That's how you honor someone. Rallying around "WHERE'S HIS QUOTE!?" is not paying homage to anyone.

share|improve this answer
If SO team would have done the right thing, this whole question wouldn't exist, would it? – vartec Oct 14 '11 at 17:31
@vartec Of course it would exist... the next time someone deemed "worthy" passed away. And then again the time after that, and on and on. Read my post again. – Robert Cartaino Oct 14 '11 at 17:46
@Robert: So how many more people, that have invented C and UNIX are there? 1? These excuses are so lame. – vartec Oct 14 '11 at 17:51
@vartec: Really? Inventors of C/UNIX are honored; others need not apply? Now you're just being obtuse. – Robert Cartaino Oct 14 '11 at 17:57
@Robert: no matter how many quotes you're gonna put around word worthy, it won't change the facts. And I really don't care about other cases. This question is about honoring Dennis Ritchie, inventor of C and UNIX on a site for programmers. – vartec Oct 14 '11 at 18:10
He did make the papers which was at the top of the ACM newsletter that I got today. – Tim Post Oct 14 '11 at 19:08
I dislike this answer, this does not acknowledge that we made a mistake misusing a feature, introducing politics into a politics free environment. Making mistakes is human, we should be able to admit them and move forward. – waffles Oct 15 '11 at 10:15
I think the "the right thing" would've been not putting the Jobs banner in the first place. – NullUserException อ_อ Oct 15 '11 at 18:15
I hate this answer almost as much as I like @waffles' comment. – tzup Oct 16 '11 at 4:34

Note the current tagline for the C++ room:

RIP dmr (1941 — 2011)

share|improve this answer
hmm... never seen assembly code like that before :P – thecoshman Apr 10 '12 at 13:06

Putting up system messages is a tricky business. They can't be dismissed and really should only be used for emergency / super-duper-extremely important notices.

I think a nice place to put a tribute would be in the relevant tag wikis such as and . This puts it fully in the hands of the community as it is the community that edits and approves tag wiki content.

share|improve this answer
If we could find a way to get more people to actually read tag wikis, this would be a good idea. – Tim Post Oct 14 '11 at 9:59
was Jobs message only in [Objective-C] tag? was it only on Apple.SE? – vartec Oct 14 '11 at 12:09
@vartec I cannot change the past. What's done is done, let's learn from it and carry on. – Rebecca Chernoff Oct 14 '11 at 13:06
@Rebecca: Yes, you cannot change the past. So SO team should have done only decent thing possible and honor inventor of C and Unix on StackOverflow, which is programming related site at least as much, as they did for ex-CEO of hardware vendor. Posting an off-topic question on MSO as "a tribute" is just lame. You can't fix mistake by making even bigger mistake. – vartec Oct 14 '11 at 13:15
@vartec - Come on, let's refocus here.. Rebecca is just saying mistakes may be made, but you gotta move forward. – Adel Oct 15 '11 at 22:26
@Adel: moving forward and refusing to accept, that making mistakes has consequences? seems bit childish. Anyway. It's too late now. SO, a site for programmers didn't honor Dennis Ritchie in any way. It's just sad. – vartec Oct 16 '11 at 22:51

Unix is simple and coherent, but it takes a genius – or at any rate a programmer – to understand and appreciate the simplicity.

Dennis MacAllstair Ritchie, 9/9/1941 - 8(?9)/10/2011

share|improve this answer
Well, that's flattering for a lot of egos :) – MPelletier Oct 13 '11 at 15:06
Only for those, who understand and appreciate the simplicity of Unix, without being a programmer. I don't think here are a lot of them. – user unknown Oct 13 '11 at 16:02

I'm not convinced starting a habit of honouring passed industry notables is a good idea at all.

But if the consensus is that the site should honour them - how about a smaller mention in a less prominent space (but still on each page)?

  • A black triangle in the top right or top left corner, leading to the died person's Wikipedia entry
  • A one-line John Doe 1951-2011 on grey background as the first item in the right hand column
  • A John Doe 1951-2011 text in the footer
  • A featured "RIP" question
share|improve this answer
... and a huuge [X] for those who hate seeing them :) – Lorem Ipsum Oct 13 '11 at 15:47
how about, while we're at it? :P – Benjol Oct 14 '11 at 13:06
how about, while we're here ? :P`` – Adel Oct 15 '11 at 22:23
Great compromise - maybe decorate the StackOverflow label like google does? Or yes, a small triangle. – Adel Oct 15 '11 at 22:29

To me, each dead person meaningful to other people deserves to be honoured respectfully.

But I also think, that SO is not the right place for honouring, no matter if the person to be honoured is Steve Jobs, Dennis Ritchie or John Doe.

Even though it makes me sad to hear Jobs and Ritchie are gone (which both influenced programming without doubt), I don't see SO as a news agency in the end.

When I want the news of the world, I visit AP or Reuters, or read a newspaper.

If I've a specific programming problem (or want to help at that), I'll visit SO.

If the SE team decides to honour a specific person on one or more specific SE sites, it's clearly their right to do so, but it will of course raise endless "If you honour A, why don't you honour B?" discussions.

To avoid this, I only can think of either not honouring anyone on any SE site at all, or maybe an Area51 proposal for something like, where every user can honour the person they want to (though I'm not sure how many heated discussions posts in such site could produce).

share|improve this answer
Care to explain how Jobs influenced programming? – vartec Oct 14 '11 at 12:11
@vartec He made developers pay fees in order to be able to program. Not even Microsoft treated programmers that way. – NullUserException อ_อ Oct 14 '11 at 14:41
@vartec: you mean, because he didn't influence it directly (as he wasn't a programmer himself (at least afaik))? I agree on that. Well, to me one does not have to be the inventor of a Z1 or a programming language or famous patterns/algorithms to do so. Imo his products using iOS heavily influenced the mobile section of programming. I for one ignored the mobile market until the iOS/Android race started. Of course iOS wasn't invented by himself (afaik), but I think you know what I mean: no Jobs -> no iPhone/Touch/Pad -> no iOS -> no iOS impact on mobile section. – Jürgen Thelen Oct 14 '11 at 15:05
@Jürgen: Sorry, that's just ton BS. If that would be true, Objective-C would be the most popular language now. Yes, Jobs did have quite a big impact on innovation. People were innovating how to jail-break their phones without bricking them. People were innovating how to get around App Store anti-innovative policies. Does iOS have influence other mobile OSes? In some very insignificant ways, and these cases are enough for Apple to be a patent troll (see: Apple is the company, which only spends less than 2% of it's revenue on R&D. So please, don't talk about innovation. – vartec Oct 14 '11 at 15:38
@vartec: If you think it's BS, well, each to their own. I didn't talk about innovation, but tried to answer your question why I think Jobs (indirectly) influenced programming. Arguing about how you dislike what Jobs/Apple did or did not wasn't the point and I'm not willing going into this. – Jürgen Thelen Oct 14 '11 at 16:01

What do you call it when a brief, completely out-of-the-ordinary tribute launches a hotly debated discussion of the grievances served by lack of tribute to other deserving persons and new policy proposals (and even feature proposals) to prevent such "problems" in the future?

Bikeshedding at its finest.

share|improve this answer
Why? Do you need to be a dead notable IT person in order to discuss this as an expert? :) – Pëkka Oct 13 '11 at 18:23
@Pekka the tribute-bar is not the nuclear reactor in this scenario... :) – NickC Oct 13 '11 at 21:39
"Brief"? It lasted 48 hours. I had to install Stylish to hide that ugly thing to stay sane. – NullUserException อ_อ Oct 14 '11 at 4:44

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