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Douglas McIlroy

jon bently and m. douglas mcilroy, douglas mcilroy obituary
Malcolm Douglas McIlroy born 1932 is a mathematician, engineer, and programmer As of 2007 he is an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth College McIlroy is best known for having originally developed Unix pipelines, software componentry and several Unix tools, such as spell, diff, sort, join, graph, speak, and tr

His seminal work on software componentization1 makes him a pioneer of component-based software engineering and software product line engineering


  • 1 Biography
  • 2 Awards
  • 3 Views on computing
  • 5 See also
  • 6 References
  • 7 External links


McIlroy earned his Bachelor's degree in engineering physics from Cornell University in 1954, and a PhD in applied mathematics from MIT in 1959 for his thesis On the Solution of the Differential Equations of Conical Shells He taught at MIT from 1954 to 1958

McIlroy joined Bell Laboratories in 1958; from 1965 to 1986 was head of its Computing Techniques Research Department the birthplace of the Unix operating system, and thereafter was Distinguished Member of Technical Staff

From 1967 to 1968, McIlroy also served as a visiting lecturer at Oxford University

In 1997, McIlroy retired from Bell Labs, and took a position as an Adjunct Professor in the Dartmouth College Computer Science Department


McIlroy is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, and has won both the USENIX Lifetime Achievement Award "The Flame" and its Software Tools award He has previously served the Association for Computing Machinery as national lecturer, Turing Award chairman, member of the publications planning committee, and associate editor for the Communications of the ACM, the Journal of the ACM, and ACM Transactions on Programming Languages and Systems He also served on the executive committee of CSNET

Views on computingedit

McIlroy is attributed the quote "The real hero of programming is the one who writes negative code,"2 where the meaning of negative code is taken to be similar to the famous Apple developer team anecdote3 ie, when a change in a program source makes the amount of lines of code decrease 'negative' code, while its overall quality, readability or speed improves


  • "Those types are not "abstract"; they are as real as int and float"4
  • "As a programmer, it is your job to put yourself out of business What you do today can be automated tomorrow"2
  • "Keep it simple, make it general, and make it intelligible"2
  • "The real hero of programming is the one who writes negative code"2

See alsoedit

  • Darwin programming game
  • Early PL/I EPL
  • Homoiconicity
  • Hunt–McIlroy algorithm
  • Unix philosophy


  1. ^ McIlroy, Malcolm Douglas January 1969 "Mass produced software components" PDF Software Engineering:Report of a conference sponsored by the NATO Science Committee, Garmisch, Germany, 7–11 Oct 1968 Scientific Affairs Division, NATO p 79 
  2. ^ a b c d These quotes was heard during a talk he gave to the DLSLUG 12/3/09
  3. ^ "MacPaint and QuickDraw Source Code" Computer History Museum 
  4. ^ The C++ Programming Language by Bjarne Stroustrup at the beginning of the chapter "Classes"

External linksedit

  • Doug McIlroy's homepage
  • Biography
  • Doug McIlroy Facts
  • McIlroy's History of Unix speech audio, includes many autobiographical notes, along with discussion of many of the major Unix authors
  • Ancestry of Linux - How the Fun Began, presentation November 2005:presentation audio video
  • Original unix spell source code, written by Doug McIlroy

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