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Edsger Wybe Dijkstra 11 May 1930 - 6 August 2002
August 6, 2002
Thank you EWD - through you we have gained a truly great mind.
Edsger Dijkstra was truly one of the great minds of our time. He received his Bachelor of Arts (Candidaats Examen) degree in physics and mathematics in 1951 and his PhD in physics in 1956 from the University of Leyden, and was awarded a second PhD 1959 from the University of Amsterdam. However he had already decided in 1955 to pursue a career not in the traditional sciences, but in computer programming.
Dijkstra was a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, was a Distinguished Fellow of the British Computer Society, was a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and received the ACM Turing Award in 1972.
Many computer scientists credit Dijkstra with bringing about the era of modular programming, through an article submitted to Niklas Wirth in 1964 in which he denigrated the use of the 'goto' statement. He was also known (and revered) for insisting all programs have one and only one entry/exit point.
Dijkstra was the author of 'T.H.E. Operating System' which he developed while at the Technical University of Eindhoven (thereof the name), and in which his invention of the 'semaphore' first appeared.
Dijkstra is also known for his 'Shortest Path First' algorithm (often referred to as 'Dijkstra's Algorithm') which is used in both the OSPF standard and the Cisco EIGRP protocol.
But Dijkstra was not only well-known; he was also loved, and was especially loved for his aphorisms ('teaching COBOL ought to be regarded as a criminal act') and his 'parables' about computer science, such as the Train Toilets parable which showed why computer projects fail, and the Spaghetti-Loving Philosophers parable, which illustrated the principles and the pitfalls of time-sharing systems.